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.

Top 10 Water Safety Tips

With warmer weather finally here, many people are heading outdoors. If your outdoor plans include being around water, whether swimming, fishing, or boating, be sure to follow these top ten water safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can find these and other information on how to be safe around water on the CDC website.

  1. DO learn to swim.If you like to have a good time doing water activities, being a strong swimmer is a must.
  2. DO take a friend along.Even though you may be a good swimmer, you never know when you may need help. Having friends around is safer and just more fun!
  3. DO know your limits.Watch out for the “too’s”—too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun, too much hard activity.
  4. DO swim in supervised (watched) areas only,and follow all signs and warnings.
  5. DO wear a life jacket when boating, jet skiing, water skiing, rafting, or fishing.
  6. DO stay alert to currents.They can change quickly! If you get caught in a strong current, don’t fight it. Swim parallel to the shore until you have passed through it. Near piers, jetties (lines of big rocks), small dams, and docks, the current gets unpredictable and could knock you around. If you find it hard to move around, head to shore. Learn to recognize and watch for dangerous waves and signs of rip currents — water that is a weird color, really choppy, foamy, or filled with pieces of stuff.
  7. DO keep an eye on the weather.If you spot bad weather (dark clouds, lighting), pack up and take the fun inside.
  8. DON’T mess around in the water.Pushing or dunking your friends can get easily out of hand.
  9. DON’T dive into shallow water.If you don’t know how deep the water is, don’t dive.
  10. DON’T float where you can’t swim.Keep checking to see if the water is too deep, or if you are too far away from the shore or the poolside.

Photo © 2016 by Roman Boed under Creative Commons license.

Helping Your Child Improve Their Messy Handwriting

Children are expected to have messy handwriting when they’re starting out, but if your child is struggling with their handwriting skills when most of their classmates seem to have it mastered, it can harm their self-esteem and motivation to do well in school. If your child is struggling with handwriting, Understood has a couple of articles to help you help your child master this critical skill (botharticles are available in Spanish as well).

The first article details how you can help your child at home with their handwriting skills. Start by watching your child when they are writing to see if there are any obvious issues—is their hand tiring or are they having trouble holding their pencil correctly? Talk to your child’s teacher as well to see if what you saw at home is also happening in the classroom. The teacher may also have some suggestions for how you can help at home. Other suggestions from the article include:

The article also includes suggestions on how your child’s school can help as well.

The second article focuses on the specific ways that children may be struggling to write neatly. It details things to look for when your child is writing and how those struggles may show up in what they are putting down on paper. The article also covers the reasons your child may be struggling with their handwriting as well, including their age and developmental status, issues with motor skills, learning disabilities, and even simply being impulsive and rushing through their school work.

It is also important to reassure your child that learning handwriting is a complicated skill, but that it is a skill that can be learned and they can improve. Check out the two articles for more information.

Illinois PTA Policy on Fundraising and Alcohol

In response to an increasing number of questions from PTAs regarding fundraising and alcohol, the Illinois PTA State Board of Directors has adopted the following policy for local PTAs, PTA Councils, districts, regions, and the State Board of Directors.

Like every PTA activity, fundraising should be conducted in alignment with our mission: to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families to advocate for all children. Likewise, National PTA policy states that PTAs should refrain from accepting funds from businesses engaged in activities inconsistent with the PTA mission and positions (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, and firearms). To help provide guidance regarding PTAs and alcohol, the Illinois PTA has adopted the following policy.

  • PTAs may not directly sell alcoholic beverages under any circumstances.
  • Sealed bottles of alcohol may be included in silent auction items provided that the auction is held off school property and the contents are not opened during the event or on the premises. PTAs are not to purchase alcohol for such auctions, but may auction donated bottles of alcohol.
  • PTAs are strongly encouraged to refrain from serving alcoholic beverages at PTA events. If alcohol is served, the PTA may not serve it. A licensed establishment or catering company must be used to serve alcohol. PTAs may not sell alcoholic beverages through ticket sales.
  • Alcohol may not be served at events where children are present.
  • Under no circumstances are PTA funds to be used to purchase alcohol or to reimburse purchases of alcohol. This includes reimbursement for alcohol purchased with a meal while a person is representing PTA (e.g., while attending convention).

PTAs should also be aware that Illinois law prohibits open containers of alcohol on “public school district property on school days or at events on public school district property when children are present.” In addition, your county or municipal government may have additional restrictions regarding alcohol sales.