Get More Volunteers Without Begging: Lesson 5.3 - What to say to get more YESes

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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 5.3 video transcript

This lesson is about getting more parents to say YES to leading when you ask them.

What to say to parents to get them to volunteer for PTO leadership roles

In previous lessons, we’ve talked about how important it is to appreciate volunteers throughout the year and encourage them to consider other opportunities, including jobs with more responsibility.

When you lay the groundwork like this -- thanking people, praising their work, and offering encouragement -- through casual conversations and other contacts during the year, you make it more likely that parents will say YES when you ask them to take a new role.

Sometimes getting a parent to say YES to a leadership role is a quick conversation. You ask them to chair a committee or be a coordinator or something. They say YES. You celebrate and move on to the next thing.

Even when you’ve created a positive environment, however, filling most leadership roles, including recruiting candidates for Board positions, involves a longer conversation. More back and forth. More persuading.

To help you get in the right mindset to persuade people, be sure to look at the miniposters from Lesson 1. You’ll find links to them in the Class Guide.

7 keys to persuading parents to accept PTO volunteer leadership roles

This lesson covers seven keys to persuading a candidate to accept a leadership role. It’s easier to use these keys during an in-person meeting or by phone, but you can also adapt them to email.

I’ve numbered them to make things clearer, but you don’t have to follow a set order or use every single key to succeed. Just weave them into the conversation as needed to help you persuade candidates. The bigger the role, the more keys you might find yourself using.

#1 Put PARENTS at ease

When you invite or meet with a candidate, assure them that there’s no pressure. Let them know that you appreciate the chance to thank them for their contributions to the group and discuss common interests, but that there’s no pressure. Meeting in a casual setting helps with this too.

This helps parents relax enough to talk about opportunities with an open mind. If they feel pressured, all they can think about is getting the heck out of there or avoiding you all together. And it’s just a good, golden rule for leaders as far as I’m concerned. I don’t like having my arm twisted, and I’m not going to do that to someone else.

#2 Thank them

Thank candidates for what they’ve done for the group and mention their strengths, like their creativity, reliability, energy, or others. Even if they’re new to the school or haven’t volunteered yet, it’s good to mention the positive qualities that they’re known for.

The main reason we all do what we do is to help the kids. And seeing their smiles really makes the time and effort so worthwhile. But having the appreciation of our fellow volunteers and other parents and staff, makes volunteering even more rewarding and fulfilling. And makes it more likely we’ll keep volunteering.

Whatever the candidate decides, if you made them feel appreciated during the process, you’ve done a good, smart thing.

#3 Share your PTO volunteer story

This is a great time for you to share why you became a leader and some of your experiences. Have you made friends and learned new skills? Is there an achievement that you’re particularly proud of?

Your story doesn’t have to be all rainbows and sunshine. The point is to share why you do what you do because it draws others in who feel the same way.

#4 Share YOUR group’s vision and goals

What are your group’s goals? What excites you most? What are the challenges? Every group has its challenges and there’s no hiding them from recruits even if you wanted to. The important thing is your shared commitment to helping the kids and the school. And letting parents know you can achieve that goal without overloading volunteers.

#5 Listen to parents

Invite candidates to share their thoughts and questions. By really listening to them, you’ll show them you respect their ideas and abilities, get valuable feedback about your group, and hear what most excites them or concerns them or both.

#6 Aim high when you ask

A simple way to increase the chance that a candidate will say yes to higher-level leadership role is to start with the top leadership role that you’d like them to consider. This is just part of our psychology. And you’ve probably experienced it yourself when someone asked you to do something bigger than you could or wanted to do.

Did you agree to do a different job? And was it more responsibility than you were planning to take on before you were asked to do an even bigger job?

If you’d be happy to have a candidate accept almost any leadership role, but you really want them to consider running for the Board, especially President, start there. If you start with your top choice, they could say yes.

Because you’re persuasive, and this class is helping you become even more persuasive! Even if they say no to that role, you’re more likely to land on a higher-level alternative.

