Stage 2 of No-nonsense Guide to planning your event or activity

Stage 2 – Define the Scope of Your School Event or Activity

Ok, in your efforts to engage school staff and parent association stakeholders you’ve been able to define their views and priorities. In Stage 2, you can begin defining the extent of your school event or activity needing volunteers.

First, start with the same event or activity that was held last year. Find as much information about last year’s event/activity as you can. You may want to speak with the person who managed last year’s event/activity. Here are a list of questions you may want to ask:

  • What were the pieces or components of what they did?
  • Did the person have a documented plan? If yes, can you have it? Having that plan will provide you with an instant foundation to define what you will do for your event or activity.
  • What were the main components of the event/activity.
  • Was a communication plan for the event/activity one of the components? If no, then you’ll need to add that to your own plan.
  • What were the main areas/needs for volunteer?
  • Did any of the volunteer tasks need any special skills?

After learning about last year’s event/activity, you can begin defining the scope of your plan, think about what you think are the essential components; learn from what was done last year, add anything you think they missed, and eliminate what you think you can do without.

Here are some starting points as essential components:

  • Food, if applicable. How much will you based on estimated attendance levels? Again, last year’s event/activity will help here.
  • Location, again, if applicable. Related to location might be something like parking for the attendees of your event/activity.
  • People/parent volunteers
  • Communication/promotion 
  • Permissions (particularly if your event/activity requires transporting people/children from one place to another).
  • Licenses – for things like the selling of food or if you are holding a Bingo event or a raffle to raise money.
  • Money administration if you’re holding a large fundraiser.
  • Security – particularly if your event/activity is big enough to have a Money administration team.
  • Budget – what initial funds will you need for any purchase of things like supplies, etc.

After you’ve defined the essential areas, start to break them down into small parts, then create a list using Microsoft Excel. For example:


  • Get a webpage on the school website, or use an online tool to centralize communication, volunteer recruiting and coordinating people.
  • Communication plan – what information will you need to start sending out? For example, to recruit volunteers, what does your timeline look like? e.g. how far in advance of your event/activity date will you need to start sending things out?
  • People – what skills will you need to help you with communication?

As you break down the Communication component, do the same with all the other components. Put everything into the Excel spreadsheet. You’ll quickly realize you now have the beginnings of your Master plan.

One important consideration – before you start on Stage 3, it’s a good idea to discuss your Master plan with your school staff and parent association stakeholders, get their feedback to make sure you are aligned with the priorities.

In our next post, Stage 3 – Outline Key Needs of Your Event or Activity…

Happy Volunteering!


No-nonsense Guide to planning your event or school activity.

The upcoming series of blog posts will provide a comprehensive guide to help school volunteer leaders learn how to build and execute highly organized school events and activities that provide significant impact.

We’ve organized the blog posts into “actionable” stages, containing information that you will be able to use immediately in your school volunteer program. The goal of the upcoming blog posts is to provide a framework for you to be able to use with every school event and activity in which you need volunteers.

We’ve organized the upcoming blog posts into 8 stages:

Stage 1 – Focus On Your School Community

Stage 2 – Define the Scope of Your School Event or Activity

Stage 3 – Outline Key Needs of Your Event or Activity

Stage 4 – Map Out Your Event or Activity

Stage 5 – Recruiting Your People, Securing Resources

Stage 6 – Finalize Your Plan

Stage 7 – Executing Your Plan

Stage 8 – Close Out Your Plan

The first stage focuses on working with your school staff and parent association to define their specific needs for the event or activity you are working on. The second stage will be on defining the key pieces of your event or activity. The third stage is on identifying the key needs to make your event or activity a success. The fourth stage is about building out a plan. The fifth stage is on securing the people and resources you need. The sixth stage is focused on getting your plan ready. The seventh stage is about making it all happen and staying on top of things. The last stage is about wrapping things up. So, let’s get started with Stage 1…

Stage 1 – Focus On Your School Community

Depending on whether your event or activity is school-wide or perhaps involves only a segment of the school, one of, if not the most important thing to do is to engage the leaders of the intended group. If your event or activity is school-wide, then you should consider engaging the Principal or Parent Association president or vice presidents. Find out what they perceive as as the key needs and goals. If your event or activity involves a small segment of the school, perhaps a class or grade, then perhaps engage the teachers.

