Solving Your Lack of Volunteers Problem

Getting people to volunteer at your events is a continual struggle for many PTAs. In fact, fear of being asked to volunteer is one of the reasons people don’t join the PTA. While PTA membership doesn’t require someone to volunteer, we still do need some folks to step up to run things. So how do you get people to volunteer?

Why Aren’t They Volunteering?

If you want to solve a problem, it is important to know why it is happening. So if you don’t know why people are not volunteering with your PTA, you can’t address their concerns and overcome them. There are many reasons why someone may not volunteer.

  • They don’t get why they should volunteer.If you’re a PTA leader, chances are you had a parent who volunteered when you were a child, whether it was in the PTA, at church, or with some other organization. That example of service to others can be very powerful when we become adults, and not everyone experienced it as a child. Additionally, some people might view the PTA as something for the parents who don’t have anything better to do with their time. They aren’t aware that running a PTA is actually running a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and that PTA leaders are in reality small business leaders.
  • Volunteering is out of their comfort zone.In elementary school, kids are often happy to see their parent at school helping out. By the time they hit middle or high school, many kids are embarrassed or horrified to see a parent at school. That pushback from their kids can be a real inhibitor for parents volunteering in those later years. In addition, a lot of the volunteer opportunities at an elementary school, whether helping with a class party or a school carnival, feel somewhat familiar and safe. When it comes to PTA events and activities at the older grades, the role of the PTA has shifted and the opportunities may feel less familiar, especially if their teen is pushing back on their parent being seen by their friends.
  • Your PTA is seen as a clique.If your PTA has a bunch of leaders who’ve known each other for years, it can be intimidating for a new parent to step into a volunteer role as an outsider. Remember that it is the outsiders who determine if your PTA is a clique, so consider how approachable you and your fellow PTA leaders really are.

Solving Your Volunteer Problem

Successfully recruiting volunteers requires identifying potential candidates for the job and overcoming objections.

  • Find hidden talents.The families at your school have a wealth of backgrounds, skills, and talents, so make sure you reach out to discover what they are—most people aren’t going to share them in public. The Cub Scout program has long relied on a Family Talent Survey to discover those hidden skills of their families. Consider developing a similar form for your PTA and sharing it at registration, Open House night, your PTA meetings, and other opportunities, especially at the start of the year.
  • Recruit one-on-one.Some parents may step up with a sign up form through MemberHub or a sheet passed around at a PTA meeting, but most won’t, especially for bigger jobs. Target your recruitment efforts and find the opportunity to sit down in a relaxed atmosphere to discuss the job and why you think they would be great at it.
  • Have a procedure book.A procedure book is one of your best volunteer recruiting tools. When you’re trying to fill a position that someone has had for several years, a procedure book that spells out everything they’ve done, who their contacts were, and what they spent their budget on is priceless. Be sure to let your potential volunteer know they are not starting from scratch.
  • Find micro-volunteering opportunities.Not everyone has a schedule that lets them help out at the PTA event or in the classroom, but there may be possibilities that they can do on their own time as it fits in their schedule. These micro-volunteering opportunities can be an easy first step for someone to become a long-time PTA volunteer.
  • Share the ball.If you’ve ever watched a soccer game with very young players, you’ve probably seen how the game ends up—a few talented kids run around kicking the ball and scoring goals while the rest chase the ball in a big clump and the coach yells for everyone to spread out and pass the ball. While the coach might be able to win the game with their few talented players, they also know that success in the future requires the kids in the clump to know how to handle the ball and that their current “stars” won’t be able to be successful in the future if they’re still trying to take on the opposing team on their own. While every PTA has their superstar volunteers, it is important that you don’t rely on them too much. Make sure that all your volunteers get a chance to handle the ball and remember that your role as a PTA leader is like that of the coach—supporting your players but not kicking the ball yourself.

Photo © 2011 by USAG-Humphreys under Creative Commons license.