Harper Collins

Perfect planning 3: volunteers

In the spring 2016 issue of PTA+ Magazine, Australian fundraising expert Mandy Weidmann talks people skills and how to successfuly recruit and nurture volunteers.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of fundraising for schools, so it's essential to create an environment in which all feel welcome, accepted and valued. With ever-increasing demands on time-poor parents, it is no surprise that volunteers are often difficult to come by. Volunteering therefore needs to feel like a rewarding investment of time.

Hone your leadership skills

Effective leadership is central to the success of a great volunteering culture. A good PTA Chair will help steer the committee through the process of developing a strategy, but a truly effective leader will do much more. Leadership skills can be learned, and people of all personality types and backgrounds can become effective leaders.

Establish your need

Educate your community about the value of what you do and share your strategy document with everybody - volunteers will derive comfort from the fact that you are organised, and are likely to be motivated by clearly-identified goals. Demonstrate the value of your volunteers and give examples of volunteering opportunities for a variety of time commitments.

Include a PTA information booklet with the pack distributed by the school to new starters, and provide regular newsletter updates. If you don't have a specific event or reminder to include, use the space to educate everyone about the good work you do: past successes, investments made with PTA funds, or a simple 'thanks' for parents' continued support.

Set behaviour standards

Set out a code of conduct that will govern how you treat your volunteers and how they are expected to behave within your committee. It makes sense to establish a 'code of conduct' with your annual strategy meeting and to adopt it formally at the next AGM. Use these prompts:

  • How do you want people to treat each other? Let this be an open discussion, and draw on the core values that pupils are encouraged to adhere to.
  • How can outsiders feel included? Overcompensate for the perception that committee members are 'cliquey' - at school sessions, make the effort to mingle with newcomers - it's much easier to engage potential volunteers if you lavish them with attention.
  • How can conflict be dealt with? Decisions need to be made democratically, but negotiate your way through a variety of opinions by following some simple rules. If things get heated, suggest following up another time and move on to the next topic.
  • How do we foster creativity? Encourage left-field thinkers, welcome all ideas and filter out the weaker suggestions later.

Break it down and recruit

Your fundraising strategy will expose your volunteer needs. Identify and communicate the many different tasks that need to be fulfilled in order to implement your plan. If you know what your volunteer requirements are in advance, you can put energy into filling those roles rather than doing them yourself later.

Find key people to 'own' each fundraising initiative, based on their strengths and interests, and do this early - the further away the job is, the less scary it seems! Encourage your event organisers to recruit their own teams of helpers. To help attract volunteers:

  • SEND OUT A FORM seeking member/carer details - read our guide to data protection. Find out how they prefer to be contacted and when. Do they have a particular interest, skill, or connection?
  • SIGN UP HERE! Create an appealing volunteer sign-up board listing the events and projects that require help. Provide details of how people can help, including timelines where possible. This will allow potential helpers to factor their time into their personal commitments.
  • TARGET NEWBIES! Use 'meet the teacher' events to introduce your PTA and include details of your group in any packs sent out by the school.
  • GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL! Approach people face-to-face with a specific request. Be prepared to explain the sort of help you need and how much time you think might need to be committed to the task.

Value your volunteers

Without amazing volunteers, our PTA fundraising would fail, yet it's easy to forget to show your volunteers just how much you appreciate their efforts. When someone does answer your request for help, have everything ready to go. The classic example is setting up for a fair - prepare a list of stalls, where they're positioned, what equipment each one needs and where it can be found.

Think about little touches that form a volunteer appreciation programme. This might include a voucher for a free coffee at the summer fair, or a special prize draw reserved just for volunteers. When possible, use the personal touch when saying thank you. A phone call or handwritten note is so much more personal than an email... but an email is better than nothing! Few jobs are as important as recognising and thanking your volunteer workforce.

Avoid fundraising fatigue

Fundraising fatigue is akin to the corporate world's burn-out, and it's something your group definitely wants to avoid. It's sometimes easy to forget that volunteers can be involved in other community groups as well as having family lives and work. If your volunteer base is spread too thin, rethink your fundraising plans.

Consider scaling back your activities to focus on those that make the most money with the least time commitment. Plan and recruit volunteers early to spread the load - think about setting up a class rep system if you don't already have one. And remember to maintain an inclusive culture to keep your team motivated. In this way, your PTA volunteers will feel satisfied and valued, and, most importantly, be happy to help next time!

Succession planning

It is not fair to ask, or expect, a new member of a committee to take on a big role straight away. Wherever you can, ease volunteers in and train them up gently. Aim to pair new volunteers with experienced committee members, so that they can learn the ropes for a year before taking over (fingers crossed!).

About our expert

Mandy Weidmann is the fundraising coordinator at her children's school, so understands fully the everyday challenges and triumphs of working with other volunteers to raise funds for a good cause. As a small business owner she knows how important it is to have a great plan in place! Mandy is author of The Practical Fundraising Handbook and publisher of the Australian Fundraising Directory, as well as being a qualified lawyer and mother of five children - she knows all about managing chaos!

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