Get More Volunteers Without Begging: Lesson 6.2 - Motivate parents to take action

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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 6.2 video transcript

Once you have a variety of manageable volunteer jobs and convenient signup options, you need to motivate parents to take action. To go from thinking about volunteering, to actually signing up for specific jobs.

Get more parents to sign up for volunteer jobs

Some parents will sign up without much prompting because they’re eager to help. To fill most volunteer roles, however, you need to tell parents the benefits that can be achieved with their help, the specific ways they can help, and motivate them to sign up now. Then repeat.

The main goal of all the tasks and projects and events that your group does is to help the kids. Help them enjoy school more, learn more, do more – and just be happier. So if you need volunteers to help kids have a safe and enjoyable lunch and recess, let parents know that.

If you need volunteers to help with a school dance that will be a fun, active learning experience for the kids and help bring families together, let parents know that. No matter how far into the school year you are and how long some of the parents have been at the school, it pays to emphasize the benefits of all the “stuff” your group does at every turn.

Remind parents that helping the kids takes a big group effort and that all help is truly appreciated. Let them know that there are lots of opportunities for them to help, including outside of school, and even if they don’t have much time to spare.

Then, always give them a clear call to action.

Ask them to sign up now. Online or on paper. Just make it easy for them to sign up now and not put it off.

Repetition is essential to reaching busy parents.

That doesn’t mean bombarding them every hour. But sending one or two announcements isn’t enough these days to get noticed in a full inbox, newsfeed, mailbox, or schedule.

Repeating a positive message, as needed, across all communication channels, is the key to motivating parents.

If parents need EXTRA motivation to help with events and other tasks, here are two ways that work.

1 - How PTO volunteer sign-up deadlines will help you get more parent volunteers

Volunteer sign-up deadlines are very effective for recruiting help for events and they also make planning less stressful. In Lesson 1.2, we looked at four essential leadership principles. One of them is that PTO activities should be subject to volunteer support.

We wouldn’t dream of putting on an event if we didn’t have enough money. And we should look at our volunteer needs the same way.

Be crystal clear with parents. Tell them that the

  • The scheduled event will be a valuable experience for the kids and families.

  • You need volunteers to make it happen.

  • If you get enough volunteers by the sign-up deadline, the event will happen as scheduled.

  • If you don’t, the event will be cancelled.

To help you say this in a positive, upbeat way, I’ve included a sample announcement in the Class Guide.

  • Be clear about how they can help, how to sign up, and what the deadline is.

  • Give them plenty of notice ahead of the deadline if volunteer sign-ups are falling short. Remind them that the event will have to be cancelled if you don’t get enough volunteers by the deadline.

Nobody likes canceling a scheduled event. On the flip side, it’s not fair for a small number of volunteers to get stuck doing all of the work for an event that benefits all families.

And it’s a bad idea for a small number of volunteers to try to fill all the gaps, even for the sake of the kids.

Parents will never really get it if you protect them from consequences. If you tell them, “We can’t do it without you!”, and then you keep doing it without them, you’re making it harder to get new volunteers. And hurting the ones you do have.

If you do have to cancel an event, let parents know why it was cancelled in a straightforward way. It doesn’t help to make anyone feel guilty. It may just be that the event needs to be changed in some way.

If the event was valued by parents, but they didn’t volunteer and didn’t believe it would be cancelled, they will understand the situation better the next time. That’s exactly what we hear from school parent groups who’ve had to cancel events that were popular but still didn’t have enough volunteer support. Recruiting got a lot easier the next time around.

If you do all the right things to motivate parents and there is still not enough volunteer support to hold the event, that’s valuable feedback. Maybe the timing of the event was a problem, or the type wasn’t popular with families, or it needs to be more volunteer friendly. Use that feedback to make improvements.

How to set up PTO sign-up deadlines

Let’s look at setting signup deadlines.

If you have a number of leadership roles to fill, like subcommittee chairs or coordinators, set a relatively early sign-up deadline for those positions, and then set a separate deadline for smaller roles.

For example, if you’re planning a large event, like a fun run or auction, and the planning timeline is 3 months, set your deadline for leadership roles early in the first planning month. If you don’t have enough volunteers willing to serve as committee chairs or in other leader roles by that point, it’s much more likely that a small number of volunteers will get stuck with most of the work. Which is bad enough, but it also hurts your chances of having a successful event.

For smaller jobs, like event day tasks and shifts, consider setting the sign-up deadline about 3 weeks out from the event. If you have a lot of event-day positions to fill, and sign-ups are falling well short, you need to know that before you try to carry out the event.

A deadline reminder to parents is often all it takes to make sure you get the volunteers you need for a successful event and won’t be scrambling up to the last second.

2 - Incentives for volunteering

Happy kids are the biggest incentive that parents have for volunteering. Offering additional incentives where needed, however, will help you increase your volunteer numbers.

For events, for example, offering volunteers free admission or chances to win raffle prizes, are popular incentives. It may cut into the event profits some, but if it means you have enough parents to work shifts so all parents can enjoy at least some of the event with their kids, or it means that the event can happen at all, it’s worth it.

Incentives are also good for those situations where you have inflexible volunteer needs that don’t match well with parent availability.

For example, many schools rely heavily on parent volunteers at lunch recess which obviously falls during set hours at school. Many parents enjoy volunteering at lunch recess, but it can still be a big challenge to fill all the spots that the school would like. Offering parents an incentive, like a student homework pass, for coming into the school in the middle of the day instead of the grocery store or a lunch meeting or a million other things, can help fill the gaps.

To help you motivate parents to help with tasks and events, check out the lesson notes and sample announcement 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.

Lesson 6.2 - Motivate parents to take action  from  Get More Volunteers Without Begging.  Free video training for PTO leaders created by Jen B. Cosgrove,