Recognize Your PTA Volunteers to Keep Them Coming Back

Thank-you-word-cloudOne of the most important ways a PTA can get the most from its volunteers is to acknowledge their efforts. Perhaps your school had a volunteer recognition event back in April during National Volunteer Week. As your PTA year wraps up, be sure to thank your volunteers both publicly and privately for their work, and don’t forget to share with your administration what all those volunteer hours mean for your school. Independent Sector, a leadership network for nonprofits, estimates that the value of volunteer time for 2015 is $23.56/hour.

When recognizing volunteers, you can always go with the nice suitable-for-framing certificate, a small gift card, or a donation to the Illinois PTA Scholarship Fund. Instead of the $10 gift card or simple certificate, consider making simple volunteer recognition awards that acknowledge the hard work and importance of your volunteers in a fun way. Remember, with these sorts of awards, the presentation is as important as the award itself, so ham it up!

Awards can be easily made with simple hobby or hardware store items—a small painted plaque, a decorative item, and a little bit of hot glue are all you need. Here are some award suggestions:

  • Our Eyes Are On You: For the leader who sets the example (button eyes on a large felt U)
  • Order of the Spare Marble: For the person who’s lost them (a marble glued to a small piece of wood or to a string )
  • Spark Plug Award: For the person who is the spark of a project (a spark plug)
  • Berry Good Job: For the person who did a “Berry Good Job” (a wax or plastic berry (any kind))
  • Measure Up Award: For the person who’s performance sets the standard (a ruler)
  • Nuts About the Job Award: For the person who had to be nuts to take on the job (2 or 3 peanuts glued to a piece of wood)
  • Order of the Bear: For those that bear up under pressure (a plastic bear with a tire gauge)
  • Life Saver Award: For that person who saved you (a Lifesaver on a string)
  • Banana Award: For the person with great appeal (a wax or plastic banana)
  • Bright Idea Award: For those who had a bright idea (a light bulb)
  • Helping Hand Award: For those who was willing to help (trace a hand on construction paper mounted to a piece of cardboard)
  • Hat’s Off Award: For someone we take our hats off to (an old hat mounted on a piece of wood)
  • Right Foot Award: For those who got us off on the right foot (Trace a RIGHT foot –use caution some may not know left from right)
  • Big Heart Award: For those who always seem to have one (heart shaped craft material of any kind, then decorated)
  • “Egg”cellent job/idea /etc. Award: For those who did an excellent job (fake egg)
  • Heartfelt Thanks Award: Self-explanatory (large heart cut from felt with “Thanks” on it)
  • Thanks a Million Award: For the person you’d pay a million dollars for to have them volunteering in your PTA (a million dollars in play money or a million-dollar bill)
  • “Shell” of a Job Award: For the person who did a great job (seashell)
  • Hung in There Award: For the person who stuck through a tough job (anything hanging from something (try to get a picture of the person))
  • Worked Like a Dog Award: For the person who did just that (dog biscuit or bone)
  • Tee-rific Award: For the person who did a terrific job (a golf tee or tea bag)
  • The Coveted Dime-and-Pin Award: For those you would give a diamond pin to if the PTA budget could afford it (glue a pin to a dime)
  • Rose to the Occasion Award: For the person who really stepped up (an artificial or ribbon rose)
  • It’s “Bean” Wonderful Award: For the person leaving your PTA (a lima or other large bean)
  • Knocked Yourself Out Award: For the person who gave their all (a small hammer, mini baseball bat, or mini boxing glove)
  • Shining Example Award: For those who best exemplify your PTA (a small flashlight)
  • Hornblower Award: For those who never blow their own horn (a plastic bicycle horn or party horn)
  • Megaphone Award: For those who are soft spoken but get the job done or who never shout
  • The Band-Aid Award: For those who can fix anything
  • The Rock Award: For those who are the rock of the group
  • The Rope Award: For those who always tie up the loose ends (a piece of manila/sisal/hemp rope with the ends whipped)
  • The Crutch Award: For those you can lean on
  • Key to Success Award: For those who were key to making it happen
  • Whale Award: For those who did a whale of job
  • Football Award: For the person who always is willing to tackle a job (a small football or football player)
  • Cone Award: For the person who can lick any job (an ice cream cone)

Graphic ©2015 by Ashashyou under Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons.

