I have organized a lot of things in 16 years, but it wasn’t until my daughter started kindergarten that I found a whole new area to organize. Volunteers. Every school needs volunteers, but getting them and keeping them seems to be a constant problem. As a new “kinder parent” I had no idea what the events were. Event chairs would desperately ask for general volunteers- but I didn’t know what they needed and if I was the right person to help. I needed more information to make better volunteering decisions. I thought the school needed a better system for volunteers- and guess what that means. That means I just volunteered to do it! So three years ago, I created a job that didn’t exist at the school and became the parent Volunteer Coordinator and the learning curve began.
Here are some of the things that worked:
- Volunteer Sign Up Sheet– I created a form to go home at the start of the school year that lists all the skills we might need during the year from “Work a game or craft booth” to “Make signs or posters,” leaving a space for parents to fill in additional skills they think might be useful. The 2nd time around, we changed the form to put everything in categories like “At School Ongoing Opportunities” and “One-Time Opportunities-Fall” and included all dates of events to help people plan.
- Database– Everything from the sign up sheet is entered into our volunteer “database” which is a just a Google Spreadsheet. But is serves our purposes perfectly. Other people can input with me at the same time. A simple filter makes it easy to see all the volunteers from one classroom or all the volunteers who said they could help with a particular event. Then I can quickly copy the relevant email addresses and contact those parents with special requests or invitations to sign up.
- Events from A-Z– Does your school have a bunch of events through the year like Harvest Festival, Jog-a-Thon, or Book Fairs? Make a handy reference guide that lists what and when each event is and what kind of volunteer help is needed. New parents have no idea what events are ahead of time so help them understand.
- Volunteer Spot– On-line sign-ups make it so much easier! Create an event, pick a date, and decide how many volunteers you need to do specific things at specific times. Send the link out to the whole school so parents can sign up on their smartphones and computers. They can easily click to “Sell pizza from 6:00-6:30pm”. They get automatic reminders and the coordinator gets to print out a wonderful sign in sheet for the event. Volunteer Spot is free and some schools can get a PTA discount code that upgrades to even more features for free.
- Sign Up Genius– this is another free sign up program. While I do like SignUpGenius, I think it is better for smaller things like classrooms as opposed to large school functions. My younger daughter’s preschool uses it and it works great for a smaller group.
- Volunteer Check-In Table– Every large event with lots of volunteers needs a Volunteer Check-In Table. This is where the sign in sheets you printed from VolunteerSpot go so you can make sure your volunteers are there. Have name tags or even better- volunteer lanyards with name tags. Resist the urge to type up nice name tags ahead of time. It creates extra work twice- once to create and print them and then again to hunt for the right name tag. Just have Sharpies and blank name tags and let the volunteers write their names. You can also have a board that lists where you still need volunteer help at that time. Sometimes people who did not sign up ahead of time drop by to ask what help is needed. This table is command central for an event.
- Give Each Grade Spots to Fill– Even with VolunteerSpot and volunteer forms, it is still very hard to get all the volunteers needed for a large school event. When you send out a request for volunteers and need 250 spots filled- it seems overwhelming to anyone looking at the sign up. This year, I tried breaking down our first large event and assigning each grade specific booths they were in charge of volunteering for. The size of each grade determined how many spots they would be asked to fill to keep things fair and even. Each grade got their own sign up and a more manageable request to fulfill. It worked really well!
- Volunteer Captains– I realized that while I knew parents in my grade and their skills, it was too hard for me to know everyone in the school. I asked a parent from each grade to be the Volunteer Captain of their grade so they could work with me and get to know the parents and skills in their grades. From entering the volunteer sign up sheets in the database to working the Volunteer Check-in Table, we now have a great committee of parents focused on volunteers.
- High School Student Volunteers– Check and see if your local high school requires their students to get service hours. Your school event might be the perfect place for some additional help from older students. Just make sure you train them.
- Thank yous– The most important thing you can do to get repeat volunteers is to thank them and make them feel appreciated. Whether you have contests to motivate them, add their names to an honor roll, or simply say “Thank You for helping”- everyone wants to feel appreciated.
Being specific is necessary for successful volunteer recruiting. The more information you can provide about the what, when, where, and how helps busy parents be able to say yes. Planning and organization are crucial to make sure you are not lacking a large amount of volunteers needed to run an event- or turning away people who want to help. I’m still relatively new to this, but the changes we have made at the school have led to more volunteers, smoother events, and a greater sense of community and appreciation. We are still learning though! What volunteer strategies work for your school?