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Nobody likes cancelling a PTO event due to lack of volunteers
You might have a lot of disappointed students and parents, or fall short of your fundraising goal, or both.
On the flip side, it’s not fair for a small number of parent volunteers to get stuck doing all of the work for an event that benefits all families.
So how can you make sure you have enough parent volunteers to hold a successful event or fundraiser — especially ones that require a lot of volunteers, like a fun run, school carnival, talent show, school auction, and more? How can you make sure you get enough help, without scrambling until the last minute or overloading a small group, or both?
Set sign-up deadlines to help you get enough volunteers
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 scheduled event will be a valuable experience for the kids and families.
That you need volunteers to make it happen.
How they can help, how to sign up, and what the deadline is.
If you get enough volunteers by the sign-up deadline, the event will happen as scheduled.
If you don’t get enough volunteers, the event will be cancelled.
Give parents 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.
To help you set clear expectations with parents in a positive, upbeat way, here is a sample announcement that you can customize for your event.
Hello Cool School families,
Save the date for the [EVENT NAME]!
There will be [EVENT ELEMENTS, e.g., dancing, food)] and plenty of fun for all ages!
With enough volunteers, we can hold a successful event that benefits everyone. So, check out the ways you can pitch in and be sure to sign up by [SIGNUP DEADLINE DATE] using this [LINK TO ONLINE SIGNUP FORM].
It takes teamwork to make the dream work!
We know everyone’s busy and will help if they can. There are lots ways to support the event and all help is truly appreciated.
IMPORTANT: If we have enough volunteers signed up by [SIGNUP DEADLINE DATE], we can hold a fantastic event. If we don’t have enough volunteers, we’ll have to cancel. We don’t expect that to happen, of course. Not with the amazing school spirit we see at Cool School all year long!
With your support, we’re looking forward to holding another great event for the kids!
Please check out volunteer opportunities and sign up by [SIGNUP DEADLINE DATE] using this [LINK TO ONLINE SIGNUP FORM].
Thank you for your support!
P.S. If we don’t have enough volunteers as the volunteer sign-up deadline on [DATE] gets close, we’ll let families know so everyone has a chance to make sure this event happens.
Why you should NOT try to carry out the PTO event anyway if you don’t get enough volunteers
As a PTO leader, you’re wired to go above and beyond, which is truly awesome. But 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. You may be able to do it now and then, but it’s a surefire way to get burned out.
When a small group keeps filling all the gaps, it also makes it harder to recruit more parents to volunteer.
When we tell parents, “We can’t do it without you!” — and then we keep doing it without them, we’re teaching parents NOT to volunteer.
Parents will never really get it if you protect them from consequences. If you tell them you need them, but then you keep filling the gaps, you make it harder to get new volunteers and the ones you do have get burned out.
Why you should cancel a PTO event if you don’t get enough volunteers by the signup deadline
If you don’t get enough volunteers by the sign-up deadline, especially after warning parents that volunteer support was falling short as the deadline approached, follow through on the fair, reasonable expectations you communicated to families and cancel the event.
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
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.
Do you have questions about recruiting parent volunteers?
What would you like to know more about pto volunteer recruitment or other topics?
Have questions or comments?
I would love to hear from you. Feel free to email me using the envelope icon below or message me through my School Volunteers Share Facebook page.