Fresh Volunteer Recruitment Strategies for PTAs & PTOs
It Takes a Village: How to Recruit More Parent Volunteers
Cultivating active, involved parents and guardians is the critical first step towards building commitment to your PTA or PTO and your school community. Get more parents involved in your school activities and events with these best practices and tips for boosting participation in your parent group.Pro Tip: There is no one-size-fits-all strategy – please consider your school’s unique and diverse community when planning your approach.
Communicate Your Mission Clearly
What is your parent group all about? What are the primary goals for the year, and why are they important to the school, teachers, and the children? All parent group leaders should be well-versed in your mission and able to talk it up to new parents in the school.
Create a Welcoming Environment
Work to make every parent feel welcomed on campus and invited to participate.
- Post signs in the drop-off line and school office welcoming parents to your school-parent community and listing upcoming PTA/PTO meeting dates and social media account handles. (Translate into multiple languages as appropriate.)
- Encourage parent leaders to wear “Ask Me” badges (in second languages as appropriate) at Back-to-School events and Open House.
- Clarify that there are volunteer jobs to fit every parents’ schedule: weekly, monthly, one-time special events, even at-home opportunities. See examples here.
- Send friendly welcome letters introducing yourself and your group’s mission – let parents know that your parent group welcomes ALL kinds of participation.
- Change-up the meeting time to accommodate parents with different schedules.
- Plan for live streaming of meetings to include parents who can’t attend in person, and translators to support non-English speaking families.
- Recruit a social media “buzz” team to encourage parents to engage online.
Give Your Parent Volunteers a Voice
- Kick off the year by asking parents how they want to get involved with a Committee Picker or Volunteer Interest SignUp. Pro Tip: Print a QR code to this SignUp and post it in the school office, on a sign in the drop-off line, and in welcome letters.
- Find out what your volunteers do professionally and what their hobbies and other interests are – this can help spark new ideas for activities, events, and fundraisers. For example:
- Musical parents can coach the talent show or donate short performances at various events to help turn out more participants.
- Catering/hospitality industry parents can help plan Teacher Appreciation events.
- Bookkeeper parents can help with fundraiser money management.
- Parents who sew can help with theater costumes and hemming uniforms for band and choir.
- Artistic parents can help with the art contest or envision and supervise a new mural.
- Parents with digital skills can help with the website and social media postings.
- Request feedback from your volunteers after every activity or event. What ideas do they have for improving the volunteer experience? (And be open to trying them.) For example:
- Does moving shift time or length make it easier for working parents to participate?
- Do parent volunteers have easy access to parking?
- Are there group-babysitting options for parents volunteers with small kids or after-school sitting needs?
- Do parents have easy access to needed supplies, instructions, and guidance on who to call for help?
- Is there an activity or fundraiser that was successful at another school that your school can adopt?
- Don’t micromanage your volunteers – offer guidance but then let your parent volunteers manage their tasks as they see fit. This is a great tactic for building confidence and encouraging future participation.
Be Positive (It’s Contagious)
Keep an optimistic outlook and spread that positivity!
- Even when things don’t go as smoothly as planned, smile, keep your cool, and remember that everyone is doing their best – for the kids and teachers.
- Make having FUN a top priority so more parents want to be involved – as often as possible, involve the kids so the volunteer activities double as family fun time! (School clean-up days, garden maintenance, and sign-making and setup for events are fab family fun opportunities.)
- Thank volunteers at the end of every shift and be sure you let them go on time! Your appreciation and punctuality will keep them coming back.
- Offer patience and grace — families have different seasons of availability as job demands and family circumstances change. Just because a parent doesn’t show up once or can’t participate this year, that doesn’t mean that they will be on the sidelines forever. Keep the invitation to participate wide open.
Actually Have FUN
PTA and PTO meetings don’t have to be boring – mix it up!
- Ask a parent to DJ, playing fun music at the start and end of the meeting, and to introduce each major agenda item/presentation with a new tune. Bonus: Invite parents to stand up and have a 30-second flash dance a few times during the meeting.
- Host a potluck dinner or a cookie-tasting contest along with the meeting.
- Invite student performers to showcase their talents (choir, dance, band, you name it).
- Play a school-related trivia game at the beginning of the meeting and offer a prize to the winner.
