I was at a parent group meeting last night and the subject of “why can’t we get anyone to volunteer” came up…again. The frustration was palpable. Our concessions chair, who literally manned every single athletic even last year, was clearly and reasonably at her limit. One of our event chairs is looking for her replacement even though this is her first year running the event. The reason? Her committee has shrunk to the point that she feels overwhelmed.
Clearly, we are doing something wrong here. We support athletics for a school of more than 1,500 students and more than half of those play sports. And they all have parents. Why is it that we can’t get anyone to man a concessions booth for an hour? Or send some emails? These are questions I’m sure you struggle with as well. Let’s see if we can break down five of the biggest reasons and figure out how to fix them.
Make it hard to get in touch
Is your email address listed on your website? Heck, do you even have a website? Is it current? How about social media? Newsletters? I know. This is a long list of time-consuming and technical work, but, if you want people to help, you’ve got to let them know how to reach you. At a minimum, provide a list of volunteer opportunities and an easy way to sign up.
(Shameless plug, here, but Mitsy has a pretty sweet (and super easy) website generator with contact forms so you won’t get a bunch of spam and volunteer signups along with a bunch of other cool stuff).
Don’t stay on top of email
I’ll say it again…
Parents Want To Make A Difference in their Kid’s School!
If someone contacts you via email to ask how they can be of assistance, you MUST answer them and answer them in a timely manner. Two days, max.
Seriously, no one is going to maintain any level of enthusiasm for an organization that asks for volunteers and takes their own sweet time answering those who raise their hands.
At the start of school, create a list of areas where you need help and make sure your entire group has access to it. When someone contacts you to volunteer, you’ll have many options to provide them with ways to get involved.
Even better, make sure those volunteer opportunities are posted front and center on your web site and include instructions on how your parents can sign up to participate.
Require lots of paperwork
People just love to fill out forms, right?
Everyone, and I do mean everyone, hates paperwork. Give a volunteer a whole bunch of forms to fill out, require they get them all notarized in triplicate and return to the one person at the school who is only available from 10am-2pm Tuesdays and Thursdays and you are sure to run off your entire volunteer pool in a skinny minute.
If you want anyone to stick around after the initial contact with your group, make it as easy as possible to complete the legal and organizational obligations.
Be Really Vague
Standing in front of the school at your first meeting is going to be stressful for just about everyone. I get it. If you really want to send parents running for the hills, trot out the old line of:
“We need energetic, enthusiastic, organized and flexible volunteers. See me after to sign up.”
What does any of that even mean?
Energetic? You lost 99% of them right there with that first adjective. These people have young kids, aging parents, demanding bosses, and partners. What parent do you know who is “energetic”?
Try using the list you made at the beginning of the year. Be specific about what opportunities are available. Try this:
“We sponsor several events throughout the year (go ahead and list some) that raise a lot of money for our school. We always need helping hands to send emails, print flyers, set up and clean up for the events. Go to our website to see all the ways you can volunteer.”
While you are being specific, make sure your prospective volunteers know how much time they should expect to dedicate to the job they are signing up for. You know how exciting it is to sign up for a job you think is going to take about 5 hours only to realize it is more like 20! Fun, right?
This should go without saying, but you absolutely must thank your volunteers if you want them to return. Genuinely and publicly thank them. Ask yourself why people volunteer. The simple answer is they want to make a difference in an organization they feel strongly about. Recognizing a volunteer for making a difference is one of the best and easiest ways to ensure they feel good about the work they’ve done. They might even feel so good about it that they decide to volunteer again. Bonus!
Remember, every volunteer makes your job a little bit easier. Be grateful for that.
This is a big list here. Which is exactly why you need to avoid running off your volunteers. You need help!
Head over to our Facebook page and tell us about practices you’ve put in place that have worked.