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!

Best Practices – Provide Best Practices Training to Parent Coordinators

If your goal is to pro-actively engage parents and increase volunteerism in your school, having your coordinators winging it will not get you there. One of the best places to start is ensuring your parent coordinators have basic knowledge of volunteer management best practices. In short, give them the knowledge to succeed.

As administrator of a school volunteer program, you’re likely going to have an understanding and knowledge of volunteer program best practices. Depending on the number of functions and events at your school, you may have anywhere from 10 to 25 parents who act as task coordinators. It’s highly unlikely they will have anywhere close to the same level of knowledge you possess. Sharing some of your knowledge with these folks will lead to profound benefits, from reduced confusion among volunteers, significant time savings from efficient communications, smooth operations on the day of functions and events, and, most importantly, happy parent volunteers who, in turn, will continue to give you their valuable time.

Starting with the Basics
You could spend hours and hours, meetings upon meetings, to train your parent volunteer leaders on best practices. But it’s unlikely those parents will be interested in spending a lot of time doing so, after all they’re already giving their time to help coordinate the other volunteers. It’s best to pick just 2 or 3 of the most essential best practices to share with your volunteer leaders.

Depending on your volunteer leaders and the type of tasks they lead, select with 2-3 best practices to train them on. Here’s a list you may want to consider pulling from:

  • Create a brief action plan and share with volunteers. Develop and distribute an action plan template for your parent volunteer leaders to follow.
  • Document all tasks, including descriptions, what’s involved, expectations on level of quality for the job to be done. Again, create a couple of examples of Task descriptions for your leaders to use as models.
  • Communications: frequency (do it often!), clear instructions
    Group ‘huddle’ at the start of jobs or tasks, quickly review the tasks to be done, timelines, etc.
  • Expressions of thanks. Whilst it’s best to send personal ‘thank yous’ to individuals, it may not be feasible with large #s of volunteers. One effective alternative is to send specific Thank you emails to groups, for example, send an email to a group of people who helped with the same task.

The list above are only some examples, you no doubt have many others you can think of.

After you’ve decided on 2-3 best practices to train people on, schedule a meeting at the start of the school year to cover the information. Then, part-way through the year, schedule another meeting. This 2nd meeting can first serve as an opportunity to get feedback from volunteer leaders on the effectiveness of their practices. You can then also use this 2nd meeting to provide training to any new volunteer leaders.

Once you’ve shared volunteer management best practices with your parent volunteer leaders, and they’ve started to follow through on those, you’ll see immediate benefits. It doesn’t have to happen all at once, just start with the basics, you’ll be well on your way!

Happy volunteering!!

For Catholic Schools – A Paper / Excel-based Volunteer process costs $8,000+ a year

For Catholic schools, it’s easy to view a paper-and-spreadsheet volunteer process as free, as in there is no cost to the school. With information gathered from dozens of interviews with school principals, office staff and school volunteer coordinators, we’ve found that there is, in fact a cost to ‘free’…

The volunteer process would typically look like this:

  • The school posts volunteer opportunities on its website, which is usually done by an IT person. This person maintains the volunteer database and provides regular reporting of hours to volunteer administrators. This person is actually cost no. 1.
  • The school office staff would review the volunteer hours data provided by the IT person and maintain information on an Excel document, highly tedious, laborious work. Cost no. 2.
  • Parents self-monitor and submit their own hours. By parents’ own admission, this is a huge hassle and, thus, is not done accurately. This creates a gray area, leading to a missed $ opportunity for the school. This is not a cost per se, but the missed $ opportunity should, in fact, be a bigger concern.

Cost of the IT Person to support the volunteer process
A reasonable cost for an average IT person is $60 per hour. A typical elementary school uses the IT person for 2 hours/month (x 10 months) to support the volunteer process (doing the work noted above). With these numbers, the cost of an IT person to support the school’s volunteer process is approx. $1,200 per year.

Cost of School Office Staffer
The office staffer receives hours data from the IT person and normally tracks parents and their volunteer hours, usually on Excel. A reasonable cost of an office staffer is $18/hour. From our conversations with schools, the average office staffer spends a minimum of 5 hours/month to track parents’ hours, so 5 hours x 10 months = 50 hours/year. At a rate of $18 x 50 hours, the internal cost of tracking parent volunteer hours is approx. $900 per year.

