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


Systematic Tracking of Parent Volunteers, Criminal Background Checks

OnVolunteers is extremely proud to have developed and released a feature that allows schools to better protect children against those who would do them harm.

The Summer Release of OnVolunteers’ Premium Edition introduced the new  ‘Requirements’ functionality. This capability provides school administrators and volunteer coordinators a systematic way to track parents who have undergone criminal background checks and ensure that only these parents are allowed to register for volunteer tasks that involve children.

As part of the Requirements feature in OnVolunteers, school administrators and volunteer coordinators can create a ‘Requirement’, such as that of a criminal background check. Administrators and coordinators, after receiving the necessary  background check documentation from parents, then assign the requirement to the parents’ user profile in their respective accounts, including the dates for when the criminal background check is valid. When volunteer tasks involving children become available, these tasks are made available to parents – shown only within their unique, password-protected accounts – whose criminal background checks are currently valid. Those volunteer tasks are hidden from any parent who hasn’t completed a criminal background check.

The Requirements feature – with its capability to systematically track parents with associated criminal background check information – is unique to OnVolunteers Software. No online sign up form service or volunteer management software provides any form of this type of tracking capability.

If you’d like to learn more about the Requirements feature and the OnVolunteers Premium Edition, please submit an inquiry within our website.

Happy Volunteering!

The OnVolunteers Team

Stage 3 of No-nonsense Guide to planning your event or activity

Build out your plan.
In Step 2 we focused on defining the main areas of your event or activity, you’re off to a roaring start because defining the main areas is really your foundation of your event or activity. Next, you can begin to build out your plan, outlining all the key or important details, from the number of parent volunteers you’ll need to when things need to be completed by. This post will help you build out your plan to ensure your event or activity goes smoothly and successfully.

Focus Areas

  • Define your main subject areas.
  • Build out the volunteer task list.
  • Define a detailed timeline containing the volunteer task list, i.e. define when volunteer tasks needs to be done.
  • Create the Supplies list.


  • Volunteer task spreadsheet.
  • Event/Activity Planning Timeline.
  • Supply spreadsheet.

Building the Volunteer Tasks list
The foundation of your plan is all the volunteer tasks that need to be done to ensure your event/activity is a success. A good way to start is to think of what you want to accomplish. This will allow you to identify what tasks are needed. Start with a spreadsheet, either Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets work fine.
On the farthest left hand column, enter the essential components that you identified in the Stage 2; create a row at the top for your header title. Call this column the ‘Subject Area’. The next column to the right, you can enter the volunteer tasks you think are needed for each of the components; call this your ‘Volunteer Task’ column.

In the next column to the right of the volunteer task, enter the # of volunteers you need for each task. If this is your first time to manage your even/activity, it may be difficult for you to determine how many people you’ll need. Here are a few considerations:

  • How long will the task take? either in terms of pure hours or in duration. Generally, the more hours needed, the more people you need.
  • People’s skills – do any of the volunteer tasks require any special skills?
  • Physical abilities needed for tasks – define if any of the tasks involve any heavy lifting.

At your early planning stage, it’s better to overcompensate for how many people you’ll need. If you think 4 volunteers is the right number, right down 5. It’s always better to have an extra person or two than to be short a person or two. Invariably, volunteer no-shows are part of any event or activity. People always have the best intentions, unfortunately however, when it comes down to showing up, there are always circumstances that people are not able to follow through. Having contingencies in place will go a long way to ensuring you’ll achieve success for your event/activity.
Next, it’s best to prioritize the tasks under each respective area, doing so will give you an idea of how and when you should begin recruiting your volunteers.

Across the top of your spreadsheet, going horizontally to the the right, you can now create your timeline. Depending on your event/activity, you can either break things down into week or month  time durations, with each column representing either one week or month. For each task, enter the date of the actual task, or the ‘Complete by’ date. You’ll need to consider those ‘dependent tasks’, tasks that are dependent on the completion of other tasks. Once you have done this for all your tasks, there’s one more thing you need before you can call it your ‘master plan’ – your Supplies spreadsheet.

What you need – Supplies
Ok, you’ve defined all the ‘To Do’ tasks, fantastic. The next thing is to define what you need to pull off your event/activity, your supplies, or the ‘To Bring’ tasks.
A good way to manage your supplies is to replicate your ‘To Do’ spreadsheet. Simply copy your To Do spreadsheet and paste into a new sheet; call this your ‘To Bring’ sheet.
In your To Bring sheet, edit the ‘Volunteer task’ column to ‘Supplies’. Under each Subject area, begin entering any supplies you need for each subject area.
Once you’ve completed your Supplies sheet, you now have your Master plan, or at least the first version of your plan. Now, you’re ready to work on recruiting the people you need… and that’s Stage 4!  Stay tuned.

Happy Volunteering!

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