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Membership Recruitment, Retention, and Engagement

conv logo 2Illinois PTA understands there are challenges to PTAs in recruiting and retaining members. We believe we can best address these challenges by communicating with you, the local unit members, in finding out what works for your PTA and what doesn’t. Through online conference events and convention networking workshops, we have discovered some of the challenges you face and have brainstormed together some suggested ideas for meeting those challenges. Most recently at our 114th Annual Convention, we offered a “Recruitment, Retention, Engagement–Membership Networking Workshop.” Challenges and solution ideas expressed in a past web conference were presented and added to by the participants in the workshop.

Why Join PTA?

Why do people join PTA? What does PTA offer them? PTA offers families the opportunity to get involved in their child’s education, to volunteer to make the educational experience for the kids in their community the best it can be. Studies show that family involvement is one of the most valuable assets to a child’s success in school. Along with family involvement, PTA encourages local units to reach out and partner with their communities (businesses, city councils, service clubs, chambers of commerce, etc.) to be involved in supporting their efforts on behalf of children, families, and schools. Many people take advantage of PTA leadership development opportunities and assistance with resources for advocacy on behalf of children at the local, state, and federal levels.

Why Don’t People Join PTA?

At the workshop, participants were asked to share their experiences on why people don’t join PTA? Here are the challenges that were discussed:

  • Fear of being asked to volunteer for anything or everything
  • Parents volunteer at school but don’t feel the need to join PTA
  • Too many PTA meetings to attend
  • Cultural differences
  • Busy with other volunteer activities (e.g., sports, Scouts, dance, place of worship, etc.)
  • English as second language–can’t understand and participate in meetings or activities
  • Parents working full time can’t volunteer during the school day
  • Lack of awareness of PTA or what we do
  • Unable to pay dues
  • Uncomfortable with interaction with administration of school

The workshop participants then brainstormed ideas to deal with each challenge.

Fear of Being Asked to Volunteer or Parents Volunteer but Don’t Join PTA

  • Be sure to inform parents that while we welcome those who are able to volunteer, membership in PTA helps support your unit financially and more members provides PTA a larger voice in local, state, and national advocacy with governments and other policy makers.
  • Offer a program where you ask for a commitment of only a few hours each year from each member (e.g., PTA’s Three for Me Program). That way members are assured they won’t have to work at every event.
  • Offer a contest and reward parents for volunteering the most hours. Keep track of each volunteer’s hours either monthly or yearly. Hold a volunteer appreciation event and either just acknowledge the hours volunteered by each member or give out little awards. Many businesses are happy to donate items that can be used for this purpose.
  • What about and incentive like “reserved parking!” One school started a program where each year they place the name of every member who joins into a drawing. At a PTA meeting before a special school event, a name is drawn and the lucky winner gets preferred parking reserved at the school for that event. It was very successful in recruiting new and keeping returning members. What about doing this with a few reserved seats at the event? This would promote partnership with the school leadership. What about requiring that the winner be present at the PTA meeting to be awarded the incentive? Would that perhaps increase attendance at meetings?

Too Many PTA Meetings to Attend

  • PTAs do not have to have a meeting every month throughout the year. Your local PTA bylaws dictate how many meetings you have to hold each year. Amend your bylaws to reduce the number of meetings your general membership has to hold each year. General membership meetings are only needed to approve the audit report, to adopt or amend the budget, to elect a nominating committee, or to elect new officers.
  • Pick months for your meetings when you can involve the children in a short program or performance. Everyone enjoys coming out to see the kids perform. Ask for help from your choral or band departments on ideas for programs. Use one meeting to highlight students’ artwork. If your school participates in the PTA Reflections Program, hold a meeting to recognize the students’ achievements.
  • Pick months where you can supply a light meal or snacks. Many participants in the workshop voiced that members really enjoy coming to meetings where there is some sort of treat!

Cultural Differences

  • Find ways to reach out to parents of different cultures and help them feel welcome. Educate them that parents are able to participate in school activities.
  • Host workshops to help educate these parents and families about participating in PTA and school activities. Consider holding these workshops at different times of the week and day to allow more people to fit them into their schedule.
  • Hold an event highlighting the different cultures in your school. One PTA suggested that having an event where children from each of the cultures represented in their school did a presentation demonstrating aspects of their culture. Some used dance and song, others used language activities, and others used a sampling of their culture’s food. It is a huge success and is done every year now. What a great idea!

