Why Email hurts your volunteer program, how you can change it.

So here you are, faced with 4-5 school events and activities needing parent volunteers, and your email notices asking for help are getting poor responses. One of the biggest reasons for this is the method volunteer administrators and coordinators use to ask for help… yes, email. More accurately, email itself is not what’s hurting volunteer programs. It’s how people use email.

Need help. Send email.  This is the de facto method of operation for the vast majority of volunteer administrators or coordinators. But because schools almost always have a constant need of volunteers, this is also one of the reasons why email hurts a volunteer program. A typical elementary school will have between 40-50 events and activities needing parent volunteers a year, with everything from school lunch helpers, drivers, tutors, helpers with school maintenance, office helpers, and of course helpers for fundraisers, parents receive dozens and dozens of emails asking for help. It basically becomes what we all hate – email SPAM.

We need help for < enter event name here>, please help!  This is usually followed by a description of the event and who to contact. Most often, little else is provided. This is another contributing factor why email becomes less effective in volunteer recruitment. One of the biggest motivators for volunteers is having an idea of the result – the impact – their work will have on the event or activity they are contributing their time to.

We need volunteers, please email < enter coordinator name here> to help – Email Tag  You ask for help, which results in multiple emails back and forth with the parents. That’s not only a hassle for parents but it also takes their time, which is something most if not all parents have in short supply.

There you have it. Three of the biggest reasons why email hurts your volunteer program. So, how do you change it?

1. Plan Your Email Communications

Work with your event and activity coordinators and define when they need to start their requests for help. Then, create a regular set schedule for when to send out email communications calling for help. Depending on how many events and activities you have, this set schedule can be weekly, on the same day. If you have fewer events and activities, you may want to make it, say, the 1st and 3rd Monday (or whatever sequence/day you prefer) of every month. The goal is to eliminate the constant, random barrage of email SPAM and, instead, create a regular expectation among parents of your volunteer-related emails.

2. Highlight The Benefits of Parents’ Contribution

In your email, include a brief note about the benefits the parents’ time contribution will bring to the event or activity. Ideally, personalize it by including names of the students or group who will directly benefit from the parents’ volunteer work. Creating an emotional connection between the parents’ work and the beneficiaries is what provokes action among many parents.

3. Use Online Tools To Recruit – Make It Easy.

Lastly, online tools create a fast and easy, hassle-free way for parents to register to help. Whether it’s a simple online sign up web form for a one-off event, or a comprehensive system  like OnVolunteers to automate and centralize your entire volunteer program, having an online tool will reduce the # of emails you send out as parents have a place they can always go to volunteer jobs and tasks.

Email, used in the right ways, can be a powerful tool to increase your school’s volunteerism. Whether you start with one or all of the above suggestions, the important thing to remember is just by starting you will have started to make email work for you.

Happy Volunteering!

The OnVolunteers Team


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