By contrast, if you leave things more open at the start, and tell parents that you’d just be happy to have their help in any leadership role, parents are more likely to pick roles further down the ladder. Those roles are a big help too. But you’ll fill your biggest needs faster and more completely if you start the conversation higher up.

#7 Personalize your persuasion

Use what you know about a candidate, and learn from listening to them, to match your pitch to their interests and strengths. To help you home in on what matters most to each candidate, here are the main benefits of leadership that you can weave into your conversation:

  • Best access - Leadership roles, especially Board positions, offer the best access. The best chance for a parent to strengthen their relationship with the Principal and staff. To make their voice heard on school issues. To hear more of the background and process behind school decisions. To get early notice of school news before it’s widely communicated.

For example, when our school was going through a difficult redistricting process, Board members got a chance to hear directly from the Principal about ongoing discussions with the School Committee and Superintendent, ahead of more formal announcements to all families. We didn’t have extra influence over policy, but we took appropriate advantage of our roles as parent representatives to get reliable information, as opposed to the rumors that were constantly floating around, and share our opinions.

Honestly, the more policy change we have brewing in the school and district about issues that really energize parents, like homework policy, standardized testing, bullying, and others, the easier it is to persuade parents to consider Board positions. Because the chance to be more in the know and build stronger relationships with key people is very appealing to many parents.

  • Most influence - Leadership roles offer the best seat in the house for influencing PTO policies and activities. The best opportunities for parents to make their ideas a reality.

    Who are the parents who like to offer ideas and suggestions? Even complaints can work in your interest! If you have parents who are upset about something, invite them – even challenge them – to fix it. If they just want to complain, then you can ignore them. But you’ll also find doers who are really motivated to make things happen.

That’s the story behind one of the biggest, most “volunteer friendly” changes we made to our group’s fundraising more than five years ago. Parents kept telling us “There are too many fundraisers. Can’t I just write a check?”

We resisted at first, because we were afraid we’d raise less money but parents would still want all the same activities. But we decided to ask one of the most vocal parents to serve as our Fundraising VP and turn her ideas into action. She helped created a hugely successful direct donation campaign that has been a real game-changer for our group and is still going strong.

Parents care about lots of issues! Use that to your advantage and you’ll persuade more to lead and make their ideas a reality.

  • Very rewarding - Volunteering at all levels to help the kids is rewarding. Whether we’re bringing paper goods for a class party or filing the PTO taxes, we feel good knowing we’re contributing to experiences and resources that help kids feel happier and achieve more.

By taking a larger role, parents have the chance to soak up even more of those wonderful, make your heart feel good, rewards! And that’s a big reason we become leaders and keep leading. Having your voice heard, seeing your ideas become reality, and seeing the positive results of your efforts for a cause you care deeply about, really grows on you.

  • Personal growth - Every step you take as a leader contributes to your growth in some way. You’re constantly learning, adding to your skills, showcasing your talents, strengthening relationships, developing new ones, tackling new challenges, and having fun. The kind of fun you have even when the work is hard, when you’re teaming up with good people for a good cause.

  • Professional growth - Of course, all that growth as an unpaid volunteer also benefits us professionally. Leadership experience always enhances a resume. Plus, as leaders, we have lots of freedom to decide which new skills we want to learn, in a friendly environment, to help further our careers.

    For example, I’ve been working in marketing for the past 20 years. So I’ve volunteered for leadership roles that would allow me to learn and hone skills that also help my business, including web site design, social media marketing, budgeting, strategic planning, email marketing, graphic design, animation, public speaking, event planning, and more. Leadership also helps us grow our contacts within the school and the larger community.

So those were five really appealing benefits of leadership that you can pick and choose from to help you personalize your persuasion. To help you home in on what a candidate cares about most.

On the flip side, candidates will also share reasons, or objections, that make them hesitant to say Yes. Or lead them to say No thanks, or Not now, or No way! or whatever. Lesson 5.4 will show you how to overcome objections to get more Yeses and how to handle Nos so they can still become Yeses in the future.

To help you persuade parents to lead, check out the lesson notes in 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 5.3 - What to say to get more YESes  from  Get More Volunteers Without Begging.  Free video training for PTO leaders created by Jen B. Cosgrove,