By engaging the key stakeholders early, you will help build awareness for your event or activity and help to make sure you get the buy-in and support of your efforts.

There are a number of ways to gather the views of stakeholders, it’s best to select a method that’s based on whether your event or activity is school-wide or for a small segment of the school. For the latter, you may want to consider something that’s not going to take a lot of time, for example, pin-pointing who you need to talk to and then having a short 10-minute conversation with them. For a school-wide event or activity, you want to consider a feedback mechanism such as creating a short 5-8-question online survey with a tool like SurveyMonkey. This takes less an hour to put together, it’s a very time-efficient way to gather feedback from a bigger group of people. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What problems have you seen in past events and activities (such as the one you’re leading)?
  • What are the most important needs for the school of this event or activity?
  • What would you view as elements that would make you think the event or activity is a success?
  • What would suggest would be the one thing we change from last year’s event or activity?

After you’ve gathered your initial feedback from stakeholders, gather the group of people that’s going to help you execute your event or activity; share your findings and get consensus on your goals for your event or activity.

After you’ve gathered the feedback from stakeholders and have shared with your team, you’re now ready for the next stage.

Come back in the next few days for Stage 2…

Happy Volunteering!

Mobile App for OnVolunteers? Actually, you don’t need one!

Note: We’re going to use this post to, well, toot our own horn regarding why you/we don’t need a mobile app for OnVolunteers…

Volunteer coordinators as well as parents have offered us, on numerous occasions, the following “hey, your system is awesome, but you should build an app (as in mobile app)”.  Actually, we’ve used cool technology that we feel is actually a better solution than building an app, it’s called Responsive Design. Without getting into geek speak and cause you to stop reading this, we’ll explain Responsive Design in plain language most will understand.

Websites or web-based software using Responsive Design technology basically ‘respond’ to the unique device the person is using to access said website or software. In other words, the interface re-shapes itself based on the device being used, whether smartphone, tablet or lap/desktop computer. If you’re using a smartphone or tablet, a non-responsive or static website/software provides a really poor experience, because you have to constantly zoom in or out, or scroll side to side just to see other parts of the page. You’ve probably accessed websites or used web-based software like this, it’s annoyingly tedious.

So back to why you/we don’t need a mobile app for OnVolunteers… most people seem to think a mobile app is the only technology that works well on a mobile device. Of course, that’s not true. Responsive Design technology provides an equally optimal experience. Many people who visit websites or use web-based software on Responsive Design aren’t even aware of the technology, they just think “hmm, pretty cool…”. And that’s the feeling parents at schools using OnVolunteers get when they use their smartphone or tablet to access the OnVolunteers volunteer portal. And with Responsive Design, users never have to bother with downloading or updating software, as is the case with mobile apps. You simply open your browser, log into your OnVolunteers site, and voilà, a simple, beautiful interface  custom-made for your device! No software download or update needed, ever. Easy peezy.

So, to all OnVolunteers parents and volunteer coordinators, and those considering OnVolunteers, we encourage you to use your smartphones and tablets to access OnVolunteers, a beautiful, simple experience awaits you.

Happy Volunteering!

The OnVolunteers Team



Assign Parents to volunteer tasks or Allow them to self-sign up for tasks

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.

Another Alternative
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.

Happy Volunteering!!

The OnVolunteers Team

Best use of volunteers: manage other volunteers? or fund-raise?

Most schools use parent volunteers to manage their volunteer program, and believe this is cost-effective because, well, it’s free. It’s free because there’s no direct cost to the school. Right? Let’s have a closer look at this.