- Ask parents to introduce themselves to 2 new parents during the meeting and share something special about their student(s).
- Invite a parent musician, artist, author, or poet to share a short sample of their work.
- Request small door prize donations from local businesses and host a raffle for meeting attendees.
TALK to Parents
Getting up close and personal is still one of the most effective ways to get folks involved in your school’s volunteer efforts.
- When meeting a new parent, start by getting to know the person – don’t just jump in with a pushy request to volunteer for your parent group.
- Invite one or two parents for a power walk, coffee, or lunch – and don’t talk about your parent group unless someone brings it up. Even if you never discuss their interest in volunteering, they are more likely to open a SignUp invitation from you when you’re asking for helpers later, at any given event.
- Host informal gatherings for special groups (at school or in the community) such as a coffee circle for grandparent caregivers, or playground playdates + popsicles for new immigrant or non-English speaking families (including a parent-leader who speaks the language and/or a school resource translator).
- When appropriate, any chance you get – at back-to-school night, in the school pickup line, at the Friday football game, the dance class or soccer sidelines – talk up your parent group and share all the fun you have and the difference you make for the kids and teachers. Ask the open-ended question, “Have you thought about how you want to get involved this year?” Then be prepared to help them engage.
- Talk to parents online too! Invite parent leaders to encourage other parents to follow the social media channels of the school and PTO/PTA and keep them updated about upcoming activities and events. For engaging parents at back-to-school time, check out our free downloadable social media graphics for sharing.
- Consider using MemberHub to keep parents in the loop with its easy newsletter builder and other engagement tools!
Make it EASY to say YES to Volunteering
- Be flexible and accommodating to your volunteer parents by finding opportunities that work for everyone – those with crazy work schedules may only be able to pitch in on weekends, someone with a baby will need assignments they can do from home or that allow him/her to take the child along, etc.
- Especially for reluctant participants, emphasize short-term tasks that allow them to help out without a huge obligation – it gets their foot in the volunteering door and may encourage them to take on more in the future.
- Use SignUp to coordinate all of your school-related events – from Back-to-School Night to the Halloween carnival to Spring Field Day and all the fundraisers and other activities in between! Busy parents can sign up right on their smartphones and choose the specific tasks they are interested in (no registration required!), plus they have the ability to swap spots with other parents if something comes up, and automated reminders will keep everyone on track!
- Use a buddy system for newbies. Ask returning parent volunteers to pair up with a new volunteer to welcome them and teach them the ropes.
- Encourage co-chairing, where big volunteer jobs are shared to ease the time commitment and provide a safety net if someone’s availability changes during the school year.
- Offer rewards for participating, when appropriate. For example:
- The whole family gets free entry to the Fall festival in exchange for working 2 shifts at the concession stand.
- Families who help with Campus Cleanup Day get to attend a root beer float party.
- The volunteer with the most service hours each month gets a reserved parking spot close to the school entrance.
- Social media is an easy and effective way to spread the word about upcoming volunteer opportunities and school events (including SignUp invitation links). Ask active volunteers to share, like, and repost invitations in their feeds.
Celebrate Your Volunteers
Say thank you often and recognize accomplishments.
- Keep a tally of total parent volunteer hours each month contributed to school activities and publish updates and specific examples in the school newsletter.
- Publicly thank volunteers for their contributions during live school events and also later, during PTA/PTO meetings.
- After each fundraiser or event, share key statistics such as number of people who attended, how volunteers contributed, how much money was raised, and examples of what will be purchased with the funds.
- Send thank you emails and make public appreciation posts in the group’s social media accounts.
- Check out SignUp’s volunteer appreciation certificates — a thoughtful, yet simple way to show your gratitude!
- Coordinate with the principal to host a short gratitude coffee celebration and/or send thank you notes to parent volunteers.
Keep It Up All Year
Recruiting parent volunteers isn’t just a task for back-to-school time – be sure to keep your efforts up throughout the year.
- Boost visibility by asking volunteers to post their school participation and activities in their social media feeds and tag the parent group. Publicly thank them online when they do!
- 2-3 months before any event is the perfect time to remind parents of the value of participating in their children’s school activities.
- Ask teachers what parents are showing up to help in the classroom and open a conversation with them about broader PTA/PTO participation.