Without volunteers, PTA would simply not exist. From the PTA president down to the person who brings in a dozen muffins for Teacher Appreciation Week, volunteers are the ones who make things happen in PTA. Making sure that your volunteers have a successful and enjoyable experience is critical to your PTA’s success.
Any volunteer can become a great volunteer—that person who ends up running an event that becomes a defining one for your PTA, makes sure that all the little things get done, or even becomes the president that reinvigorates your PTA. But you usually don’t know how wonderful those volunteers are until they have been involved with your PTA for a while. Most start out in that simple muffin-bringing mode, but poor volunteer management can mean you rarely get those great volunteers because they move on to other organizations before doing wonderful things for your PTA. Here are the top ten ways to nurture your volunteers.
- Listen to your volunteer’s priorities. For a volunteer, working on a task you don’t really want to be doing is like walking in poor-fitting shoes—you can’t wait to take them off. Volunteers keep doing jobs that they enjoy doing, and if they aren’t happy, they aren’t likely to stick around. Find out what your volunteers’ interests and skills are and try to match abilities with opportunities.
- Be thankful. Volunteers have many ways they can spend their time. Make sure that they know that you recognize they are doing you a favor. In other words, compliment them sincerely and let them know that you PTA wouldn’t succeed without them. Greet them with, “I’m so glad you’re here!”
- Respond quickly. Don’t let a volunteer request languish—your volunteer is likely to move on to something else. Even if the event they are volunteering for is several months off, let them know right away when things will get started.
- Prepare them thoroughly. Have you ever volunteered for something and not been given instructions on how to do your job? It can feel like being plopped in a rowboat, shoved off from shore, and told, “Thanks for helping! We’ll see you on the other side of the ocean!” Make sure that your volunteers know what they are doing. If they are running an event or serving as an officer, be sure to have a procedure book for the position. Try to anticipate the questions your volunteers may have but be reluctant to ask or not know to ask: What’s the dress code? Where do I hang my coat? What if I need to use the bathroom during my time at this table?
- Be prepared yourself. Take the time to plan ahead on how you will be using your volunteers. No volunteer wants to show up and be told, “Hmm…let’s see…maybe you could…” Think through all of the jobs so you can explain what your volunteers are supposed to do, even if some of the job involves improvising or deciding things for themselves.
- Make it comfortable and fun. You want your volunteers to have an enjoyable experience helping out. Think about ways to make a volunteer feel more comfortable (e.g., providing water or snacks, more comfortable chairs, etc.). Make sure that they understand the reasons for even low-glamour jobs (e.g., making sure no one goes down a blocked off hallway). Look for ways to turn boring jobs more enjoyable, such as having a box top trimming and bundling party.
- Check in regularly. Sometimes when we’re running a big event, we tend to look at the crowd, see happy faces, and assume that everything is going fine. Don’t take your volunteers for granted, or they may feel ignored. Check in with your volunteers regularly to make sure everything really is going smoothly and they have everything they need. You may find out something that you really needed to know.
- Watch for burnout. Every PTA has those super-volunteers—the ones who are always stepping up and always do a good job. It’s easy to depend on them rather than searching out and asking for more volunteers, but it is crucial that you make those outreach efforts. Don’t over-use your volunteers by giving them too many shifts, hours, or positions. Make sure they have time to enjoy an event with their family in addition to their helping out.
- Instill pride. Part of the enjoyment of volunteering comes from being part of a team. Make sure your volunteers know they are part of the team by using nametags, t-shirts, or other items that identify them to participants as one of the people making things happen.
- Acknowledge their efforts. Make sure that everyone knows who volunteered. Share their names in your newsletter, at your PTA meeting, and on your social media sites. Send thank-yous. Consider having a volunteer recognition event at the end of the year for everyone who helped out even in the slightest way. It doesn’t have to be fancy—cookies, punch, and certificates of appreciation at the end of your last PTA meeting works fine. Make sure your volunteers feel truly, thoroughly, and thoughtfully appreciated for their hard work.