Q: Our PTO needs more volunteers. You'd think that the chance to contribute to their kids' school would get people through the door, but turnout is stagnant. How do successful PTOs keep volunteers and continue to recruit new ones?
A: The folks at online resource PTO Today know why people raise their hands to give their time and talent -- and why they burn out.
"Studies show that people are motivated to volunteer for six reasons," says Tim Sullivan, president of PTO Today. "Sure, people want to make a difference in other people's lives and to support a particular organization. But personal motivations drive the decision, too. Folks volunteer to learn something new, grow professionally or personally, meet new people and feel better about themselves."
When PTO presidents hang out the "Volunteers Welcome" sign, Sullivan advises showing would-be recruits what's in it for them. Research by Claremont Graduate University psychology professor Allen Omoto finds that the more you align your activities with a volunteer's interests, the more people you'll get and the more productively they'll pitch in.
Sullivan says to keep these recruiting tips in mind:
-- Don't "guilt" people into signing up. Instead, promote how it benefits them. It's more effective to say, "You'll learn new skills, meet new people and get to know your child's teacher better," than, "We need all parents to show up!"
-- Enlist a volunteer coordinator. This person organizes volunteers' time, explains clearly what the task and time commitment is and why it matters.
"Choose a networker who connects experienced volunteers with new ones, makes newbies feel comfortable and lessens the 'social risk' some folks perceive when joining a new group," says Sullivan. "This person invites parents who need to get comfortable before they volunteer to school social events." (If you have non-English speaking parents, make sure to recruit a bilingual coordinator.)
-- Match volunteers' jobs with interests. Sullivan suggests using a Volunteer Interest Survey that allows potential volunteers to decide how they might use their talents and time in ways that will benefit the PTO. (Find a survey template to tailor to your group at PTOtoday.com/magazine.)
"If someone is interested in volunteering because it will help her meet people, assign her to the school's Welcome Committee to orient new families," suggests Sullivan. "If another can only work on your website at night, great!"
-- Have worthwhile work ready. "Nothing kills volunteer spirit like showing up and having nothing to do," warns Sullivan. "Make sure that from day one, your new recruits are engaged in purposeful activities."
-- Broaden your scope. "Sure, parents are your natural constituency, but reach out to seniors, youth groups and persons with disabilities," says Sullivan.
-- Make it easy to stay involved. This might mean providing childcare, offering meals and snacks or giving virtual work arrangements.
-- Remember to reach out. Don't rely on email blasts, fliers in backpacks or Facebook pleas. "Contact folks, one-on-one," says Sullivan. "A Gallup report shows that people are four times more likely to volunteer when someone from the organization personally asks them to come on board." (For more information, go to PTOToday.com.)
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)