Tag Archives: Volunteering

Tips to Find & Keep Volunteers



Volunteers. They are why and how we accomplish all that our groups do each year. To avoid the same small group volunteering over and over again and burning out, we need to make a concentrated effort to reach out and grow our pool of volunteers. There are some ways more effective than others. To start…you have to build relationships. It’s always about relationships. But what else? What else do we need to do to get volunteers and then keep them returning?


It sounds so simple, but asking someone specifically works wonders. When we receive those generic emails or forms that went home with every student, we say we are going to get to it, we think “someone else will volunteer”, or we want to help but fear the unknown (we are new, don’t know if we’d be welcome). When someone approaches us and asks, we know they are asking us. They want us to be a part. Some of the anxiety is removed by not having to be the one to raise our hand.


Share The Excitement

People like to be part of something fun, positive and successful. With limited free spare time and no financial gain, you will struggle to find volunteers happy to join in if the perception is they will have no fun or pick up added stress or frustration. Last week a read a tweet (I wish I could remember who wrote it), that read something like “Apply now for the greatest opportunity of all time?” It wasn’t in reference to volunteering…but we need to bring that same positive energy. The results of the efforts do provide great opportunities for our children. I’m not saying sugar coat or disguise the hard work needed to accomplish the task – but don’t forget to highlight the good, the positive AND the why. Why are their efforts important? What is the end goal?

Trust Them

Volunteers are giving you their time and energies. Chances are they are going to give you their best efforts. Those efforts might not produce the exact results you wished for – but we need to trust that they will learn from their experience and make the changes necessary as they go along. Plus, different isn’t bad. Their approach might not be the same as yours, but they might reach a new group with it.

Empower Them To Take Ownership

Allow them to make choices that they feel are best to help reach the goal. Allow them to see that they are an important, valuable part of the group, and their talents are needed.

Value Their Opinion

They may be volunteering for the first time – or this might be their 7th year; either way, they bring something to the table. Take their opinions and use that feedback to make your event or group that much better. Maybe it’s the way someone or something is perceived or how an event is run…no matter what, that information can be used to improve.

Provide Them With Support

Nothing is worse than that feeling of basically being set up to fail. An event is dumped in your lap and you have no idea what to do; where to start. We need to provide them with a guide on what worked or didn’t work before. Step-by-step instructions on what to do and when. When and how to distribute flyers, reserve the space, request tables. Anything and everything that they may or may not think of. In addition to a guide…there needs to be a person they can turn to with questions or simply to reassure they are doing something correctly.


Respect their time, their family and limitations. Don’t place so many volunteers on at the same time that they feel useless standing around with nothing to do. Remember that they have families who also depend on them. Know their limits; do computer instill fear? Can they not lift heavy items? do they have small children at home?

Use Social Media

A wonderful quick way to fill those last minute openings, send reminders, recognize efforts.

Thank Them!

We CANNOT forget to say thank you!!! Thank them for their time, efforts and donations; because we know that they didn’t have to contribute…but did. We get caught up in the craziness so often, and although we don’t mean it, we forget sometimes. But a thank you doesn’t need to be grand. A face-to-face, verbal thank you. A post on the group’s blog, Facebook or Twitter. A quick note jotted down on a piece of paper and sent home with their child; or the traditional note card mailed to them. No matter what your thank you looks like, what matters is that you told someone that you appreciated them.


What Will You Do To Make The World More Beautiful?

While taking a break from the hot sun, I read Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney to my youngest two. A few pages in, the little girl tells her grandfather how she too will travel to faraway places and live by the sea, just as he did. Her grandfather replies, “There is a third thing you must do, you must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

This sparked a long conversation with my two chatterboxes…what would they do to make the world more beautiful? Some of their responses (text images created by them):

My 6 year old son…










My 9 year old daughter…

beautiful 2









Here is why I love reading with my children…for one, quiet time sitting with them; a nice balance to the craziness of our usual running around. Two, I love listening to their different perspectives when talking about the story (be it their age, gender, personality or whatnot). For my son it was all visual. Beauty to him is what he can see/touch. For my daughter it was more about doing things that would make others happy. With most every story we read comes a conversation. I not only learn from and about them, but so many times it fuels ideas of things to do with them when we do have some down time.

Before summer vacation started I asked all three of my children to come up with a way to give back/do for others (it didn’t have to be big or grand). We try to volunteer throughout the year – but it’s usually me telling them how or what we will be doing. This time, I wanted to leave it up to them. Well…a month into the summer and it is this book/conversation that has sparked some ideas. They’ve chosen (when we return home) to combine their “making the world more beautiful” with giving back. We will be planting flowers for a few moms (grandmoms) that might not otherwise have pretty flowers to look at and find a hospital where we can bring (as my daughter puts it) books with pretty pictures to kids that are sick. As I asked, nothing grand…just ideas from their heart.

what will you do...

