When it comes to engaging parents and having them participate in the school’s volunteer program, schools generally take one of two approaches: one is assigning parents, based on their availability and task preference, to volunteer tasks and the other is allowing parents to choose and sign up for volunteer tasks. We’ll look at the pros and cons of each approach to help you determine whether one may be a better fit for your school volunteer program.
Assigning Parents to Tasks
By assigning parents to specific tasks, you of course maintain full control of who does what. This approach is good for situations when you may be trying to match parents with specific skill sets to tasks needing those skills. This approach is also useful when you want to make sure you have enough people to cover specific tasks. You may have tasks that may not be appealing, such as cleaning, or tasks that involve odd hours, so it may be difficult to recruit for these tasks. This problem is solved when you assign parents to those tasks. In short, assigning people to volunteer tasks goes a long way to ensuring you have enough people.
Of course, there are drawbacks to assigning parents to volunteer tasks. First, it can take a huge amount of time to go through the parents’ availability schedule and their preferred tasks and then match these against the volunteer tasks you need filled. Depending on how many events and activities you have at the school and how many parent volunteers you are dealing with, scheduling can take anywhere from 20 hours to as many as 100+ hours. Scheduling is not only time-intensive, but it’s almost always a source of frustration. Also, there is a likelihood that parents may not like the tasks you assign them, which can lead to people canceling out in the days leading up to the task. As a contingency for no-shows, volunteer administrators often recruit a few more people than they actually need. The biggest negative about assigning parents to volunteer tasks is that parents may become less willing to volunteer a second time if they are given tasks they are not really into doing in the first place.
Allowing Parents To Select Their Tasks
The positives of this approach are really what the above approach does not provide. Since parents are the ones selecting their preferred tasks, you completely avoid spending any time in trying to schedule parents (and their task preference) to the tasks themselves. That’s an enormous benefit. Next, as parents themselves select what they want to do, there’s a reduced chance of no-shows. And finally, since parents sign up for their preferred tasks, you preserve what most people perceive as ‘volunteering’ and, thus, they are more likely to want to contribute their time again in the future. The one drawback of allowing parents to select their task is that you may not fill all the tasks you need filled. What can help in this case is enhancing the communication used in recruiting. When recruitment information is sent out, it’s important to clearly state how the volunteers’ contribution will make a difference to the kids and the school in general.
Whether assigning parents to tasks or allowing parents to select their preferred tasks, each comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. One alternative is to use both approaches, a hybrid approach if you will. First, decide which activities and volunteer tasks are “must fill”, and assign parents to those. One goal to keep in mind is to minimize the time spent on scheduling, so you want to be diligent in paring down your “must fill” activities and volunteer tasks to the absolute minimum. For those “must fill” activities and volunteer tasks, turn to parents whom you know to be your really active volunteers, those who not only are available but also who are truly “into” volunteering. And finally, with the rest of the other activities and volunteer tasks, you can then open these up to parents for self-sign up. This hybrid approach simultaneously provides the benefits of both approaches while minimizing the negatives. So, for your next activity or event that need parent volunteers, considering trying the hybrid approach.
The OnVolunteers Team