Volunteer coordinators are a crucial link between the work that needs to be done and finding the people to do it. As PTOs grow in members and in number of events sponsored every school year, it’s a good idea to consider adding this position to the board. Volunteer coordinators help program chairs by recruiting volunteers throughout the year to support different events as well as managing the member data. They also help inform parents about volunteer opportunities and responsibilities.
The Torrey Hills Elementary PTA in San Diego, Calif., added a volunteer coordinator board position to its bylaws in 2010. The coordinator manages the online signup forms for different events throughout the year and distributes the form links to event chairs to promote. “It is super helpful because parents can click on the link to sign up for what they want to do,” says Shelby Wyandt, room mom coordinator for the Torrey Hills PTA.
Before that time, the district had a part-time employee who oversaw all volunteer jobs, including classroom and PTA events; however, as a PTA role, the volunteer coordinator now helps organize the volunteer fair on the first day of school, during which the PTA recruits the majority of its volunteers for the year.
“The chairs of all events have tables set up with signs, such as walking Wednesdays, carnival, and dads lunch, and our room mom coordinators sign up volunteers at the fair,” Wyandt says. Afterward, the volunteer coordinator sends each program chair the list of parents who signed up. Recruitment continues all year, especially for events happening later on. “The teachers appreciate having a list of classroom volunteers to start the year, and then we can go back to them for end-of-year activities where we need volunteers,” Wyandt adds.
Nuts and Bolts of the Job
Communicate with committee chairs. It’s important for a volunteer coordinator to talk to each committee chair and learn about her needs and how volunteers can help. Having this information handy will help when meeting potential volunteers. Being able to match a need with a person’s interest is great. For example, a prospective volunteer who love books or is a librarian could join the book fair committee—it’s a perfect way to use her expertise to benefit the students. The Springman Attea Middle School PTA in Glenview, Ill., had a prospective volunteer who worked in advertising; the presidents suggested he help sell ads for the printed student directory and coordinate the design with the printer. His experience was a tremendous bonus.
Focus on organization. A group with a lot of potential volunteers and many ways for them to get involved has so much opportunity for success! It can be daunting to keep track of all those people, committees, tasks, and dates, but an online database management tool will automate the process of updating, cross-referencing, and sorting. (PTO Today’s Volunteer Manager is an easy-to-use online program designed just for PTOs and PTAs to effectively manage volunteers.)
Support and empower chairpeople. Having a volunteer coordinator is especially helpful when recruiting committee and event chairs because it takes one major task off their plate: identifying the other parents who will help them. This is good for people who struggle with finding volunteers or soliciting help directly.
However, the volunteer coordinator should also empower committee chairs to recruit for volunteers in coordination with the larger effort. The Reed Schools PTA in Tiburon, Calif., holds a volunteer fair at the start of school and asks event chairpeople to help sign up volunteers, says PTA site chair Alison Hart. “At our volunteer coffee, we set up tables for each classroom and for our big events. A few events that need a lot of help are the book fair, where we need organizers and cashiers. Luckily, we seem to fill all the slots at this coffee!” she says. “For end-of-the-year events, like our field day on the last day of school, the room parent schedulers will send a [volunteer sign-up link] to the entire school.”
Use job descriptions as a recruitment tool. The Reed Schools PTA’s room parent scheduler helps manage classroom volunteers by sharing and posting specific descriptions for jobs such as car line, class party, field trip, art project, yearbook, and kindergarten safety day coordinators. By providing details about what the job entails, their volunteers know what the expectations are.
Here’s an example of the Reed Schools PTA car line coordinator position:
Volunteers should arrive by 8 a.m., sign in at the office to pick up visitor’s badge and walkie-talkie, and report to their station in the upper car line. The late bell rings at 8:30 a.m., so the car line finishes and the gate is closed shortly after. Parents staffing the car line are not allowed to have any children with them at the car line as a safety precaution. Instead, please send school-age children to the playground, where there is aide supervision. Younger siblings should not be on the playground during school hours.