Busy with Other Volunteer Activities or Parents Working Full Time Can’t Volunteer During School Day

A great way to include parents and families who cannot volunteer during the school day is to provide opportunities for them to assist with things for which they do not have to be present:

  • Make a treat for a party or special event and let their child bring it in that day
  • Simply ask those parents who cannot be present to send in the paper goods. Again, allow the child to bring the items the day of the party. (Allowing the kiddos to bring the items in allows them a sense that their parents are contributing and supporting them as much as those parents who are able to be physically present.)
  • Send home craft work needed for PTA events and allow parents to cut, fold, staple, color, sort, etc., during any free time they have outside of work or other activities. Be sure to do this well in advance of the event to allow parents time to finish without feeling stressed.

English as a Second Language

  • Consider holding two separate meetings: one for English speaking members and a separate meeting for individuals who may need more time understanding the meeting discussion.
  • Have the agenda translated into their language.
  • If possible, have someone who speaks the language of those in attendance to assist.

Lack of Awareness of PTA or What We Do

  • Toot your own horn! Be sure to have information available about all the good things you do for kids. Don’t just think in terms of fundraising; talk about all the events you hold for families and children as well as the hours your members volunteer to assist at school.
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation or video showing what your PTA does throughout the year. Show the presentation or video at kindergarten or back-to-school orientation.
  • Be sure to host and advertise parent education on topics of interest to your community.
  • Inform members about the advocacy successes of Illinois and National PTA.
  • Take advantage of Illinois PTA and National PTA training. Many interesting webinars are available online. Training courses are for all members, not just PTA officers.
  • If your school has a mail-in registration, ask if your PTA can include information about what your PTA does and membership in your PTA with the mailing.
  • Check out the PTA Back-to-School Kit at The section on Membership contains a wealth of resources for promoting PTA.

Unable to Pay Dues

  • This is a difficult challenge for PTAs. One suggestion is to find community partners who might be able to contribute funds to sponsor families to become members of PTA who may need assistance with dues.
  • Title I funds can be used to pay PTA dues for those families receiving free or reduced lunches.

Uncomfortable with Interaction with Administrators of School

  • Get parents to interact at school by inviting parents to participate in parent-led enrichment activities during the school day. Parents volunteer one hour per week to come in and teach an enrichment course about an area of their interest/expertise. These could also be implemented as an after-school club.
  • Host “breakfasts,” “coffees,” or “sack lunches” for informal times that parents can meet with administrators and express concerns or ask questions.
  • Invite an administrator to attend your PTA meetings to talk informally about things going on at your school. This may help alleviate any discomfort as members get to know the administrators.

General Ideas for Engaging Families–Including Some Programs Ready to Go!

  • “Donuts for Dads” and “Muffins for Moms”: Host quick morning events for parents as they drop off children for school.
  • “Curbside Bagel Hello”: One participant indicated that the process for dropping children off at school was such that parents could not park and come into the building for a quick morning event. The suggestion was a “curbside bagel hello.” Literally stand out by where parents drop off children and hand them a bagel and a “Hello” from PTA. This is true thinking outside the box!
  • A family movie night is a very popular event to engage families. This involves some expense by the PTA to purchase the license to show a movie, but then you can engage the community by finding partners to donate pizza, ice cream, popcorn, drinks, etc.
  • Find successful programs ready to use on the Illinois PTA website under Programs then Programs to Go.
  • National PTA has programs with everything you need to promote and administer a family event for a PTA Back to Sports Night Program or a Family Reading Experience.

If you have ideas on any of the items listed or if you have challenges and solutions you would like to share, please send them to the Illinois PTA Membership Marketing Director, Rhonda Jenkins, at We will share these ideas in future One Voice Illinois posts, on Facebook, and on the Illinois PTA Membership Page.

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Leadership

conv logo 2At the 114th Annual Illinois PTA Convention, National PTA Executive Director Nathan R. Monell gave a presentation on Tomorrow’s Leaders: Attract, Develop, and Orient Leaders through Transition that focused on an issue that every PTA faces—recruiting and developing new leaders. He began his presentation with the PTA mission:

To make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.

He asked the audience how does engaging and empowering families and communities help make every child’s potential a reality? The audience’s answers echoed what research has shown, that engaged families lead to children who are more successful in school and better prepared for life and that communities that value education are economically more prosperous. It really does take a village to raise a child.

Selling the “Why” of PTA

Mr. Monell then asked the audience about why they originally became involved with PTA and why they are involved now. The reasons for originally starting with PTA were the reasons most people give: to help their child, to learn what was happening at the school, or to improve the school. The reasons for currently being involved with PTA were broader in scope: to help all children, to make a difference, or to improve all schools and communities.

