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PTO Today

25 ways to catch and keep volunteers

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By Craig Bystrynski, PTO Today

Five good ways to find new volunteers

"Position available." Write help-wanted ads. Create a flyer or section of your newsletter with descriptions of the jobs you need help for. Include the duties of the position, likely time commitment, and other pertinent information. You're more likely to find a good match for your position if you publicize it well.

"There's a lot you can do." You already know that one of the biggest fears of volunteers is that they'll be sucked into a black hole of never-ending time commitment. One way to address this fear is to create a list of all of the things that volunteers can do in one hour to help your group.

"Would you help?" The No. 1 reason people say they don't volunteer is because "no one asked." Asking doesn't mean a newsletter ad that says "new officers needed." It requires a personal approach, and it works best if you have a specific task in mind. "Jim, we need ticket-takers for the carnival. Can you spare an hour to help?"

"Bring your friends!" People are much more likely to participate in a group if they know someone who participates already. You can use this to your advantage by asking existing members to issue personal invitations to people they know.

"Thanks for your interest." Don't let volunteer surveys sit around for weeks before you respond, even to people who expressed interest in an event that is months away. People are much more likely to follow through later if you make a connection now. Also, this is an opening to ask for more involvement: "I know you said you'd help with the spring carnival, but I wonder if you could spare an hour to help children pick out books at the book fair in October?"

Five ways to get the most out of your volunteers

"Let me show you." When you have a new volunteer, have an experienced volunteer work with her to show her the ropes. Your new volunteer will get up to speed faster and, if your mentor does her job well, will feel more like a part of the team from the start.

"It's all written down." Create a binder with information on your most common activities. Include resources, tools, and key steps. Don't forget items like tips for using the copy machine, how to handle cash, etc.

"Let's work together." Two heads sometimes are better than one. By sharing one job, two people can often put more energy and creativity into the work. This tends to work best if you have, for example, a chairman and a chairman-elect - one person as the final decisionmaker in case of disagreements and the other preparing to step into that role next year.

"You can do this at home." It's common for people who aren't familiar with parent groups to think every job needs to be done at school during school hours. Make a list of "flex time" and "work at home" jobs to attract people who can't help out during the day.

"This is what you can expect." Set expectations from the start. You don't have to be formal and businesslike with volunteers, but let them know that you expect punctuality, a positive attitude, that they abide by school and group rules, and maintain confidentiality, if applicable. Likewise, make sure your committee chairs know what volunteers expect from them: the tools and training to do the job, a positive work atmosphere, respect for their time, and an understanding of how the task relates to overall goals.

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Comments from readers

"I think that creating a private online community for the school and specifically for the school volunteers is very helpful for maintaining ongoing communication with the volunteers. I would vote for (disclosure: I'm the founder). UpToUs provides a private and free community tools, specifically for parents. It takes 5 minutes and you can use a bunch of customizable sign-up sheet templates to organize volunteers for any school or calssroom activity. In our school, we also post pictures from the events to create some community feel around volunteering. "
"It was good to see the list of ways to keep volunteers, I have been trying to get schools to understand the importance of volunteers. Its one thing to have this list once you get volunteers, the major problem in schools is getting and keeping volunteers. I will however copy this list and give it to the School Improvement Team and the PTA parents that we are trying to organize at my son's HS."
"Thanks for the tips, my kids are in high school and I want to continue to stay connected and help their school as longs as I can. I would like to maybe give a motivational speech at their school. And inspire more parents to do the same."
"These are great suggestions, and our PTA uses most of them. Another we use is a payback system, in a way. We supply snacks and sodas for the volunteers to have while they are helping out. We keep a stocked refrigerator and cupboard in our teacher workroom that has a sign that says it is for those giving 'Their time Freely', and the school has always had iced tea available for teachers and volunteers. We used to purchase these from the PTA budget, but now we receive donations from local businesses that has cut this budget by about 65%. We also give a Volunteer of the Month gift to the person with the most volunteer hours, as well as hold a Volunteer Luncheon at the end of the school year. These gifts are sometimes items donated from local businesses(such as gift baskets, flowers or gift cards). We have wonderful parents that get each other involved. We try to recruit at all our PTA meetings (before the different grades performances). This opens the doors to all parents that do not understand what the school's particular needs may be. Thank you for your newsletter. It helps many find their way through hectic times. I hope these suggestions have helped, as well."
"This article is a great help! Thank you very much!"
"'No One Can Do Everything, But Everyone Can Do Something' author unknown I'm a volunteer coordinator and I think this list is gold!"
"Love it! I am a 'classroom mom' and it will help me too!"
"Thank you for the tips, Volunteers are some of the most important people at home and school. There are so many ways a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle etc.. can help either from home or school. I plan to pass this article on to my teachers. "
"Thank you for this article! I am the PTA President for my child's school, and we have a hard time finding new parent volunteers. I think our Volunteer Chairperson will find this informative. "
"Thank you for this article! I am the PTA President for my child's school, and we have a hard time finding new parent volunteers. I think our Volunteer Chairperson will find this informative. "
"This is a topic that really need to be addressed. I would love to get more new ideas on this because the volunteer is a dying breed!"
"Marvelous suggestions. I will pass this on to my PTA and put them in my 'Parent Binder'. Thank you for the great tips!"
"At my dauhgter's school. We Parent Club members have volunteer lists with all the activities listed throughout the year, and at our Open House, the night before school starts, we ask people to sign up to volunteer,and also encourage them to come to Parent Club Meetings....It works like a charm!!! We have at least 20-25 parents at every meeting."
"These are great tips that I can use when I get hired as a teacher. Having a binder to show volunteers how to use the copy machine, etc., will allow me to give someone a quick job and not have to spend more time than necessary teaching them how to help!"
"These are GREAT!!!!"
"Great! Keep sending tips on how to get more parents involved and creating a school community where most parents know and understand that they all must participate in any way that they can."