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.

Is Your PTA a Clique?

Today’s guest post comes from Washington State PTA with some advice on how to avoid having your PTA seen as a clique.

Sometimes, the reason more people don’t join your PTA is because they feel unwelcome. Whether warranted or not, your PTA may have a reputation as a clique. Overcoming this common issue can be challenging because it requires the focus and commitment of your group as a whole.

The first obstacle to overcome – and the spot where most groups get stuck – is agreeing there’s a problem. When a PTA is labeled a clique, most leaders instinctively go on defense, arguing all the reasons the label isn’t accurate. And, in many cases, a group may have a compelling argument as to why that perception is wrong. However, it doesn’t matter. The simple truth is this: if your PTA is perceived as a clique, it IS a clique. And the more you argue that point, the stickier the label becomes and the harder to remove.

Think about it: how often does a group of friends decide to call themselves a “clique?” Pretty much never, right? But you can probably think of several examples of cliques you’ve encountered in your life. Groups get labelled “cliques” by those who consider themselves outside of one. In other words, it’s a matter of how others perceive your group. Perception is reality; that is, others’ perception of your group is the reality of your group’s reputation.

Once you’ve come to terms with your PTA’s public perception, the only way to change that reputation is with consistent action over a sustained period of time. Your board (or other group of leaders) must dedicate the time and consistency required for the change to happen. Each person must be willing to change how things are done, which can be a hard pill to swallow for an established PTA. Even if a board member disagrees with a change, they must be able to rise above their personal feelings for the benefit of the group. Naysayers are always on the hunt for a sign that things haven’t really changed, and if anyone in your group isn’t walking the talk, that person will become the “sign” those naysayers seek.

Once your board owns up to its reputation as a clique and agrees to do what’s necessary to change, the real work begins. The quickest way to combat a negative public perception is to analyze those actions that are creating that perception and then change them (and don’t assume you already know – that’s what got your PTA in this dilemma in the first place). Sometimes it’s possible to gather this information through a constructive discussion among honest, well-intentioned stakeholders. However, that’s often not an option, in which case your board should take time to walk through all of your PTA’s touchpoints with “the public” and consider where there may be opportunities to improve your perception as a welcoming group. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. At every PTA function, proactively seek out any new faces and introduce yourself. You might not recognize them, but they probably recognize you. Undoubtedly, you are that person “from the PTA,” and the way you behave toward them is the biggest factor in determining their opinion of your group.
  2. Regardless of your good intent, do not huddle together with fellow board members in private conversation during PTA events. If you catch yourself doing this, agree to separate out and canvas the area.
  3. Get folks on a level playing field by asking everyone to wear name tags at meetings and events, from the president to the first-time attendee.
  4. Communicate to families in the languages they speak. Find a parent or community member who can help translate materials and even serve as an interpreter at meetings. Make sure to advertise the availability of interpreters and materials to encourage participation among diverse groups. Don’t forget to personally tell them how happy you are that they’re in attendance.
  5. Eliminate the practice of having the board sit together (or at a head table) at membership meetings. Minimize side conversations, inside jokes, and chit-chat, which can make newcomers feel like outsiders.
  6. Explain each piece of business, and steer clear of obscure terms and insider jargon. Don’t assume “everyone knows that.”
  7. Instead of having board members volunteer together at an event, assign a mix of new and old volunteers to each station or shift.

While there will always be critics, it’s up to you to decide which words may have some truth behind them. And, since the clique label is a matter of others’ perception, it’s usually a good idea to pay attention to others labeling your PTA a clique. You may uncover a multitude of opportunities to improve your reputation, increase your membership, and broaden your volunteer base.

A PTA President’s Guide to Being an Ex-

As the school year wraps up, many PTA presidents will soon be ex-PTA presidents. And while the job description for an ex-PTA president sounds simple—stop running the PTA—some PTA presidents struggle to do that, especially if they are still at the school where they were president. Here’s a handy guide to being a successful ex-PTA president.