He tied why people are involved with PTA with Simon Sinek’s TED talk on leadership. Sinek said, “You want to attract people who believe what you believe. They don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Thus, to recruit new members and new leaders, it is essential that we share not just what our PTAs do for our schools, but also why we do what we do.

PTA Values

There are five key values that PTA holds, and successful PTA units are usually strong in all five of them. These values are:

  • Collaboration: PTA values partnerships with teachers, principals, and school districts, with other organizations, and with our communities.
  • Commitment: PTA is one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world, and the reason people volunteer for PTA is a commitment and dedication to the PTA mission.
  • Diversity: PTA values diversity because we cannot speak for every child if we do not accept that every person brings strengths and a unique perspective to our association.
  • Respect: PTA respects every member as having an important voice in our association, helping to provide new ideas and connections.
  • Accountability: PTA leaders are responsible for ensuring that the PTA mission informs everything that the PTA does.

Vision for the Future

So what are the tools and talents that have been effective in seeing our mission and vision realized? There are three key tools in moving from values, vision, and mission to effective PTA leadership:

  • Communication
  • Influence
  • Teamwork

The key to effective communication is to ask open-ended questions, to listen to the answers, to appreciate the feedback, and to affirm the value of their voice. By doing so, we can empower people to participate in joint problem solving, encourage better connections between people, and engage other people to want to help PTA leaders.

Exercising influence is a critical skill for PTA leaders. By developing the ability to influence the beliefs of others and using that influence to promote the mission of PTA, leaders can become talent magnets, bringing together a team of believers who inspire collaboration with other people and other organizations. A crucial part of wielding influence is developing a “yes and” strategy when barriers are presented. That means that when an idea is brought forward, a PTA leader doesn’t say, “No, we tried that before, and it didn’t work.” Instead, the answer should be, “Yes, that’s a good idea and something we’ve tried before. When we did it last time, these are the problems we ran into. Has our situation changed since then so that those are not problems, or can we think of new ways to solve those problems?”

Teamwork is the third key tool of PTA leaders, and the PTA values are essential in building an effective team. PTA leaders should be seeking out individuals who have a passion for the mission of PTA, and then use the communications skills above to make connections and to identify the skills that others bring to the PTA. PTA leaders must encourage others and influence them to bring their passion and strengths to the PTA leadership team. Finally, PTA leaders need to reach out to diverse populations for new ideas and learning opportunities.

Expanding PTA Leadership

It is not enough to build a PTA leadership team. You must put in place processes and procedures to help your team members to be successful. Essential parts of those processes are:

  • Orientation
  • Mentoring
  • Inclusion

When a new volunteer joins your PTA team, you need to make sure that they understand how the PTA functions and how they fit in with the rest of the team. Orientation is how you accomplish that. As a PTA leader, you should engage with those interested in joining the PTA, explain not just the mission of the PTA but the reason for the work, and determine what goals and tasks best fit their skills and time. You need to make sure that they understand the connection between their role and the intended results so that they have a sense of what success looks like. You can’t put someone in charge of a fundraising event, tell them that $12,000 was raised last year, and then after the event say, “Last year’s fundraising was a disaster. The $12,500 you helped raise was our second worst fundraising event ever.” You must lay out the goals and expectations ahead of time.

Another effective tool in making PTA team members successful is mentoring new board members. Successful mentoring of new PTA leaders requires a plan for ongoing communications, whether that is pairing a new leader with an experienced one or having other PTA leaders check in regularly to answer questions and provide advice. Effective mentoring helps a new PTA leader understand how their work is contributing to the mission of the PTA, reassures the leadership team that the new leader is making progress, and ensures that the new leader is not losing their passion for PTA because they feel unappreciated or do not see how they are contributing. Finally, PTAs need to offer leadership training to encourage new leaders to build their PTA skills, making it possible to move into positions of greater responsibility.

One PTA leader at the workshop shared how their PTA had implemented a mentoring program for new leaders. They had noticed that it was not unusual for someone to chair an event for many years in a row, especially if their children were spaced out well, resulting in a leader running a program for a decade before moving on with their last child and only leaving behind a procedure book. To solve this problem, the PTA implemented a standing rule that no one could be on an event’s leadership team for more than four years. The first year was to serve as an apprentice for the existing event leader, followed by serving as the event leader in years two and three, and concluding the fourth year as a mentor to the incoming leader.

