Is your parent group a Rachael Ray? A Paris Hilton? Or a Paul Giamatti?

Are you widely known and beloved? Are you widely known but...let’s just say...a bit lacking in the reputation department? Or do you have a fine reputation, but only among folks who really know your school well?

Your answer says a lot about your ability to build your volunteer base. Which brings me to the concept of Q scores. What’s yours?

In marketing circles, the Q score is a rather simple concept for measuring the familiarity and appeal of consumer brands. It can be used for companies, products, people, even parent groups.

The marketers often use it to decide which celebrity should endorse a product. Rachael Ray seems everywhere these days—you can bet her Q score is pretty high. Her picture on a magazine or her signature on a recipe makes cash registers ring across the country. At this moment in time, she has that magical combination of everyone knowing her and most folks having a solidly positive impression of her.

The flip side is a figure like Paris Hilton, who seems to be on a different magazine cover each week but usually for all the wrong reasons. Or an actor like Paul Giamatti, who has starred in several big movies and received rave reviews (he played the wine guy in Sideways) but likely doesn’t yet need armed security to keep the paparazzi at bay.

For parent groups, I like to use the Q score as a measure of your potential success in recruiting new volunteers.

Perhaps your group is widely known around school, but it’s because you bombard parents with fundraising message after fundraising message. Or because there’s been some sort of melodrama in your ranks, a disputed election or a similar public conflict. Or maybe you have a reputation as a closed group of insiders.

In that case, your recognizability ranking is high, but your likeability is suffering. It sounds harsh, but you may be the Paris Hilton PTO. There are very few busy parents at home looking to become full-time fundraisers or to add stress to their lives. When asked, they’ll probably try to avoid getting involved with your group.

If you’re a Paris Hilton PTO, then you simply have to work on reputation-building. No amount of meeting-attendance raffles or mandated volunteer hours will get folks flocking to your side if they have a very negative impression of your group.

On the other hand, you may be a small group doing solid work in virtual isolation. When asked, the parents at your school may be hard-pressed to name two or three of your contributions. You’re the Paul Giamatti PTO. If you get the chance to remind parents of your efforts, they’re grateful that you’re around, but otherwise you generally operate under the radar.

If you’re Paul Giamatti, you have to start tooting your own horn. Most of the Paul Giamatti PTOs I run across think it’s unseemly to brag about accomplishments. But potential volunteers are much more interested in opportunities to be part of a success. They’ll only know of your great work if you tell them, so get that newsletter cranking!

And if you’re a Rachael Ray PTO, congratulations. Things are great now. My guess: Your volunteer-building efforts have never been better. You have new programs running with enthusiastic volunteers in all key positions.

Just remember: Q scores can change. Fast. If you’re a Rachael Ray now, you need to work hard to maintain the reputation you’ve so carefully built. Remember, Martha Stewart was the homemaking maven of the moment just months before she headed to jail.

What are the keys to PTO Q? It starts with doing really good work. As parent group leaders, we don’t have the luxury of well-paid spinmasters to make it appear we’re wonderful; we need to walk the walk and actually be wonderful. Potential volunteers will look elsewhere if they don’t find value in your work.

From there, your Q largely depends on your marketing prowess. We like Clint Eastwood because we’ve been going to his movies and having a great time for years (great Q score). Do folks enjoy interacting with your group? Are your messages home upbeat and appreciative or borderline nagging? Are you willing to brag? Get those press releases out to the local papers and attach your group’s name to all your best efforts.

If you want to grow the involvement at your school, just like actors want to get viewers into movie seats, then Q matters.