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A New Way To Get Volunteers

According to their own policy, PTO leaders can't ask parents for help directly; instead, they have to find ways to encourage interested parents to volunteer their willingness as well as their time.

by Patty Catalano

What would happen if your leaders couldn't ask parents for help at meetings? In the hallways? The parking lot? Could your group get anything done? We spoke with Chip Dye, president of the Salem School PTO in Connecticut, enforcers of a "no soliciting volunteers" policy. Find out why they think groups are better off using an invitation, and not solicitation, to jump-start involvement at their schools.

What's the "no solicitation" policy all about?
We realize there are myriad other programs competing for parent involvement. And we want to dispel the myth that the PTO would pressure or guilt people into volunteering when they came near an officer or went to a meeting. So rather than solicit parents at our meeting, we publish a monthly volunteer-opportunities newsletter, a help-wanted invitation for volunteers.

Has it been successful?
You bet. Before, I never checked off [on a survey] what I could volunteer for because I didn't know what I would be doing in four or six months. Parents now hear about volunteer opportunities a few weeks before. We've found that parents will go if their children want to go, and they typically participate once they show up. Volunteering has become less humdrum and painful for parents.

What activities do parents help with?
We're actually pretty fortunate to have a great number of parents and teachers who are willing to lead a group of kids in music, theater, sports, and other enrichment programs after school.

How do you train parents in time to help?
We've compiled entries regarding the who, what, where, and when for fundraisers, annual obligations, and events into a PTO for Dummies binder. Anyone who's put in charge of a fundraiser or event can just open up our binder and know where to begin.

How's the rest of the year looking?
We have a host of parents and teachers wanting to try new things, from seminars to assemblies on the physics behind kite-flying to the chemistry of food, and we are in the enviable position of being able to fund these initiatives.

We hear the group has a few "chumps."
At math night, students "stumped the chumps" [parent math wizards, caps and all] with math problems. It was fun. And yes, I got stumped.

The Group
Salem School PTO, Salem, Conn.

School size: 540 students, K-8
Budget: $65,000
Fundraisers: Gift wrap, cookie dough, Butter Braids, basket raffle
Group philosophy: No more "death by committee." Put parents in leadership roles and give them authority to get the job done.

What we've learned:

Never rely on a specified delivery time for products. (Picture six tons of steel playground equipment and one person to move it because the truck was early.)

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