Finally, inclusion can be an effective tool in supporting PTA leadership. This can be done by inviting potential PTA leaders to be a guest at a PTA board meeting, to serve as a committee member, to be part of a brainstorming process on new programs or initiatives, to be involved in planning a new activity or program, or to participate in training. Illinois PTA training courses are open to any PTA member, not just elected PTA officers or chairpersons. Likewise, National PTA has created several online training courses that can be taken by any PTA member.

Building a Legacy of Leadership

Building a successful PTA leadership team is a significant accomplishment, but a PTA is at its best when it has built a legacy of leadership to sustain those successful leadership practices. Building a successful legacy involves being aware of what has already been accomplished, demonstrating our commitment to the children of today, and appealing to our next generation of leaders. It requires focusing on the PTA mission in everything that we do. Most of all, it needs us to share and demonstrate that which keeps all PTA leaders going—passion.

Mr. Monell concluded his workshop with four questions for every PTA leader to ask themselves:

  • How do you contribute to the sustainability of PTA?
  • Are you moving in the direction that will help PTA grow?
  • Would your passion show in your “elevator speech” to engage new leaders?
  • Are you leaving PTA in better shape than when you arrived?

Procedure Books—Preserving Your PTA’s Knowledge

Portrait Of Beautiful Young Girl SmilingEvery PTA has that one person, the one who took over an event and turned it into something more than it ever had beenbefore, the event that every parent and child at your school looks forward to all year. Their kids were spaced just right, and they’ve been doing this job for years and years. But now that youngest child is getting ready to leave your school, and now you’re faced with the challenge of finding someone new to fill those big, big shoes being left behind. Your task is a lot less challenging if you have one key item in your possession—a procedure book that explains everything that this special volunteer did over the years to make the event what it was.

Why Have a Procedure Book?

PTAs have volunteer turnover built into them. People rarely stay involved in a local PTA once they no longer have a child at a school. Procedure books play two critical roles for a PTA:

  • Preserving a PTA’s Knowledge: Volunteers may move on, but a procedure book preserves what they did, how they did it, who they contacted, what was spent, and much more. Your PTA has worked hard over the years learning how to meet its goals, how to make programs and events successful, and how to meet all of its legal responsibilities. A procedure book means all that hard work isn’t wasted by being lost when a volunteer moves on.
  • Helping to Recruit New Volunteers: Stepping into a new PTA position, whether as an officer or a chairperson, is a bit like a journey to a new land. A basic procedure book serves as a map of that new land, while a detailed procedure book can be a wonderful guidebook. A procedure book makes it easier to find someone willing to take on a PTA position, knowing that they are not setting off into that new land with nothing more than a flashlight and a hearty wave from their fellow PTA members.

What Should Go In a Procedure Book?

A procedure book should contain all the materials needed to accomplish the work of the office or committee, plus any additional information a new volunteer would find helpful. A three-ring binder makes it easy to add and remove materials to keep the contents up-to-date. A set of tabbed dividers can help keep sections organized. The items listed below are suggestions for a procedure book, but are not necessarily complete. If you feel that a certain document would be helpful to the person following you, be sure to include it in the procedure book.

  • Contact Information
    • Contact information for the chairperson/officer (name, address, e-mail, phone number)
    • Other relevant contacts (e.g., other officers, committee members, etc.)
  • Goals and Responsibilities
    • Job description for the position
    • List of overall goals
    • Plan of work for the year
    • Budget information
    • Reimbursement procedures and forms
    • Tax-Exempt Letter
  • Event Planning
    • Materials from previous year(s), including past budget and how it was spent, previous contacts, promotional materials, etc.
    • Event planning templates, including timelines, volunteer responsibilities during event
    • Correspondence related to the event (e.g., e-mails, notes of phone calls and conversations, etc.)
    • Materials distributed by the committee (e.g., calls for volunteers, flyers, posters, etc.)
    • Post-event committee reports, including how budget was spent, who was contacted, who volunteered to help, what went well, what went wrong, and what you would do differently the next time
  • PTA Administrative Information
    • Bylaws and Standing Rules
    • Agendas and Minutes
    • Financial materials (budgets, financial reports, etc.)
    • Contact information for all officers and chairpersons
    • Calendar of events and responsibilities for each month
    • Records retention schedule

At the end of the year, the PTA president should be sure to collect the procedure books from all of the officers and chairpersons who are not continuing in their current position. They should also collect a copy of each committee report form at a minimum for the PTA’s records so at least a basic procedure book can be recreated if one should not be returned.