Simple but effective ways to help more parents get involved with your group.

by Abigail Forget


As a regular volunteer for your school’s PTO or PTA, you might forget how much of a sacrifice volunteering can be for some parents—especially those with several children, many family obligations, or a hectic work schedule.

If you appeal to potential volunteers in simple, approachable ways, parents who typically aren’t very involved will be more likely to come out and support your events and activities, creating a more robust, diverse school parent group.

Think like a newbie.

What would have made it easier for you when you first started volunteering? Share your hard-earned knowledge with new volunteers. It might be as simple as explaining the office sign-in procedures or where you like to park if the main school parking lot fills up. If your school district requires volunteer background checks, explain the process clearly and do what you can to make it easier on parents, like emailing links to online forms or printing out hard copies for them.

Challenge accepted! Concrete steps for a great start to the school year

Offer "ambassador" opportunities.

Not every volunteer needs to commit to showing up at a certain place and time. Provide an easy way for parents to support the PTO by enlisting them to spread the word on social media about your group’s work. These volunteers can post about upcoming events on their Facebook accounts to get other families excited, post photos from previous events to spark curiosity, and email or text parents to make sure they’re aware of upcoming opportunities they might have missed in a school flyer or newsletter.

Provide digital communication jobs.

Recruit a mom in marketing or a dad in design to give your online presence a boost. A parent with a busy schedule might not be able to staff a family movie night, but on her own time she could administer the group’s Facebook page, lay out the monthly e-newsletter, or create compelling event flyers.

Emphasize the value of one-off volunteering.

It can be daunting for a parent to commit to working at monthly bake sales or running the concession stand register at every basketball game—so tell volunteers that you value whatever time they can give, and offer opportunities that don’t a require a long or repeat commitment.

Divvy up the duties.

Rather than ask one parent to take the lead on an entire arts and crafts day, create cochairs or working groups to divide up the work. Assign volunteers to specific, manageable tasks—like printing flyers, buying one snack or type of art supply, or relaying logistics to school administrators—instead of expecting them to manage the whole event.

Identify and call on parents who have specific skills.

All parent volunteers can bring something unique to the table. If you know a parent has a particular skill in either her professional or personal life, brainstorm on how she could share her time and talents with the PTO. A project manager would be a great choice to help divide up responsibilities among the group, for example, while a parent in a STEM-related field is a perfect candidate to speak at science night. And a mom with a friendly voice and engaging demeanor could be a stellar emcee at the talent show. Acknowledging parents’ talents can make them feel confident and empowered to use their skills to benefit your organization.

Provide an easy way to sign up.

Get the ball rolling with new or uncertain parents by giving them a clear and simple way to sign up, and share this process at the start of the school year (for example, an online form sent in a back-to-school welcome email to the entire school community or an online questionnaire shared on your school’s Facebook page). A survey is an excellent opportunity for parents to share what ways they want to help as well as what skills they have that could come in handy. Keep these responses on hand throughout the year, and you’ll have an A-list of willing volunteers when you need them.

Offer incentives.

Recognize a parent for volunteering by providing a reward, like free admission for their children to the PTO event the parent is staffing or first pick of a shift for the next event. You’ll show your appreciation while providing a fun motivation to continue lending a hand.

Be mindful of the whole family.

Make sure you’re clear about which volunteer opportunities lend themselves to children coming along. Not an option? Coordinating child care on top of staffing an event could be overwhelming, but announcing your opportunities far in advance will be respectful and accommodating of families who need to plan ahead and get a babysitter.

32 Ideas for Volunteer Appreciation

Originally posted in 2018 and updated regularly.


# Jeff Sant 2019-09-18 13:29
Great article. Thanks for sharing. Love the idea about digital communications and social media marketing.

I think another opportunity is to ensure that all volunteer opportunities that are available are displayed in one place and easily accessible, like a parent portal. This is hard if you don't have the technology to do it, but it makes a world of difference.

I also think many parents work at places where they could donate equipment or other supplies that could be leveraged by the school.

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