Get More Volunteers Without Begging: Lesson 3.1 - Make it easier to succeed

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Each lesson in the Get More Volunteers Without Begging training class is a short, animated video that explains steps in a clear, entertaining way. If you haven’t downloaded the class guide that goes with it, you can now.

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Lesson 3.1 video transcript

“Volunteer friendly” planning will enable your group to achieve success without overloading volunteers.

This lesson will show you how to minimize the volunteer hours your group spends to have a successful year and make it easier for more parents to volunteer.

If your group struggles to get enough volunteers, reducing the hours you all spend to achieve your goals, by making changes to the number and kinds of activities and events you do and how you do them, will make it easier to do the work and recruit people to share it.

The main goal of your group, and all school parent groups, is to help kids achieve more. You do this by raising volunteers and money to provide valuable learning experiences, resources, and staff support beyond what the school budget alone can provide.

That’s a lot of work that adds up to a lot of volunteer hours. And the more volunteer hours you spend to do all the tasks, projects, activities, and events your group wants done, the more volunteers you need to share the load to keep everyone’s job manageable.

Unfortunately, what’s happening in many groups, is that a small group of volunteers is doing everything. That’s not good for the volunteers, who feel overworked and burned out. And it’s not good for the groups either, because it scares away new volunteers.

Reducing the number of volunteer hours your group spends to achieve its goals will make life easier for your current volunteers AND easier to attract new ones to share the work.

School parent groups have a lot of flexibility in deciding how to achieve their goals for fundraising, community building, and more. Here are four ways to use that flexibility to reduce the volunteer hours you spend.

#1 - Get rid of outdated and low priority activities. Groups and their needs change over time. To get rid of the “clutter” that is taking up valuable time, scan the list of committees and jobs that your group has every year.

Are there responsibilities that no longer fit or can be downsized? Are there events and activities that have low participation? Are there things that are nice to have but not required for a successful year?

Over the years, the groups I’ve been a part of have scaled back, or eliminated, or shifted a wide variety of responsibilities to help reduce volunteer hours. For example:

  • Monthly newsletter – Mostly duplicated information from weekly email updates, so we got rid of it

  • Paper announcements – Switched to email to save paper and time; number of volunteers involved decreased from eight people to two.

  • Courtyard cleanup during summer – We had no volunteer support because it was a bad fit for family schedules, so we outsourced it.

  • Teacher preparation help – School switched to partnering with education students from a local college.

  • Student absentee calls – School automated.

  • Lunch account reminders – New food vendor took over.

  • Lunch reading club – Students preferred more active options, so school added similar program to the curriculum.

  • Grant writing – District took over.

  • Before school walking/running club – Low student participation, so school incorporated into curriculum.

Every task you can get rid of will help reduce the volunteer hours you need from parents.

#2 - Cut back the number of events and activities in your group’s schedule for the year. Sponsoring fewer events and activities does not mean you have to settle for raising less money, or having less school spirit, or less support for teachers, or falling short on anything.

Creating a more manageable schedule will help you get more out of the events and activities that you do commit to. More funds, more fun, more participation, more everything because you’re not spreading volunteers and families too thinly across your group’s schedule.

Besides, as a busy parent yourself, you know all too well, your group’s schedule is just one of many competing for the time and attention of families. Sports, scouts, clubs, faith communities, charities, and more are also scheduling events and activities during your peak times. And it really feels like this problem gets worse each year.

Taking a “less is more” approach to scheduling puts less pressure on volunteers and other families, right from the start, and gives you plenty of flexibility. You can always add things to the schedule later if you feel like you have the volunteer power and interest to add a fundraiser or social event or whatever.

Plus, it’s easier to absorb the unplanned “stuff” that happens every year. For our group, unexpected “stuff” has included a week-long power outage, school redistricting, family tragedies, and natural disasters in our country or abroad. There will always be something your group wasn’t planning on and wants to give time and attention to.

#3 - Make an event or activity more volunteer friendly by reducing the number of hours you spend to hold a successful event. One way to reduce hours is to shorten the duration of an event. If an event spans more than one day, like a book fair or holiday shop, consider reducing the number of days that you run it, or the hours that you are open, or both. For single day events, consider trimming the hours to make it more manageable.

  • Simplify - Another way to make an event or activity more volunteer friendly is to simplify it. That could mean decreasing or streamlining the parts of an event. For example, you could reduce the volunteer hours needed to plan and host a carnival if you decreased the number of booths from 15 to 12. You could also simplify ticket sales by eliminating advance sales, and replacing variable pricing with fixed price tickets, sold only at the door.

