4 Things Not to Do When Dealing with an Angry Volunteer

woman-975339_640From the National PTA president down to the local unit, PTA is a volunteer association. PTA can’t do what it does without volunteers, and Illinois PTA has shared information on:

Most of the time, PTA volunteers are happy to share their time and skills, but occasionally one must deal with an angry or upset volunteer. When that happens, the Engaging Volunteers blog has a list of four things not to do, as well as what to do instead.

  1. Don’t Smile at an Angry Volunteer
    You might think a smile is welcoming and friendly, but to an angry volunteer you may appear to be condescending or not taking them seriously. Your smile might also be seen as an attempt to move them away from anger that they (perhaps rightly) feel is justified.
  1. Don’t Tell an Angry Volunteer How They Feel
    Saying, “I can see that you’re really angry…” may be an attempt to be empathetic on your part, but doing so can sometimes increase a person’s anger. Their reaction may be to deny the words you are using and push the conversation into an argument.
  1. Don’t Push Your Solutions
    An angry volunteer wants to be heard first, not have a solution thrust upon them. While you may feel like you are sharing your experience, providing a solution that they may not be ready to hear or have bought into is likely to go nowhere and can turn into a new point to argue about.
  1. Don’t Hijack the Conversation
    Sharing your story (“I know exactly what that’s like…”) may feel like you’re being sympathetic, to your angry volunteer it seems you are not letting them finish their story and have made the conversation about you instead of them.

Be sure to read the Engaging Volunteers article to find out what to do instead of each of these things to make sure your volunteers feel that their concerns are being met in a safe, non-judgmental, and empathetic way.

Illinois PTA Launches PTA Essentials Video Series

illinoispta-logoIllinois PTA offers free training, both in person and online, but realizes that not everyone’s schedule aligns with training opportunities. Today, Illinois PTA launches its PTA Essentials video series with two financial help videos on its YouTube channel:

PTA Essentials is a series of short videos that provide critical information on running a PTA. They are not intended to replace the Illinois PTA’s PTA University training courses. These videos offer a quick refresher for those who have already taken training and cover the basics for those who may be just starting a position and haven’t had the opportunity to take training yet.

The first two videos focus on key financial issues for PTAs. Failing to complete an audit, mishandling PTA funds, and not using deposit and expense vouchers are three of the most common ways PTAs run into financial problems. Future videos in the series will cover topics such as:

  • Running a PTA Meeting
  • How to Update Your PTA’s Bylaws
  • Maintaining Good Standing
  • Creating and Using Procedure Books

Click the subscribe button on any video to ensure that you don’t miss these future videos from Illinois PTA.

In addition to the PTA Essentials video series, the Illinois PTA YouTube channel has a recording of the first 2016 Illinois PTA Advocacy Day webinar on Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities for those who were unable to attend. Illinois PTA has also fixed an error in the sign-up form for the webinar series, so if you were unable to sign up to attend the Legislative Priorities webinar or want to sign up for these future webinars:

  • How to Meet with Legislators (October 13, 7:30pm)
  • Advocate the PTA Way (October 27, 7:30pm)
  • Hot Topics Briefing (November 10, 7:30pm)

head over to the revised sign-up form now.

Master the Art of the PTA Meeting

no-boring-2We’ve all attended them—PTA meetings that seem to drag on forever, don’t get anything done, and leave you dreading the next meeting. Poorly-run meetings can drive away potential PTA volunteers and leaders. If you’re a new PTA president, or even an experienced one, here are some tips to help you master the art of the PTA meeting.

Put the Business in the Right Meeting

Your PTA’s bylaws state what business items the general membership must vote on, and the list is a lot shorter than you think. Your membership votes:

  1. To approve the audit
  2. To adopt or amend the budget
  3. To amend the bylaws
  4. To elect the nominating committee
  5. To elect the officers

Approval of the audit and adopting the budget are done at your first general membership meeting of your fiscal year. Electing officers is usually done at your last meeting of the year, and the nominating committee should be elected a couple of months in advance of your election. Your PTA bylaws should be updated every two years, but that can be done at any general membership meeting.

