There are numerous reasons why schools need parent volunteers – to become school governors, run the PTA, organise fundraising events, supervise on school trips or at sports days or sort out costumes for a school show. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be tricky getting parents to step up to the plate. Often it feel as though the same group of parents take on all volunteering tasks.
Bear in mind that most of your parents will be busy working people and that they also have families to raise. A lack of volunteers will often not be about parental unwillingness, but due to parents having too many demands on their time already. Those parents with enough time to get involved might work part time, or be stay-at-home dads or mums.
Make sure that you lead by example. If you want parents to run fundraising events for the school, then ensure that the headteacher and staff members attend and support them too. Be clear with parents about the benefits of volunteering. Beyond the money raised and the support given to the school, volunteering can also bestow personal and career benefits for the individual concerned. Working as a volunteer can significantly widen your skill set.
When asking for volunteers, try to observe the following:
• Remember that parents may be nervous at getting involved. No matter how friendly and welcoming you are, some parents may have had a negative experience of school when they were children that will affect how they respond to you.
• Don’t ask once for volunteers and give up if you don’t immediately get them. You’ll often need to ask several times before getting a positive response, but don’t resort to emotional blackmail or nagging – ‘We have asked a number of times for someone to organise the Spring Fayre and we are very disappointed at the lack of response.’ Doing this will only put parents’ backs up.
• Be clear about what you need from your volunteers and what the role involves. Be honest about the time and commitment required in what you’re asking, otherwise the drop-out rate will be high. If a DBS check is required for the role, make this clear from the start.
• Remember that parents are not the only people who can volunteer to help you. At the preschool I help to run we’ve had support from ex-parents, grandparents and members of the local community – even those who have never had a child attend our setting.
• Try not to see parent volunteering as a one-way street, where you tell parents what you want them to volunteer to do – get parents to give you their ideas about how they could help. For instance, I run a weekly magazine club for the children at my local primary school, where we create and publish a school magazine each term.
• Finally, parents know that schools are busy places, but a ‘thank you’ goes a very long way. Treat your volunteers like gold dust and show your appreciation for them at every opportunity.
Sue Cowley is a parent, teacher, educator and author