Missed $ Opportunity for the School
A paper/Excel-based volunteer process requires parents to manually record and submit their hours. Based on volunteer sign ups at functions and events, schools estimate about 25% of parents over-report hours, by about 5 hours. This is mostly due to the hassle factor and not any purposeful intent to get away from doing more volunteering. However, as noted earlier, schools have no structure in place to match submitted hours to actual volunteer tasks. Trying to have an office staffer to reconcile parents’ hours to actual tasks would take a huge amount of time, which explains why schools don’t do it. The end-result is that schools aren’t able to charge back for the incomplete hours and miss collecting on the volunteer monies.

Typical elementary school (K-Gr.7):    240 students
25% of parents not meeting hours:      60 parents
Average # hours missed by parents:    5 hours
Average $ value of volunteer hour:      $20

Using the above figures, a typical elementary school misses collecting approximately $6,000 per year on volunteer monies (60 parents x 5 hours x $20). For a large high school, this figure can come close to $20,000 per year. Those are significant $s that the school is missing out on.

The Annual Cost of the ‘Free’ Paper and Excel volunteer process…

Cost of IT staff to maintain volunteer info on website:                          $1,200
Internal Cost of school office staff to track hours:                                   $900
Missed $s for the school due to under estimation of missed hours:    $6,000

                                                Total costs and un-collected $s:                $8,100

There are numerous alternatives to a paper/Excel volunteer process, ranging from free or low-cost online sign up forms to comprehensive volunteer management solutions that include things such donor management and contact management. Of course, OnVolunteers is one of these alternatives, and falls somewhere in between the two noted alternatives (i.e. starts at $29/month).

So, if you have a paper-Excel volunteer process, we suggest you go through a similar exercise as above and see how much it’s costing you, we think you’ll find ‘free’ isn’t so.

Happy volunteering!

Best Practices Series: Task Descriptions – Critical to recruiting people, but also recruiting the right people.

Do you have task descriptions for your volunteers?
The best way to inform potential volunteers of what you’d like them to do, any qualifications they may need, how many hours you want them to work, etc. is a job or task description.

A clear task description is vital. It informs potential volunteers of the purpose of their task and how it will help your group achieve its goals. Think about what motivates parents to get involved and about what tasks need doing in your group. Combine these needs as you create new tasks. If you have clear task descriptions, it will be easier to recruit parents.

Task and Benefits Definition
When hiring paid staff, a business typically has a job description that outlines the tasks and responsibilities, the required skills and knowledge, the hours of work, and the available wages and benefits. This job description tells people who might apply what they will be expected to do.

In the case of trying to find volunteers, it’s highly beneficial to create a task definition in the same way as you create a job description for when hiring paid staff. If you want to effectively recruit parents with the right skills and motivations to help with your work, it’s critical that you first clearly define what you want them to do.

Before you sit down to define a task, you want to ensure that the work you will be asking a volunteer to do is work that will help fulfill your group’s goals. In other words, don’t just come up with tasks for volunteers that only loosely relate to your group’s purpose. Many volunteers get  involved because they really believe in the work that their group of choice is doing. So you want to make sure they will be able to see how their particular task is contributing to the overall goals of the group.

To ensure volunteer efforts are helping you achieve your goals effectively, your group should go through a task definition process.

Task definition involves sorting all of the work your group does – or should be doing – into key areas of work and then into tasks related to each key area. These tasks can then be grouped into individual task assignments.

The task assignments you come up with should always be aimed at helping your group achieve its goals. However, task definition should also consider volunteer needs. Volunteers have different motivations for taking on tasks in a group. It is important that your tasks provide the type of rewards that will meet volunteer interests and needs. Otherwise you will have a hard time finding and keeping parent volunteers.

More importantly, the task description should include the benefits the volunteers will get in exchange for their work. Obviously they are not going to get a wage or health plan benefits. So what are they getting in exchange for their contribution?

The benefits section should address what motivates volunteers to get involved. You might note that the task will provide a chance to meet or help new people, or even feel good about contributing to an important cause or helping people in need.

Developing a template for your volunteer task descriptions so that all position descriptions will cover the same information and so you can re-use them. Once you have written up a few volunteer task assignments, consider keeping them in a central location. That way, when new volunteers sign up, they can quickly view this resource to see what volunteer opportunities your group has available.

Having very task descriptions and benefits will go a long way to not only recruiting parents to help, but also assures you get the right parents for the right tasks. So, for the next event or activity that you need to recruit volunteers for, consider setting aside a bit of time to define the tasks and benefits for the parents. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy volunteering!

Best Practices Series: Acknowledging and Thanking More of the 80%

We’d like to start 2015 off with a School Volunteer Management Best Practices series. This first post is about one of the keys to achieving and maintaining a high level of volunteerism…

We enter 2015 with just under half the school year having passed. Soon, the onslaught of school activities and events again begins, requiring dozens and dozens of parent volunteers. For most volunteer coordinators, maintaining a high level of volunteerism is a huge, ongoing problem. One of the key ways to reducing the impact of this problem is acknowledging volunteers. That’s no secret. But we’d like offer a different take on how to do this.