This means that your PTA can manage with a minimum of three general membership business meetings each year. If the budget needs to be amended, a short general membership meeting can be held just before a PTA program or event to handle just that piece of business. All of the other business of the PTA can be handled in PTA board meetings.

If your PTA meetings are usually only attended by your board anyway, consider how changing your PTA meetings from a business focus to a program focus would affect how families engage with your PTA. If families knew that the PTA meeting that night was not a long series of committee reports and other business, but a celebration of student Reflections entries, a presentation from the school administration on how student discipline is handled, or a Family Reading Experience program, would more people show up? Would families that experience the PTA through programs rather than meetings be more likely to volunteer in the future?

Make Your Meeting a Welcoming One

PTAs and schools have turnover built in, as students and their families move on to higher grades and new families come into the school. Make sure that those new families feel welcome by your PTA by:

  • Creating a welcome packet for new families.
  • Greeting people at the door.
  • Providing name tags at your first few meetings.
  • Encouraging your board members to sit throughout your meeting area rather than in one clump.
  • Having a pre- or post-meeting social time with refreshments to connect with new members.
  • Use ice breaker introductions (name plus what grades your kids are in, your favorite part of school as a kid, what your kids like about your school, etc.).
  • Define your terms, including acronyms and jargon.
  • Avoid inside jokes, referencing people by first name only (e.g., “The previous chair always…” rather than “Jane always…”—especially if “Jane” isn’t at the school anymore), and other socializing during the meeting.
  • Consider sitting in a circle or around one big table rather than a table of officers at the front.

Have an Agenda

An agenda is the road your PTA meeting will travel. Without one, your meeting’s path may end up looking more like the path of a bumper car at the fair. As president, an agenda is a tool to help keep discussions focused on the topic at hand, as a gentle, “Let’s focus on our current agenda item” can help curb a tangential discussion. Providing your meeting agenda ahead of time can also help to set expectations for what will be accomplished at the meeting. An agenda should have:

  • A call to order
  • Welcome and introductions
  • Reports (from the principal, teacher’s representative, student representative, secretary (minutes), treasurer, or committees—but keep them short)
  • Unfinished business from previous meetings
  • New business
  • Adjourn

Make sure your unfinished and new business items focus on reaching decisions. If the discussion on an item doesn’t seem to be coming to consensus, entertain a motion to create a committee to make recommendations at your next meeting.

Use Parliamentary Procedure to Your Advantage

As a PTA president, you don’t need to know all 800+ pages of Robert’s Rules of Order, but you should be familiar with the basics. Use parliamentary procedure by:

  • Making sure you have a quorum (see your bylaws) when voting on business items.
  • Always having speakers wait to be recognized by the president before speaking.
  • Always having speakers address the president rather than each other.
  • Ensuring that motions (other than from a committee) have a second before being discussed.
  • A second motion amends the motion currently being discussed.
  • “Calling the question” or “moving the previous question” by a member of the audience requires a 2/3 vote to end debate, followed (if successful) by an immediate (majority) vote on the motion on the floor.
  • Knowing that the president does not vote other than by ballot.

Remember that Robert’s Rules of Order was written to ensure the voice of the minority is heard, but that the will of the majority prevails. While the smaller details of Robert’s Rules are essential when conducting meetings with a large voting body, those details are less essential in the friendly confines of a small PTA meeting. Knowing the key points above is sufficient for most situations that PTA presidents will find themselves in.

Share It

Publicize when and where your next meeting occurs in as many ways as possible: newsletters, e-mail, flyers, social media, school announcements, bulletin board, posters, school sign, etc. In channels where you have room, share why a family would want to attend (e.g., program or speaker, free babysitting, social event, etc.). After the meeting, be sure to also share what happened, thank those involved, and publicize the next PTA event.