For a typical elementary school, there’s anywhere from 40 to 50 parent volunteers who manage the volunteer program. For clarity’s sake, we’ll call these coordinators. They organize volunteer tasks, recruit, coordinate, and communicate with regular parent volunteers. These coordinators spend anywhere from 30 to 40+ hours a year to manage the typical manual process, that is, using sign up forms (even online ones), Excel, phone and email.

Let’s create a typical elementary school example:

  • Consider 40 as a number for volunteer coordinators
  • 250 families available to do fundraising volunteer work, less the 40 coordinators.
  • This leaves 210 families to do fundraising volunteer work.

Consider $75,000 as an amount this elementary school raises through the fundraising volunteer work. The math looks like this: $75,000 divided by 210 parent volunteers yields an average of $357 raised per family.

There are many ways a school can increase the funds raised. Of course, a school can simply ask families to do more fundraising work. But in our busy lives, that’s a pretty big ‘ask’ to families. So what alternatives does a school have to increases funds?

One train of thought is to use technology to help automate the volunteer process. School volunteer software frees up coordinators from their arduous, time-consuming ‘management’ work and allows them to instead contribute their time to fundraising volunteer work.

Typical school volunteer software easily cut volunteer management time by 70 to 80%. Consider a conservative time savings of 50%. Here’s what it looks like in the above school example:

  • # of coordinators now at 20 (40 coordinators x 50% time savings)
  • 20 additional families to do fundraising volunteer work
  • Take those 20 families x $357 raised per family = $7,140

So, an elementary school can gain $7,140 per year simply by using available software technology to shift parent volunteers from “management” volunteer work to fundraising volunteer work. Whilst there is no direct cost of using parent volunteers to manage other volunteers, there is a huge opportunity cost.

The above is simply one way to look at how parent volunteers can be used at an elementary school, i.e. use parent volunteers to manage other volunteers, or to shift some of them to doing fundraising volunteer work. Most schools haven’t considered this at all. But with the simple example above, and the potential $s your school can gain, isn’t worth it to ask?

Happy volunteering!

Oh, just as an fyi, the cost of typical comprehensive school volunteer software ranges between $400 to $600 per year for an elementary school.

What to do when people aren’t signing up to help

Every volunteer coordinator has experienced it –  poor response to calls for volunteers. When faced with this scenario, most simply send out more ‘Volunteers urgently needed’ emails. Rather than doing the same thing and expecting a different result, perhaps a changing things up might help, consider…

The Focus of Your Emails
Consider making the email focus be the beneficiaries of the volunteer work – the kids. Start with the ‘Subject line’ of your email. Before parents can sign up to your volunteer tasks, they first need to open your email. Virtually everyone looks at the subject line to determine whether it’s worth their time to open the email. Here are two subject line examples: “Jenny, Sam, other Grade 3’s looking for help with Fun Day” OR “Volunteers needed to help with Fun Day”. Which would you say has the greater emotional pull? Carry that emotional theme into the body of your email.

Go to Your ‘Go To’ Parents
Every school has them, the group of parents who selflessly volunteer dozens, even hundreds of hours of their time. Turn to these not to do more, but ask them to help with your recruiting. Your ‘go-to’ parents are the most passionate about volunteering, ask them to email other class parents to see if they can volunteer with them.

Smaller Commitments
Many times, parents balk at making volunteer commitments due to the time required. For example, volunteer tasks are whole day commitments, or tasks that are recurring over a period of weeks or months. Consider breaking volunteer tasks down into smaller tasks, reduce the commitment needed.

Classroom Parents
Consider going to your “Class parent”, the one who’s responsible for sending out weekly notices to the class. If you do this already, make sure to give them more information about your volunteer needs/tasks. When writing out this content, consider our first suggestion above – make the focus of your appeal be the kids.

Bulk emails? Personalize with an Email service
If you’re sending emails to a large group, perhaps the entire school parent base, consider using an email service like MailChimp, which allow you to personalize your emails. It’s a well-known fact that personalized emails lead to far greater response rates; non-personalized emails are almost always ignored.

The next time you are faced with a school activity or event needing volunteers and you aren’t getting the desired response, consider alternative actions to drive your volunteerism.

Happy volunteering!