After each school activity or event that’s had help from parents volunteers, send a handful, say a dozen, of acknowledgement/thank you emails to those whom you do not often see or meet volunteering.

Here’s why…

There is almost always a small group of selfless parents who contribute huge amounts of time volunteering. This group typically makes up about 20% of the parent base, and it is these folks who are most often acknowledged by coordinators. And deservedly so. Thinking that continually acknowledging these folks will lead them to volunteer more is unreasonable. With the amount of time this group already volunteers, along with their family obligations (and who knows whatever else life throws at them), they’re really maxed out. They can’t give any more time even if they wanted to. If increasing or maintaining volunteerism at your school is the goal, then it makes sense to work on motivating the other 80% of the parent base. Now we’re not advising that you stop acknowledging those 20%-over-achievers, just start, however slowly, acknowledging the 80%. We’re not talking about sending those, general, batch ‘Thank you to everyone’ emails; those do very little to helping with future activities and events. We’re talking about personal emails.

We’ve spoken to hundreds of school volunteers, most of them in that 80% group. One of the things we’ve learned is that fewer than 10% of these folks have ever received a personal acknowledgement/thank you email or note from volunteer coordinators. Related, people in this 80% group, similar to those in the 20% group, cited acknowledgement as one of their biggest motivators when it comes to volunteering. Think about that for a moment. We strongly believe that even one personal acknowledgement email to folks in that 80%  group will add a significant boost to a school’s volunteerism. We suggest first starting with just one activity or event; send just a dozen short acknowledgement emails among the 80% group. Then do it again with the next activity or event. If you continue with this, we figure by the end of the school year, you will likely have sent at least one personal email to every parent in the school. And that will go a long way to significantly increasing volunteerism at your school.

So, after your next activity or event, consider sending a dozen emails to folks among your 80% group.

Happy volunteering!

By the way – if you didn’t already know, with OnVolunteers’ hours tracking and automated notification system, you can ensure every parent receives acknowledgement and thank you emails – either after each completed volunteer task or after each time a parent has achieved various volunteer hour levels, which you of course set. Contact us if you’d like to learn more about this.

Details – One of the easiest ways to reduce time-consuming, back-and-forth communication with parent volunteers.

Details, Details, Details – One of the easiest ways to reduce time-consuming, back-and-forth communication with parent volunteers.

Volunteer administrators and coordinators are constantly looking for ways to help with the organizing and managing of school parent volunteers. Volunteer team leaders most often look  to simply getting more parents to help with all the jobs and tasks. Yes, having more parents does help, but recruiting more volunteers actually serves to exacerbate the already time-intensive task of communication.

It’s easy enough to send out an email blast asking parents to help with volunteer tasks. This, of course, takes very little time. Instead, what takes up time – typically dozens and dozens of hours, is the back-and-forth communication with parents, the countless emails, texts and phone calls. But this is just a result of having to deal with more volunteers, and there’s really no way to reduce it, right? Actually, there is. And one options is really easy. Try this: provide as many details as possible in your communication to potential as well as initially signed up volunteers.

First, in the recruiting communications that the school sends out to parents, provide details about the importance of volunteers in making the school activities and events successful as well who benefits, i.e. who you’re doing it for, why you’re doing it, etc.

Next, in your first communications to parents who have signed up for tasks, provide as many details as possible about what they have signed up for. For example:

  • Where to show up
  • Who to report to when they arrive
  • What to wear (e.g. wear the appropriate clothing based on the task)
  • What to bring
  • What exactly they’ll be doing, for how long
  • Whether beverages and/or food will be provided (for tasks that take longer than a few hours)
  • What ‘task complete’ looks like

These are only starting points, make an exhaustive list of details to provide parents for the activity or event. Just think of what you’d like to know if you are the one volunteering.

When you provide parents with details about their volunteer tasks ahead of time, you’re actually just providing answers to their questions, but before they ask. If you take the time to write out and send comprehensive details – just one time, to a group of 10 parents about one volunteer task, you’ll save time from having to deal with multiple, back-and-forth emails, texts and phone calls from those same 10 people. Now multiply those time savings with the dozens of tasks, with hundreds of parents typically involved in a school volunteer program. You’re now looking at saving dozens and dozens of hours.

So, for your next recruiting and initial volunteer communications, consider adding more details. It’s easy and takes so little time, but the time you save later will be huge.

Happy volunteering!