Coordinate With Your School
Many school districts require volunteer applications and online clearances to be completed before volunteers can help in a classroom or at a school event. Part of the volunteer coordinator’s job is to inform prospective volunteers about the school’s guidelines before they show up to do their job. It may be as simple as knowing they need to have identification every time they enter the school, or it may require an application process that gets completed weeks in advance. Talk to the school about setting up a spot for the volunteer coordinator in the office; this can make it easier for the coordinator to communicate directly with school administrators about important information for parents.
For example, in 2014, the state of Pennsylvania passed a law requiring all schools to run state child abuse and police checks for prospective volunteers. In the North Hills School District in Pittsburgh, Pa., prospective volunteers who have not lived in state for the entire previous 10-year period must also be cleared by the FBI. Parent groups can help volunteers understand what is required by sharing information online, in newsletters, and at meetings. The Ross Elementary PTO in Pittsburgh, for example, posts these volunteer requirements online as part of its homeroom parent and party volunteer form so all prospective volunteers know the school and district requirements.
Some schools have set up a paid position to coordinate volunteer opportunities schoolwide. If this is the case at your school, talk about how the PTO can coordinate with this person to make sure the parent group’s volunteer needs are met. At Volusia County Schools in Port Orange, Fla., for instance, coordinators work with the parent groups to ask volunteers to track hours. During the 2015-16 school year, more than 34,000 volunteers donated more than 900,000 hours of service to the district, a value worth well over $20 million! The screening program includes an online application and check against a sexual predator/offender database.
“The PTA makes sure all our volunteers know they have to be on the approved list of volunteers, and we share the process on our flyers, website, and on our Twitter and Facebook pages,” says DeBary (Fla.) Elementary PTA president Jennifer Baylor. “It can take one to two days for the applications to be approved, and the new volunteers need to have their driver’s license scanned at the school the first time they visit.”
In addition, the district updated the volunteer guidelines in the student handbook and created a wonderful resource for volunteers to match their skills and availability to needs, including parent group opportunities. Volunteers available during the school day might apply to help in an elementary school classroom or media center; in the afternoon, they could assist with an after-school club or tutor students at a secondary school. Evening opportunities include helping with book fairs or carnival nights and building stage sets for elementary school plays. Time commitments are broken down by weekly or as-needed opportunities.
Whether your parent group is creating the volunteer coordinator position from scratch, adding onto an existing board position, or working with the school district to manage it, your families and students will benefit from an organized and well-run volunteer program. Start with what works for your group and remember to communicate, listen, and plan ahead if possible.
Communicating With Potential Volunteers
Be specific about the help that’s needed; create a detailed sign-up form for each volunteer need—for example, three volunteers for each of three two-hour shifts. An online sign-up form is most efficient.
Create a “general volunteer” option to collect a ready group of volunteers to contact at a moment’s notice.
Let members know you have received their input through a group email; include a general thank-you message such as “Thanks for volunteering for the fall carnival on Oct. 20!” or “We received your info and will follow up closer to the event with specific times that help is needed.”
Speak positively to your parent group members and potential volunteers; remember that some may have limitations to what they can and can’t do to help.
Be aware of your needs and share them in a positive way to help excite and motivate new members to get involved.
Common Volunteer Coordinator Duties
Meet with school leaders (principals, teachers, librarians) and PTO committee chairs to determine their volunteer needs.
Serve as the liaison between the school and community, promoting ways to get involved and how to help.
Promote volunteer opportunities widely.
Forward lists of volunteers by activity or event and share with committee and event chairpeople when they need the information.
Share volunteer openings with board and general PTA members so they can let others know. This is especially helpful when caught off-guard, such as at the grocery store when a neighbor says, “I’d like to get involved but don’t know what I could do.”
Determine the best way to recruit volunteers inside and outside of school.
Thank volunteers throughout the year.
Prepare detailed job descriptions for volunteers so they know what is expected of them.
Keep a set of volunteer guidelines in the school office and on your website to send to new families who join the school throughout the year.
Possibly help the principal recruit for school activities, such as lunchroom duty or recess supervision.
Organize volunteer needs in a database, being specific about number needed, dates and times, and duties to be fulfilled.
Develop a master calendar of volunteer needs.
Use online tools to manage and solicit volunteers.
Keep a list of volunteers from year to year to allow for easy follow-up.