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The way you follow up with interested parents can make or break your volunteer recruitment efforts.

by Shonne Fegan-Ehrhardt


Finding volunteers is one of a PTO leader’s biggest jobs. But even if you think a good number of people have shown interest, the job isn’t done—following up is equally important! Many groups do a good job of recruiting volunteers, but sometimes fall short on harnessing that volunteer power and thus end up relying on the same group of helpers. We’ve all been in situations where we sign up to volunteer at an event and we don’t get contacted (which may turn us off from helping again), or we show up and there’s nothing for us to do. You can avoid both scenarios with some smart planning.

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Survey Parents

Start with considering how your PTO recruits volunteers. Are you sending home paper forms or passing them out at school events? Do you make them available on your website, too? Whether you ask parents to provide information on paper or online, ask volunteers to indicate their areas of interest and to supply contact information. If space allows, include a job description for each volunteer opportunity. Ask parents to check off a box to indicate their interest, but note that they are not fully committed until you reach out to them to confirm. It’s much easier for people to express interest than to commit right away.

Often, volunteers aren’t sure what they can commit to for the year and they’ll check a “general volunteer” box. This is a gold mine of help, so make sure to take advantage of it by sending this list to your committee chairpeople when they begin to fill their open time slots. Committee chairs should include the names from the general volunteer list on each of their emails asking for help.

This is also a good group to tap for help as random requests come up throughout the year. It isn’t uncommon for the PTO president to be pulled aside by the principal at the end of a meeting and be asked to provide two to three volunteers one day the following week, for example. These last-minute, specific requests are perfect opportunities to reach out and give the general volunteers an opportunity to pitch in.

Don’t forget to send new families the volunteer sign-up form as they join the PTO or move into the school district throughout the year. This gets them engaged in your group and helps them feel welcome. You may find a very willing volunteer base here, as well.

After the membership survey has been completed, it’s also important to let members know you’ve received their input. Some PTOs have the event chairpeople send out a group email to their volunteers with a general thank-you message such as “Thank you for volunteering for the fall carnival on Oct. 20. We have received your information and will be following up closer to the date to indicate times we need help.”

People appreciate the confirmation that their information was received and that you will need them to help. If they sign up to volunteer and don’t hear from you, they could get the message that their help wasn’t needed (or wanted)—and they may not speak up to volunteer the next time.

Use the Information

The next step is to put all the survey responses into one electronic file that can be easily searched and updated. If you’re using paper forms, you can input all the information into a program like Google Sheets, which allows the person who created the form to share it with others. Although it takes some set-up time up front, it’s much more effective to have a file labeled by event, for example “carnival,” than to flip through papers looking for people who checked off the carnival volunteer box.

Some parent groups also manually input their member information into an Excel spreadsheet and use a hard copy form to create a master database of volunteers. The relevant spreadsheet data can be exported to each event or committee chair to follow up with volunteers and to let them know when they’re needed. It’s up to each event chair to create a detailed sign-up form for their event (again, online is most efficient). Being as specific as possible works best; for example, three volunteers in two-hour shifts from 9-11 a.m., 11 a.m.-1 p.m., and 1-3 p.m.

Parent groups leaders can also choose from a number of online services to manage their volunteer rosters. These services typically allow groups to send emails asking parents to sign up for volunteer shifts. They save the time it would take to compile responses individually and make it easier for multiple PTO leaders to access the information about who is helping out and when.

Some volunteer management programs also download reports directly into Excel, so someone in your PTO can manage a master database of this information. In many groups, a volunteer coordinator or membership chair manages the database. She can then forward the information to each committee or event chair when it is needed.

Putting in the time now to get automated or set up a follow-up process will pay off for years to come. Having these tools in place will also help with transition from year to year. While a binder of information that is handed down can be helpful, electronic files are just as valuable. Being able to quickly search volunteer information from the past year is a time-saver when a new executive board is getting up to speed.

Many tools exist to help with volunteer manage­ment. Having a plan to communicate, follow up, and share the information will make the process run smoothly—and help ensure you have the help you need throughout the year.

Originally posted in 2016 and updated regularly.

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