Handing Things Off

Make sure your successor gets all the material you inherited when you became PTA president as well as the materials you’ve added. Be sure to include your procedure book. Find a time to sit down with the new PTA president to discuss how your term went, what worked, what didn’t, and what you’d do differently if you had the job for another term. Be sure to answer any questions they might have and provide them with your contact information so they can ask questions when they arise during their term.

Transition Your Board

Have your outgoing board meet with the incoming board to do what you did with the new president. Make sure materials get handed over to those new board members. Share how your board worked together, where you all stumbled, and how you’d handle some things differently if they came up again.

Make Introductions

Make sure you introduce the new PTA president to teachers, administrators, staff, and community partners. Talk to your principal to see if you could have a couple of minutes to do this at the beginning of a year-end staff meeting. Have your other officers and committee chairs do the same with their successors.

Don’t forget to introduce the new officers and board members to your membership as well. Be sure to share the abilities of the new team that led to their nominations. Doing so provides members with the knowledge that there will be a smooth transition and their PTA, their school, and their children will be in good hands next year.

Don’t Forget Online

Remember that existing officers will need to put in the information on next year’s officers into MemberHub. Don’t forget to hand over administrative access to the new officers and to pass on any passwords for social media accounts, online banking, and other online PTA accounts along with instructions to change them right away and a reminder to make sure that more than one person has the passwords available.

Make sure the signatories on your PTA checking account get updated as well. Remember that because of new federal legislation, banks are required to get the Social Security number of account owners.

Plan to Step Back

Whether you are moving on to another position on the PTA board, not taking another PTA leadership role, or going to another school, plan on stepping back from the PTA presidency. Give your successor the room to do their job, even if it is not the way you would do it. Make sure that they know that while you are not going to be backseat driving during their term, you are there as a resource for them and will answer any questions they have, serve as a sounding board for their ideas, and give them a shoulder to cry on if they need it.

Photo © 2003 by tableatny under Creative Commons license.

Building Your PTA Leadership Skills

Perhaps you’ve just been nominated or elected president of your PTA. Maybe you’re thinking about running for PTA president next year. Or maybe you’re headed into your second term and want to do things differently this year. However you’ve arrived at the position, being a PTA president will require you to develop your leadership skills.

Contrary to the popular phrase, leaders are not born, but made. Even so-called “born leaders” have honed their skills over the years. Even if this is your first leadership experience, you can still be a successful PTA leader. Here’s how to build your PTA leadership skills.

Get Trained

This seems like a pretty obvious starting place—you’re beginning a new job, so you ought to learn how to do it—but many PTA leaders don’t bother to take any training. Perhaps they’ve been a PTA member or officer for a while, have seen their PTA president work, and think it all looks pretty simple. Maybe they think that the job isn’t that important because it is “just a volunteer position.” But in reality, as a PTA president you are running a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and with that comes legal requirements and all the skills you would need to run a non-profit with a paid position.

Illinois PTA provides several training courses. PTA 101 will give you the basics of what PTA is and how it works, and Money Matters 101 covers the major financial details of running a PTA. The PTA President’s Course, however, is primarily about leadership, so be sure to take it. Other leadership courses beyond the Illinois PTA ones are often available at the Illinois PTA Convention or at district or region events.

Don’t forget to look for other leadership training opportunities as well, whether they be through your job or through other volunteer organizations. The Boy Scouts’ Wood Badge course is one well-known example, and the leadership skills you learn elsewhere translate into your PTA role (and vice versa).

Figure Out How You Lead

There are a lot of different approaches to being a leader, and if you search on leadership styles, you’ll see them spelled out in lists of three to a dozen or more. Rather than trying to tailor yourself to a specific leadership style, it is far better to look at the qualities that make an effective leader, to effectively use those that you are good at, and to work to improve those that you are weaker in. You’ll find that as the team you lead changes over time, whether from changes in the people on the team to growing experience on how to work together, your leadership style will need to change to meet the current needs of your team.

Note that being a leader is different from being a manager. You can be a PTA president who is simply a manager, making sure that things get done on time, events get planned and executed, and taking care of the other PTA equivalents of “making the buses run on time.” But being a PTA leader means moving your PTA ahead to do things it isn’t already doing.