The PTA President’s Guide to Happiness

3803517719_61fc214012_bSo you’re a new PTA president getting ready to start your first term. Maybe this is your first position with the PTA; maybe you’ve been involved for years. Either way, leading your PTA is a big new step. Here are our suggestions for finding happiness as a PTA president.

You Can’t Do It All Yourself

As a leader, your role is to guide, facilitate, encourage, and enable your volunteers to be successful, not to be the SuperMom or SuperDad who does it all. The do-it-all leader tends to drive away volunteers and leave the PTA in worse shape when they leave office. A successful leader cultivates volunteers and makes them feel valued, which generates enthusiasm for the PTA and its work. Illinois PTA has tips to get more volunteers and to overcome those who say they can’t volunteer.

Get Trained

Chances are your parents didn’t just toss you the car keys and wave when you turned 16. You took a driver’s education class and spent time behind the wheel with an experienced driver guiding your learning. Illinois PTA has several free training courses to help PTA leaders learn the ins and outs of their PTA position. Contact your district or region director or Illinois PTA Leadership Director Brenda Diehl to find out when training is scheduled in your area or to set up training. Take a look at National PTA’s E-Learning Library for online courses, many of which are available in both English and Spanish.

Communications is Key

Both National PTA and Illinois PTA provide lots of resources to help PTA leaders be successful. From the National PTA Back-to-School Kit to the Illinois PTA Local Unit Packet that is distributed to all PTA presidents, this information is yours to share with your PTA leaders and members. Be sure to look through all of the materials you receive and pass on applicable information to those who need it. Your PTA treasurer, Reflections chairperson, or other leader will be more likely to run for a second term if you’ve been providing them with the information that they need to be successful.

Effective communication isn’t just with your PTA board, but with your members and community as well. If the families in your school know what the PTA is doing, they are more likely to step up and volunteer to be a part of the great things your PTA is doing for kids. If the businesses and community members know that the PTA is making a difference in your school, they are more likely to sponsor PTA activities and donate time or materials. Use Illinois PTA’s tips for effective communication to help plan your outreach.

Work with Your School Administrators and Teachers

A well-run PTA can be a principal’s or a teacher’s biggest asset. A poorly-run PTA can be their worst nightmare. Having a good working relationship with your school’s principal and teachers is critical to having an effective PTA. Communicate regularly with your principal. Work together to map out the school year in terms of PTA activities, fundraising, and meetings. Find out what the school’s goals are for your students, and see what PTA programs can help meet those goals.

Remember You Are Running a Business

You may think you are running “just the PTA,” but you are in fact running a 501(c)3 organization. Make sure your PTA is following the IRS requirements on filing tax forms. Remember that PTA fundraising is to support the mission and purposes of the PTA, not just to make money. Consider incorporating to protect your PTA officers if your PTA hasn’t done so already. Use procedure books to preserve your PTA’s knowledge and experience. Make sure your bylaws have been updated in the last two years, and develop standing rules to cover things the bylaws do not.

Be an Advocate

You joined PTA because you care about your child and their school. Maybe you’ve spoken with a teacher about a classroom problem, a principal about a school problem, or perhaps even a superintendent or the school board about a district problem. If so, you’ve been an advocate for your child, but also for the children in that classroom, school, or district. PTA provides you with the opportunity to advocate and make a difference in the lives of children across Illinois and across the country. Illinois PTA uses tools to make advocacy as easy as clicking a few buttons. Sign up to receive Illinois PTA advocacy e-mails, and encourage your members to sign up as well. A single drop of water seems insignificant, but a drop of water falling into a pond can spread ripples across the surface of the entire pond. When single drops of water move together, they can power a mill or carve the Grand Canyon.

Have Fun

Being a PTA leader can be a lot of fun, whether it is seeing all the smiling faces at a PTA event or taking a cream pie to the face when your PTA meets a difficult goal. If you and your fellow PTA leaders are having fun, chances are your members are as well, and those who haven’t joined the PTA will want to join in the fun, too. So take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy your presidency.

Photo ©2009 by thephotographymuse under Creative Commons license.