Whether it is finding a new treasurer or enough hands to run a fair, fostering a strong volunteer workforce is a perennial effort for parent associations.
The ground work is really important. Do parents know about the P&C? Do they realise that they are already members, and is it clear what the organisation does?
Council has some resources to help, such as a brochure template and promotionals images you can adapt for your P&C, but it is being consistent with the little things that really helps make your association approachable and relevant enough that people will give it a try.
Choose the communication methods that best suit you and your school and stick to it so parents know where to expect P&C information. Don’t say more than you have to, and be accurate, so that parents come to value your information. (More about communication in this Information Sheet and this article)
Keeping the tone consistent, friendly and welcoming is really important. Sound like a group of humans, not a bureaucracy or set of processes. This includes your meetings. Even when you have to cancel an event due to lack of volunteers (and you should do that, rather than burn out the volunteers you do have), it’s possible to explain calmly why and cancel with a smile. We do know it is not easy!
Clear, shared, goals
Tell people in plain language what the P&C is trying to achieve and make sure this lines up with what parents want. (See this article for more on finding shared goals)
A ‘face’ for your P&C
People react better to people, rather than organisations, so it is great if some of your committee will stand up at events and be identified with the P&C and chat to parents without shying away from the P&C badge. Getting friends and acquaintances involved is definitely a tactic worth trying.
Over the years we have surveyed hundreds of parents across the ACT who volunteer on P&Cs. They tell us the best thing about being involved on the P&C is:
- the relationships they formed with other parents
- being informed about what happens at school
- a sense of pride at what they had accomplished
- satisfaction of helping their child’s school.
If we know what people like and why they help out, it helps us focus on those aspects, in both talking to new people about volunteering and making sure we keep the positives alive.
Why volunteers leave
Likewise, it might be worth looking at research on why volunteers leave. Susan Ellis, an international consultant specialising in volunteering lists the top ten reasons as follows.
Reason #10 – The reality of their experience is not what they expected when they signed on.
Reason #9 – They don’t like the work they are being asked to do nor how it is being done.
Reason #8 – Veteran or leadership volunteers won’t let them into the “insider” group.
Reason #7 – They spend more time meeting than doing.
Reason #6 – No one listens to their suggestions.
Reason #5 – They feel unrecognized, and see that thanks are unfairly given to everyone, no matter who did the most work or none at all.
Reason #4 – They are no longer asked to participate.
Reason #3 – They do not actually understand how to get more involved.
Reason #2 – They can no longer see how their involvement makes a difference.
And the #1 Reason volunteers leave is... it stopped being fun.
It’s well worth stopping and thinking about how your P&C is ticking the right boxes, and not setting off the signals to leave. Council’s Information Sheets have further tips and suggestions on managing volunteers. We suggest P&Cs consider adding a ‘Volunteer Coordinator’ as a new position on their committee — someone to think about the needs of volunteers and match these to the tasks available. Training in volunteer management is available through Volunteering and Contact ACT and paying for one of your volunteers to attend could be an excellent way to show your appreciation and give them something back.
See also Council resources for growing your P&C; and for thanking your volunteers. And this article about checking to see how inclusive your P&C is.
This article appeared in ParentACTion Magazine, Term 2, 2019.