Reflections of a PTA President


Image Credit – http://office.microsoft.com

As this year comes to an end, so does my PTA presidency. It is definitely bittersweet. It seems the perfect time to look back at the experience and carefully examine the ups and downs of the position.

As a new president, I came to the job optimistic and energized, ready to get to work. I walked in with certain beliefs of how things should be done, and the time commitment I had made. Little did I know that you can never fully be prepared for what is coming around the corner.

I have never been as proud of my school as I am today. Our efforts have been incredible in so many ways. We were recognized as a National Blue Ribbon school. We donated almost $10,000 to our adopted school, Hegarty Elementary, which was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy. At the same time, we were able to provide financial support to our staff family that suffered in the storm. We had amazing programs including Caldecott winning author visits for our students. We had wonderful events for our families like Fall Festival and Picnic around the World. We were present in school board budget meetings and fought for important expenditures in our school. We were also involved in an effort to have our Board of Education write a resolution against high stakes testing. We educated parents on new academic programs in the district. It’s truly been a remarkable time to be PTA leadership.

The relationships formed will definitely be one of the most positive parts of my experience. I was able to really get to know my principal (@cantiague_lead) and contribute to the magic that happens every day at Cantiague. His leadership and passion inspired me to give a little more, push myself to learn and share. The teachers I worked with reinforced everything I believed about the staff. They are so dedicated and true experts in what they do. Their dedication to our children made it impossible not to give 100% in making Cantiague the best place it can be.

The families of Cantiague are the real treasure. The generosity, spirit, and commitment to providing the best environment for learning and growing is what makes our school what it is. Cantiague is a very special corner of the world where children come first….always.

I will always be grateful to the PTA presidents who came before me and the ones who will follow. To borrow a cliché, it is a true labor of love. The amount of work is unimaginable, but the payout is the same. It is my greatest hope that our incoming presidents will experience the same joy and sense of accomplishment I have gained. If you put your whole self in it, you will learn so much. Not just about the school, district, or education, but about yourself. The job isn’t for everyone, but for those up for the challenge it is so worth it.

I look forward to my new position of Past President come June 11. I know the relationships I have made will only get stronger and better. I also know that our incoming presidents will do a wonderful job and make this PTA their own. I can’t wait to see the new direction we go.

Participation Wanted…Reward Offered

wanted reward


I read a story today on PTO Today’s website about providing incentives for fundraisers and how effective they can be, and I have to say that not only do I disagree with the idea, but also with the true effectiveness.

Why is it that we need to be rewarded for doing something? I think constant rewarding creates a self-centered culture where we only do things if it can benefit us…not because it will make it better for everyone. By rewarding our children (and adults) for participating in each and every thing – they lose sight of the why. For parent associations, it’s the why are we fundraising? Why are we hosting a pasta dinner? Even if it isn’t clear – there is always a reason. Are you trying to raise money to give the kids a safer playground or are you hosting a pasta dinner to bring the families together and boost community spirit? Those reasons need to be highlighted. They are what is important…not the prizes. If you spend as much time and energy on building the excitement around the why one should participate as you do in promoting the prizes – you don’t need to cloud the purpose with rewards.

My thinking is, I love to go to things where I think I’m going to have fun (someone has convinced me that it will be worth my time). I also like the feeling of knowing that I have positively impacted someone or something. I don’t think I am alone with those. Attending or participating because I will enjoy myself or make a difference means I will do it with a genuine smile (you won’t need to drag me kicking and screaming). If someone has to offer me a reward, that to me means that whatever it is, it won’t be enjoyable. That one would not want to do this unless there is personal gain. I have formed a negative impression before it even starts. The likelihood of having a genuine smile is now slim to none. That impression, I believe, can single-handedly ruin an event. Rewards are short-term, they get people to join in this time – but if it wasn’t enjoyable, the chances of getting them to come back willingly (and thinking larger, getting them to join in leading future efforts) are slim to none.

This year, we only had 1 event/fundraiser with an incentive to participate (in prior years some incentives were offered). I asked at the beginning of the year for each chair to bring energy and excitement to their events. I can happily say that the events/fundraisers run by someone who was passionate about it, were a booming success. We had raised more money and had larger crowds. The ones that the chairs didn’t share the energy were the ones that drastically suffered. Ones that would make you think we need to offer a reward for joining in.

I say, instead of spending money to bribe people to support your causes…share with them your energy, passion and why. When people step up and contribute their time and money, recognize them with a thank you card, in person, on your school/associations website, blog or social media, or even a recognition board at the school. Let them know how much you and the kids appreciate their efforts and how they have contributed to the greater good. Making the school experience better for not only their own child, but all of the children.