Simplifying where possible can save frustration as well as time. Recently, we combined all the order forms for 5th grade graduation related items into one order form. We had to make the deadline earlier to do that, but it saved a lot of volunteer hours and made things much easier for families, too.

  • Outsourcing, using unpaid or paid labor, is another good way to reduce the volunteer hours you need from parents.

Many older students enjoy helping and they usually learn a lot in the process. We’ve asked 5th grade students to create and staff carnival games, run bake sales, deliver school supplies to classrooms, beautify our courtyard, and much more.

Students in middle school, high school, and college, especially those who participate in community service clubs, are a fantastic resource. They can handle more responsibility and often bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to an event. High school students are a core group of volunteers for some of our school district’s biggest fundraisers, and I can’t imagine doing these events without them.

Paying for labor and services can also help you reduce the number of volunteer hours needed to hold a successful event. For example, catering all or some of the food for a staff appreciation luncheon, can make that important event more manageable and help you conserve volunteer energy for the busy weeks ahead.

Outsourcing parts or all of a fundraiser is also a good option for reducing the volunteer hours you need to succeed. For example, you could choose a product fundraising vendor that offers time-saving service options, like order processing, pre-sorted delivery, or at-home delivery options at no or little extra charge.

There are also vendors offering different levels of services for fun runs and jog-a-thons, read-a-thons and all kind of “thon” fundraisers. These services range from software and support to help you organize and run the event to full-service options, where everything, except asking for pledges and running and walking, is done by the vendor.

Outsourcing is particularly helpful to school groups who have fundraising needs that are very large relative to their volunteer resources. Outsourcing can help you stretch your volunteer resources further and even make the difference between having a successful event or having no event at all.

#4 - The fourth way to reduce the volunteer hours is to replace harder events and activities with easier ones.

For example, here are some of the fundraisers that our PTO would do on a regular basis. I’ve grouped them by how many hours it would take us to plan and carry out these kinds of events.

As parents got busier with work and other commitments, it got harder to do the fundraisers that required the highest amount of volunteer hours. The same small group of volunteers, including our Board, was getting overloaded and that was also making it hard to find new volunteers to take over.

More parents were also asking the Board to do fewer fundraisers, especially ones where they had to sell stuff or help during school hours. So, we listened to that feedback and switched to fundraisers that would be easier for volunteers and families and still allow us to achieve our goals.

Choosing easy -- or at least easier -- fundraisers, events, and other activities wherever possible, reduces the volunteer hours you need from parents.

To help you stock up on ideas for easy fundraisers, events, and other activities, I’ve included links to time-saving tools and ideas in the Class Guide.

We kept the talent show, even though it requires a high number of volunteer hours to plan and carry out successfully, because it’s very popular with families. We do make a profit from selling reserved seating, but the primary goals of the event are to promote school spirit and community and offer a valuable learning experience for kids.

Make an event more volunteer friendly: Talent show example

Even though the talent show has always been popular with families, it was getting harder to find parents willing to chair this big event. So, we took the steps mentioned earlier in this video to make the talent show more volunteer friendly.

  • We shortened the duration from a total of 4 hours of performances over two evenings to a total of 3 hours during one afternoon and evening.

  • We simplified rehearsals, ticket sales, concessions, and our printing and decorating needs.

  • We outsourced backstage volunteer roles to college and high school students. Those roles were always hard to fill because parents didn’t want to miss performances, which is understandable. And we paid for technical support, which freed up parents and resulted in better audio and lighting during the shows and a lot less stress for the committee!

So, just to recap…

We looked at four ways to reduce volunteer hours…

#1 “Declutter” outdated and low priority tasks

#2 Take a “less is more” approach to scheduling

#3 Give events a “volunteer friendly” makeover

  • Shorten the duration

  • Simplify and streamline

  • Outsource to non-parent volunteers (like older students) or by paying for services

#4 Swap harder events for easier ones

By reducing the volunteer hours you spend to achieve your goals, life gets easier for your current volunteers, and it’s easier to attract new ones. Much easier than chasing them down, right?

For tools that will help you reduce the hours you need to hold successful events, fundraisers, and more, check out the Class Guide.

Do you have questions or comments about this class? I would love to hear from you -- and help! Please email me using the Contact link below or in the Guide.

See you in the next lesson!

Lesson 3.1 - Reduce volunteer hours you spend to achieve goals  from  Get More Volunteers Without Begging.  Free video training for PTO leaders created by Jen B. Cosgrove,