Want to meet more people in the community, share the workload, and get more done? Try these tips for building more parent involvement.
1. Get social.
Women are predominant on social media, and let’s face it, in parent groups, too. In fact, according to Nielsen, more than three-quarters of American moms use Facebook. So if you want an easy yet highly effective way to get the word out about volunteer opportunities and upcoming meetings and events, set up a Facebook page for your group. Using Facebook, you can easily engage with parents online, create a page to publicize an event, share good news, post photos of past events, and send group messages.
To ensure you’re using the best platform, survey parents to find out their social network of choice. If they’re tweeting, create a Twitter account and broadcast messages—fewer than 140 characters, of course. And if, like most parents, they’re on Facebook, connect with them there, too.
2. Serve up the opportunities.
Create a “menu” of volunteer opportunities and share them at the first meeting of the year. In lieu of ingredients, list the requirements for the position or volunteer opportunity. Instead of prices, add contact information for the PTO officer coordinating the event. A menu allows parents to pick and choose the opportunities that best meet their schedules, comfort levels, and unique talents.
3. Send volunteers home.
Make sure you have ways for people to get involved from the comfort and convenience of their own home. Working parents, for example, are often hesitant to volunteer because they cannot get to meetings at night or to the school during the day. Make sure parents know that they can be active without being at the school.
Parents can help in a variety of ways from home. For example, they can sort box tops, stuff goody bags, write or edit a newsletter, sort order forms from a fundraiser, or update a website, wherever and whenever they want. And if they want to work at midnight or any other time convenient to them, they can.
Gilda Aliberti, copresident of the Thomas Ditson Elementary PTO in Billerica, Mass., asks volunteers to fill water balloons at home that are then used for the school field day. And when her group sponsored a float in a local parade, she asked parents to paint pieces of the parade float at their homes. “This allows parents who are challenged with multiple kids and no childcare to be able to participate,” Aliberti says.
4. Offer prizes.
Consider giving parents an incentive to participate in PTO events. For example, if parents offer to help organize and staff the book fair, give them a free book or bag for their efforts. In Caldwell, Idaho, Elisa Darrington and Denise Madrigal of the Washington Elementary Wildcat PTO report that they achieved 100 percent board participation in a Jump Rope for Heart program. To increase parent involvement with the program, they gave volunteers a free tote bag.
Sometimes it helps to reward volunteers’ kids, too. At Oakdale Elementary in Dedham, Mass., the children of parents who volunteer at the monthly bingo night fundraiser are treated to a one-on-one lunch with the principal—a coveted date.
5. Simply ask.
Sometimes when PTO officers lament over a lack of involvement, they haven’t actually asked for help. You might assume that everybody knows help is needed. But when parents aren’t asked, they might think there is no room for their participation.
So don’t forget to make the request. Send home notices in backpacks, and use email or Facebook to announce new programs and opportunities. Do not rely on your meetings alone to build involvement. There is a much bigger community of people who may be willing to get involved but do not attend meetings.
Also, keep in mind that a personal request can help bring new volunteers to your group; people like to feel needed. Ask each board member to invite three new people to volunteer or to attend an event.
6. Promote your work.
Consider adding a publicity chair to your board. Have her take pictures at events and send the photos and a brief write-up to your local newspapers and local news sites like Patch. Post the items on social media as well as on the school and PTO websites. Publicity can lead to involvement, not only because it allows people to see the good work you do but also because it gives those who do participate public recognition for their service.
7. Make it a family affair.
For some busy parents, volunteering can take away from precious time with their family. They want to help run the dunk booth, but choose instead to attend the school carnival with their children so they can enjoy the time together. To accommodate and engage these people, make volunteering a family affair. Instead of asking for a few parents to staff the Italian ices booth, ask for a family to manage the refreshments. Create an atmosphere where not just parents and students are welcome but siblings and extended family are, too. Likewise, don’t overlook grandparents as a fantastic resource. Grandparents who live in the area may be looking to participate in their grandchildren’s activities.
8. Take notes.
Keep track of who volunteers, how often, and for what type of activities. Many PTO boards keep a database of volunteers so they know who they can rely on for specific events, and who is in danger of burning out and should be given a night off. Even more effective are the boards that also maintain a database of potential volunteers, not just past participants. When you meet a parent, track who the person is and what his areas of interest are. If you know someone enjoys woodworking, reach out to him to help with building a set for a talent night. Ask the landscaper parent to help build the new playground or plant a community garden. Don’t be afraid to ask, even after you’ve heard a “no.” Sometimes parents just need to be offered the right opportunity at the right time. And many parents enjoy the opportunity to put their unique skill sets to work.
9. Have fun.
If you’re not able to enjoy yourselves and have fun as a PTO board, others are not going to be inclined to join you. Sure, you dedicate long hours and some late nights. Cleaning out the crawl space under the auditorium stage was a dirty and physical job. But you’ve also made new friends and had a lot of laughs, especially when students duct-taped the principal to the wall to celebrate meeting your fundraising goal! When you’re tempted to complain about the hard work or shortage of volunteers, think instead about the great benefits you receive from volunteering and the difference you’re making in your child’s life and your community. Be aware of how you talk about the work you do. You don’t want others just to see the negative side and get turned off from taking part.