A beloved teacher at your school dies. A family’s house burns down, and while they all escaped safely, they are left without anything. A child at your school has a serious health issue, and the family is struggling to pay medical bills. Every school is a community, and every community faces tragedy now and then. PTAs spend much of their time helping build and support that community, and when tragedy strikes, PTAs are often asked to or wish to help. So how can PTAs respond in those situations?

The IRS Requirements

501(c)(3) organizations may only collect money to support individuals or families if the organization was created to do so. PTAs are not organized for that purpose, and so cannot donate to individuals or families. That limits how PTAs may legally respond to tragedies.

What PTAs Can Do

While PTAs cannot raise money for individuals or families, there are things that they can do. PTAs may share information about benefits or fundraisers being held for individuals or families, local charities (e.g., a local food bank), or community-based projects (e.g., a food drive). PTAs may also sponsor a food drive or similar activity. For those who would prefer to donate money instead of canned goods, for instance, checks should be made out to the beneficiary of the drive (i.e., the food bank) and not to the PTA. No deposits may be made to the PTA account on behalf of another organization, individual, or family.

For funerals, PTAs can send flowers; however, the PTA budget must have a line item to cover such things (e.g., “Bereavement Fund”), and the PTA should have rules in its adopted policies and procedures regarding when the PTA sends flowers and how much can be spent. Some things to consider when drafting such a policy:

  • What is the maximum amount of money the PTA should spend on flowers?
  • When does the PTA send flowers? Is it only for current PTA board members, any PTA member, teachers, school staff, past PTA board members still at the school, or students? Determining the specific circumstances when the PTA will send flowers in advance makes it easier to respond when tragedy strikes and emotional decisions can be difficult.

Also note that PTA is a nonsectarian organization, and any flowers sent should reflect that fact.

Donations “in Lieu of Flowers”

In some cases, a family may request donations to certain organizations in lieu of flowers sent to the funeral. Again, this situation is something your PTA should have in its adopted policies and procedures, including how much may be donated and in what situations. In addition, there are IRS requirements regarding non-profit donations and a few additional items to consider.

  • The donation must be made to another non-profit. The IRS requires that non-profit funds remain in the non-profit world when donated.
  • The non-profit being donated should benefit a larger group of people, not an individual or a family (i.e., not to a scholarship fund for the person’s children).
  • The non-profit’s mission should align with the PTA mission.
  • The non-profit should not have a history of mishandling funds. CharityNavigator.org can help with this.
  • There should be no conflict of interest between the non-profit and the PTA (e.g., PTA members serving in the leadership of the non-profit. Note that, for example, a PTA officer who also helps Habitat for Humanity build homes but otherwise has no role with Habitat is not a conflict of interest.).

Be Prepared

Tragedies happen, and often happen quite suddenly. If your PTA has considered what it would do in various situations in advance, it can make dealing with the situation much easier during what can be an emotionally difficult time. Take the time to develop policies and procedures for your PTA and have your membership approve them.