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Parent Involvement Tim’s Tips Volunteers

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The One-Hour Pledge

You'll get a lot more people to volunteer if they know there's a limit to their commitment.

As a parent group leader, you’ve already taken a big gulp from the involvement Kool-Aid.

You spend hours organizing carnivals. You can tabulate 300 fundraising orders in one evening. Your spouse gets updates on your latest efforts not over the dinner table but by reading the PTO newsletter. And you’d love more than anything to have more help with your work because you know better than anyone how important that work is.

Unfortunately, if your group is like most, you struggle to get more parents involved. And often the reason for the struggle, I hate to tell you, is you. No, you’re not a bad person. People enjoy your company. You’re generally optimistic and kind. People like you. A lot, in fact. They just don’t want to be you.

Parents have tons of excuses for not volunteering. Two jobs. An elderly parent to care for. No baby sitter. You know the list. But more often than not, the real excuse is a fear of the Black Hole. People think if they volunteer once, they’ll never get out. They think it’s either no volunteering (safe) or becoming you and volunteering all the time (egad!).

Of course, you know that’s not true. You’d love all the help you can get. But when it comes to bringing in new volunteers, impressions matter a great deal. If parents at your school are shying away from volunteering because they fear the Black Hole, then you need to address that fear in your involvement plan.

The thinking here is that you have to confront Fear of the Black Hole head on. It’s OK to stand up in a meeting and say “I know many of you think that volunteering only once means you’re going to get sucked into way more volunteering than you’re ready for. We’re committed to making sure that’s not true. We’ll thankfully accept any time you can provide.”

Follow up that message by using the one-hour pledge. Let parents know that all you’re asking for is one hour of their time per semester and that—this is critical—you won’t ask for any more time. The help can be in any form whatsoever. From home. Chaperoning a field trip. Reading to a class. Speaking to a class about a hobby or career. Working on the school website. Making copies.

Use a pledge form, collect signatures, then be sure to take up parents enthusiastically on their many offers. If just half your parents take the pledge and follow through, you’ll have hundreds of hours of new energy.

This is important: You also have to stay true to your pledge. You can’t call them up continually to ask for more help. You want these parents to have a terrific first volunteering experience. You want them to feel appreciated. (Write a thank-you note or email!) You don’t want them to feel guilty for not being able to give more.

Right about here, I bet you’re saying something like: “Yeah, sure, one hour is great. But who’s going to help run the carnival or organize the volunteers or be our next treasurer? We need help.”

That’s the beauty of the one-hour pledge. You see, if you get 100 new parents to offer up just one hour each, and those 100 parents have a good experience and are thanked and not harassed, then some percentage of those 100 parents will actually ask you if they can help again. They’ll like it and will want to do more. They’ll see that volunteering doesn’t have to mean craziness and that they can create a volunteer experience that fits their skills and their time. Slowly but surely, by promising not to ask for more help, you’ll wind up growing your team of core volunteers. Perfect.

Use the one-hour pledge to take on the fear of the Black Hole. You’ll love the results.

Tim Sullivan is founder and publisher of PTO Today. He writes a regular column for PTO Today magazine, offers weekly tips in the Leader Lowdown email newsletter, and shares his thoughts on the blog. You can also find Tim in the ptotoday.com Community and follow Tim on Twitter @TimPTO.

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