Three years ago Maree Wright went along to her P&C’s AGM, just to see ‘how things work’. She discovered that the P&C had been struggling to get volunteers engaged, and the committee was burning out and stepping down. So, she – and four others – stepped up.
“But we had no idea what we were supposed to do,” Maree recalls. “There was no outline of events for the year, just this one big project that we'd been saving for, and nobody knew when that was supposed to happen.”
“Now it’s a completely different story,” she explains. “We just had our AGM. We have 19 people on the team and a few more people coming on in the next few weeks as well.”
“We function successfully as a business, we've got a great website, our uniform store, and we sell a bunch of other stuff through our online store. All of our record keeping is digital. We have heaps of people on our handy mailing list.”
“We have also been successful at getting grants and delivered some amazing, major projects. We even run a native plant nursery on site,” she says.
Focusing on people
While Maree stresses that she can’t say what might work for your community, or P&C, she shared what they had done to turn things around.
Two essential elements were focusing on making it fun, and looking after volunteers.
“We placed an enormous value on our volunteers’ time and effort,” says Maree. “Volunteer time and effort is absolute gold! We had been treating them like they were an infinite, free resource. It's not free. Your volunteers will only give you so many hours, and if you don't value those hours and make the most of them, they're not going to keep coming back.”
“So I sat down with one of my golden volunteers, and we broke all the jobs into tiny little bite-sized pieces. Then we found people who fit those jobs. And that's been absolutely fantastic.”
In all this year, the P&C put forward 34 roles. There are the standard, legally required, office bearer roles that we are all familiar with, but also some surprising ones, that fit with the events and services that the P&C offers.
“We've made a position called Ice Cream Officer just for a bit of fun because each year we make decent money off our ice cream stall. And if all you do for the school is take care of all the organising for that, well, fantastic – thank you Ice Cream Officer!”
“We have someone who does lovely graphics and design for us,” Maree explains. “And she's fantastic at it. She knows what she is doing, is fast and gives us a uniform look. That's the way that she loves to contribute, and it’s worth so much to us.”
“We are also operating as three teams now – Finance, Engagement and Strategic. They are like three smaller committees that report back to each other.”
“The Finance Team isn’t just the Treasurer,” she says. “They are supported by a team of 8-10 people including the BakeMaster, Sponsorship Officer, Grants Officer, and of course the Ice Cream Officer!”
Maree says that she doesn’t worry about all the positions not being filled.
“It's okay for these positions to be empty. Most of them are not legal office bearers. We can fill those roles at any time. They can drop out and come back. It's very fluid, and that flexibility works for people – they can help where there is a lull in the rest of their life and can fit a few things in, and then life might get busy, and they need to step away.”
“Also, if people complain that our communications are less than great, we can just point to the vacant communications officer position!”
Does having so many people in different roles make it difficult to manage, or increase the workload of the office bearers?
“I think it actually reduces the workload,” answers Maree. “The President's job now is really about spending time having coffee with everybody and seeing how they are going, having a chat and coordinating a bit.”
“Having a really clear purpose and direction for the organisation also helps with managing people, because everyone knows what their goal is for this year,” she says.
“Everyone's busy, all the time. If we keep doing things the old way, it is hard for people to engage, so fewer people will. It’s about making it really easy – and rewarding – for people to chip in their little bit.”
Check it out on the North Ainslie P&C website.