The True Story of Digital PTO

A Letter from our Founder about Digital PTO’s Roots

Hi everyone – Thanks for stopping by Digital PTO.

I often get asked how I got started working with PTA’s and PTO’s across the country and my story is often beneficial for people, so I thought I’d tell you the background in hopes that it may help your parent group as well. I’m not going to give you the watered down version either, this is the real thing, how and why a guy like me came to be the President of the PTA and how Digital PTA (now Digital PTO) was born.

A few years back, I had just received another impossible-to-read email from the PTA at my child’s school announcing some event or asking for money. I knew by my reaction to the email that other’s were probably feeling the same way. On one hand, I was impressed that the PTA was trying out email, but on the other hand, it was loaded with mismatched colors of different fonts and sizes and to top it all off it looked like a clip art grave yard from the late 90’s. I didn’t read anything it said, and I’m sure that most casual readers didn’t either. It was just too painful.

I decided it was time to take some action. You see, I also own a company called Colorado Web Solutions, and my specialty is web design for marketing, business establishment and email marketing. I knew that the PTA was always looking for help, and while I’m not the “sell coupon books at the carnival” guy, I was certainly willing to work on their emails a bit and try to make them somewhat useful.

I contacted the PTA co-president at the time and asked as gently as I could if it was possible to explore a change in the email formatting and delivery. I didn’t want to hurt any feelings so I was careful in my delivery, but I was met with a resounding “YES! Please help us with the emails. They are terrible.”

Game On. So I got to work. I opened up a Constant Contact account for the school and started importing files and files of mis-matched data and emails into the system. There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to the lists, they had been collected by different board members over the year. I cleaned up the list, designed a simple but clean template for the emails and the next week we sent out the new version 2.0 emails for the PTA.

Immediately we started getting responses about how great the new format was and that it was so much easier to read, etc. After a few weeks of sending out the new emails, it became very simple to manage and everything was running smoothly. No one else knew how to send the emails at this point, so suddenly I had become the “email guy” for the PTA.

The Original PTA Website

One week while I was preparing the weekly email, a request had been sent to include a PDF flyer for a restaurant night the school was having. The email system didn’t handle attachments very well, so I asked the President if the PTA has a website or access to file space on a server for a document. Turns out, the PTA did in fact have a website and it was live online… but no one knew how to log in or where it was hosted…. it was horribly ugly….and hadn’t been updated in over 9 months… In other words it was useless.

A lightbulb went off in my head and I knew at that moment that I had to design something different for them. Again, I made the offer and it was gladly accepted. We never did find out where that old site was hosted, we had to start all over from scratch. That was probably a good idea anyway.

I built the site on a platform that was easy to manage and with an admin area that multiple people could work on with different goals. It turned out to be fairly simple when it was all said and done and within a few weeks we had the first version of the website running. Immediately we started to see traffic on the website from the email blasts, etc.

The Inspiration for Digital PTA

We continued to put more time into the website. Added a PTA events calendar, we opened up a twitter account, we started posting to the website every thursday with all of the new news and at the same time we sent out the weekly email blast. All news posts were tweeted as well automatically by the website. Parents could now get information from the PTA via email, online, twitter and rss. Feedback from the community was tremendous and as the year went on, the PTA started sending more and more information via the website and less and less copied papers home with the kids.

By the end of the first year, the PTA has cut their copy bill in half. I was then officially brought on as the PTA’s technology guy and I continued to expand the offerings. I trained someone to do the email blasts in about 30 minutes, so that was no longer on my plate. The PTA has asked me about some pretty lofty ideas and I had to spend some time focusing on how to accomplish them.

One of the primary goals was to replace the current PTA membership site they were using. The PTA was getting charged way too much money (in my opinion) for credit card processing and for a very poorly crafted payment system. My goal was to design the PTA registration forms with online payment options in-house and save the PTA quite a bit of money. After a few months of tinkering, we launched our new registration form online and it was a HUGE success. It was easier for parents to understand and to make their payments and it also saved the PTA a substantial amount of cash by working directly with a credit card processor and not with a third party.

The next goal was to create the ability for kids to register for After School Enrichment classes online and make their payments online as well. Again, after a month or so of ironing out bugs and kinks, we launched another payment form specifically for After School Enrichment. Another huge success.

At this point, it’s been over a year that I’ve been working with the PTA and suddenly I hear my name has been thrown into the hat to take over as co-president of the PTA. After talking to one of the current co-presidents who was willing to stay on if I took the other seat, I decided to give it a try. I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured that would be ok.

At this point, the National School Board got in touch with our PTA. They had heard about our PTA’s exploration with technology and wanted us to speak at one of their events. I was flattered that they wanted me to speak so I spent a lot of time detailing what I had done and why. In the process of looking back and examining everything that had created a successful PTA online, I realized that I could help other PTA’s the same way.

At that point, the first ideas behind Digital PTO were born.

I spent the next 18 month researching and building a suite of tools for PTA’s and PTO’s across the country to use to create online success. I ran into some speed bumps along the way, but those delays allowed me to spend more time thinking and dreaming, and during one of those delays, I dreamt up the idea of offering the package for free.

Everyone thought I was crazy to even consider offering Digital PTO websites for free, but as I explained the details to them, it all became clear. I was going to offer a scaled down version that was supported by advertising at no charge. As PTA’s start to realize the potential impact that a Digital PTO website can have on their school, PTA’s will be more than willing to upgrade to a premium plan for pennies a day and enjoy the benefits of all the premium features that I had designed for my current PTA. And I was right. Digital PTO has been received with great enthusiasm and need.

The rest is all history. I know that my kids will eventually grow up and the elementary school PTA will be a part of my past, but with Digital PTO I can keep giving back to PTA’s and PTO’s across the country. The goals that I have for Digital PTO are enormous and the dreams are even bigger. I look forward to taking this journey with all of you.

See you soon.

Matt

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