A great video of a TED talk by Daniel Pink (thank you Public Speaking for Kids for sharing). The Puzzle of Motivation supporting this discussion of incentives provided for tasks completed.

Image Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/

It’s Time to go for a Leadership Position in Your Parent Association


Image Credit: www.technorati.com

In many PTA’s throughout the land, it’s that time of year again….time to nominate the next year’s executive board. It’s also time to sign up for committees and leadership roles throughout the organization.

If you have already held a position on your PTA, then you know the value of participating as a leader in your parent association. If you haven’t, here are a few things to think about.

Taking a leadership position provides growth and development opportunities. Organizing events, working with other parents in your community, and collaborating with school staff is a very fulfilling experience. The on-the-job learning is one you can really only get by doing it.

It allows you to see how things work. By stepping up your involvement in PTA, you get a behind the scenes look at how things run. You get to see how everything comes together, all the programs, fundraisers, and events.

It gives you a voice in how things are done. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Why don’t they do it this way?”-  this is your chance. Share your expertise and ideas. You also have an opportunity to decide what events and programs will take place in the coming year.

It provides opportunities to get to a new level. In my experience, joining the executive board introduced me to the next level of parent leadership, which is the district level. My eyes were opened to how all the schools in the district function, both independently and collectively. I also became involved in discussions about state mandates, budget, health & safety concerns, and more. These were topics not usually discussed in depth at our general PTA meetings.

Your school needs you! I’m assuming your school is like mine. Generally the PTA is comprised of a specific number of active parents who take on many responsibilities, wearing many hats throughout the year and their experience in the school. New members are always welcome and genuinely wanted! With new faces come fresh ideas.

I hope these reasons have inspired you to take the next step and reach beyond your current level of participation in your PTA. There are so many reasons to do so, and it will benefit your child, your school, and YOU!

Our PTA is a Private Club

Private Club

Private Club (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

Parent Association’s (PTA, PTO, HSA whatever you want to call them) have earned the bad reputation for being uninviting, clique-like, a private club.  How do you break that? So many groups say they want to get rid of that image, have more families join them at their monthly meetings, and join them in volunteering…but do their actions speak louder than their words?  I don’t believe you can correct it with one person or tool. It takes a group effort of all those involved using all of the tools.

1. Relationship Building: More than anything else, I think you need to build relationships before the parents are going to jump at joining you; be it for a meeting or volunteering. This takes time. It requires your team to genuinely care about the other families.  Yes, you can go through the motions and pretend – but let’s be honest, most of us can see through that. Does it require you to be best friends? No, but find some way to connect.  Given that we’re all parents, I can always find something. And one of the easiest ways I find is to ask questions about them. I am always amazed at how much I learn about our community from asking questions of those I am just meeting.

2. The Board Is There To Inspire: Think of your duties not to just “represent,” but to ”inspire.”  Inspire others to want to fill the same positions you all are filling currently. Remember that not only do you need help with everything you are doing for the kids now, but you will not be there forever and will need people to take your place.  The average parent will need to build up to serving on the board or as a chairperson. Not many will jump in with little to no volunteer time.  You need to provide opportunities for them to start small and gradually work their way up to the commitment that serving on the board requires.

3. Stream Meetings Online: This might be one of my favorite ways to allow others to see you are welcoming, fun and open to others ideas and suggestions (of course this mean you actually need to practice these things…otherwise you are just confirming the negative image). Families can sign in from the comfort of their own home and get a view of what your meetings are like and open their mind to attending in person or joining the team.

4. Take Your Meetings To Them: Hosting your monthly meetings at the school doesn’t always work. If you are missing a portion of your population, try other ways. Not only is it more comfortable for others on their own or neutral turf, but it shows that you are open to others being a part of the team. Try community centers, places of worship or anywhere else your families spend time outside of school.

5. Communication: Everyone one of your families has their own preference on how to receive their “news”. If you want to include all families you need to make sure they all get the information you are sharing. That means sharing the same information in many locations and forms. Some options are paper hard copy, email/electronic, social media and text. Your goal is to make sure all of your families are well informed in advance. The beauty of the social media piece is the possibility of two-way communication.  Real feedback and idea sharing when face to face isn’t possible.

Ultimately it’s the golden rule of treating others the way you would want to be treated. Welcoming others to be part of your school family the same way you welcome your personal family members into your own home. Is it not?


A space for thinking, reflecting and sharing about education -- and the odd other thing...

Ingvi Hrannar

Icelandic educator, iPad 1:1 classroom, speaker & entrepreneur.

Penn-Finn Learnings 2013

Sharing our inquiries - March 23-30

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