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!