When looking at the qualities that good leaders possess, the ones listed here are a good start. You may identify other qualities based on examples of good leadership you have experienced as well. Good leaders are:

  • Appreciative:Remember that success is only achieved with the help of others, and that true appreciation for those you are leading and their hard work provides encouragement, develops confidence, and builds teamwork.
  • Confident:Good leaders are confident that they are leading their team in the right direction, but not overconfident. Don’t be afraid of having your ideas challenged or having to admit you made a mistake.
  • Flexible:As situations change and new information becomes available, the path you are leading your team on may no longer be the correct one. Be open to new ideas. “We’ve always done it that way” is not a good reason to keep doing something unless you fully understand why it has been done that way, and that still doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way.
  • Honest:Having honest conversations with the people you are leading can be the most difficult job of a leader, but also one of the most essential. Honesty inspires trust, and trust is the foundation of a successful team. Trust means that your team can have the productive conflict necessary to move forward without devolving into personal attacks or other destructive behaviors.
  • Compassionate:Remember that those you are leading are human, and as a result, they sometimes make mistakes. Approach mistakes with compassion, including those you make yourself.
  • Fair:Every member of your team has a role to play and any member may be the one with the critical idea that ensures success. Don’t play favorites; focus on results.
  • Impartial:Being impartial means recognizing your biases, prejudices, and tendencies and ensuring that they don’t affect your actions.
  • Courageous:A courageous leader is prepared to take a risk, raises difficult issues, gives and receives difficult feedback, and trusts in the members of their team.
  • Diligent:Leading a team is not easy. It requires you to put in the hard work necessary to get things done. When you as a leader are willing to put in the hard work, it inspires others to do the same.
  • Responsive:A responsive leader adapts their behavior to the situation at hand, listens to their team, and adjusts to meet the needs of their team.

Be a Servant Leader

There are those elected to office who think that now that I’m PTA president, everyone has to do what I say. But leading based on your position alone will not get you very far, especially when you are new to the position, because you have not built up a track record of trust, accountability, or success with those you are leading.

Servant leadership is the idea that you lead by serving others. This approach works especially well in organizations like PTA, where your team is made up of volunteers. Being a servant leader means that your focus should be on doing what needs to be done to make those below you successful. That means that an important part of your job as a servant leader is building and maintaining the relationships among those on your team. To help you do that, focus on these skills:

  • Listening:By listening to others actively and intently, you can better understand where your team wants to go and help to clarify that direction.
  • Empathy:A good servant leader empathizes and understands those they lead and recognizes their unique abilities and perspectives. That means that you do not reject them as people even when you are forced to reject certain behaviors.
  • Healing:Every one of us has our own triggers and sore spots built up over a lifetime of experience. Occasionally, a team member or we ourselves may bump one of those sore spots inadvertently. Use such occasions to promote healing on your team. Remember Ian Maclaren’s adage, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
  • Awareness:When you are a servant leader focused on the needs of your team, you need to be aware of what they need and where they are coming from. But awareness also extends to you as a leader. Be aware of your beliefs, values, goals, and biases.
  • Persuasion:Servant leaders, by definition, focus on persuading others rather than coercing them, but don’t fixate on persuading others to your path to success. Focus on persuading others to achieve the goals and results you want, which means being open to the path that they suggest to those results being superior to yours.
  • Foresight:It is easy as a PTA president to get caught up in the day-to-day issues. Take the time to lift your head up from the immediate tasks at hand to focus on where you want your PTA to be at the end of your term. Think about the steps that need to be taken to get your PTA there.
  • Stewardship:When you were elected PTA president, you were not put in charge of the PTA, you were given the job of caring and growing your PTA for your successor.
  • Commitment to the Growth of People:Central to servant leadership is growing the skills and abilities of those on your team both as people and as leaders. That commitment includes taking a personal interest in everyone’s ideas and suggestions, empowering your team members to take action and be involved in the decision-making, and actively supporting each team member in the manner they need it. Doing so will provide your PTA with better leaders in the future.
  • Building Community:Parallel to supporting the growth of your team members is building community in your PTA and your school. This means extending those same servant leadership skills that you have used with your board to everyone at your school, from the principal to the teachers, staff, students, and families.