As a PTA president, do you ever get the feeling parents run the other way when they see you walking towards them?
Are you among the tiny minority that do all the organizing?
When you are desperate for help, it is frustrating when no one comes forward. Although it may be tempting to try a bit of guilting as a means to an end, that tends to drive people away (surprise, surprise!).
So What's a PTA President to Do?
First, face the hard truth: some parents are afraid of you.
Sounds crazy, but a real obstacle many PTAs face is the unfortunate perception that some parents have about a stereotypical PTA committee member.
At Plan Social we’ve worked with many thousands of volunteers and most of them are forward-thinking, generous-spirited parents and teachers with an appetite for getting things done and a willingness to put in time and effort. In other words, they're just normal people who feel it's important to be involved.
If that describes you, it can be even more difficult to understand why other parents aren't on board. If you are in this situation, you may need to change what you are doing or add new strategies to your Parent Involvement Campaign.
Empathy, Empathy, Empathy
Empathy is the name of the game, here. It's a vital skill if you want to connect with those in your school community who are less forthcoming with their offers of help. Just being aware that you will have to nurture an attitude of understanding and compassion - even when you feel like you want to pull your hair out! - is step one.
The next thing to do is to actually address some of the reasons parents don't volunteer. We aren't talking about a heart-to-heart or a scathing letter home. Instead, there are specific action steps that will pull in parents.
And hey, take heart; no guilting necessary! After all, we're guessing that's NOT the reason you wanted to be the PTA president. ;)
Issue #1: Some Parents have no idea what the PTA does
Some parents are simply not aware of the difference the PTA makes, and have a negative or stereotypical view. Sometimes parents take the benefits of an active PTA for granted, and only miss them when it’s gone.
PTA President Strategy?
So... resist the urge to respond like this!
Seriously though, rather than always pleading for general help, focus on spreading clear, positive, specific messages. Let parents know the results of your last fundraising event and exactly what the next lump sum will be spent on. Be clear on what services will no longer be possible next year if fundraising targets are not met.
If fund allocation is still being determined, ask parents for their input and find creative ways to get parents energized. Consider these tactics:
- Display specific targets for the next few events.
- Create a wish list with lots of parent input.
- Post polls for parents.
All of these strategies make fundraising - and the PTA - real, and gives parents ownership and a goal. This is a perfect way to remind them that the funds are used on specific items or services that benefits their child, not just some random pot of money.
Plan events with parent input whenever possible, to make sure you're on point. It would be tragic to cancel due to poor ticket sales. If the event is primarily kid-based, remind parents how much kids enjoy the spooky parties, winter carnivals, movie nights, and other social events. These are all fun experiences that their kids may miss out on if there isn't enough support and/or funds.
Issue #2: Some Parents Feel Intimidated by the PTA
It’s quite common for people to feel they are lacking in relevant skills. This may be especially true if someone has been out of the workforce for a number of years and feel reduced self-confidence and lowered self esteem. And then there are those people who just feel uncomfortable in social or work-like situations, period.
PTA President Strategy?
First, be empathetic, warm, and welcoming. Make sure that parents know that everyone is welcome; the more the merrier. Encourage any shy onlookers who might be in need of a friendly smile before they make their move.
Second, when you send out requests for volunteers, think about tasks that will appeal to people at various skill levels; everything from project management to stapling papers, creating a backdrop to filling gift bags. In your volunteer task descriptions, explain clearly how to help so even a beginner can step in. This is really important if you want to cast a wide a net as possible and build a diverse and inclusive community of volunteers.
Issue #3: Some Parents Just Look the Other Way when the PTA asks for help
When you ask for volunteers, this group of parents may react by thinking: "Surely you don't mean me?!" Well, yes, you do mean them. So why the oblivious response?
Some parents think they either have to be a hard-core committed helper, or nothing. And so if they can't commit all the way, they will just delete those well-crafted messages you wrote.
Or, they may not really give your requests much thought, hoping that someone else will take care of it. Or, they may think that a little help is not enough to make a difference.
PTA President Strategy?
This is a tough one and a situation that most PTA presidents can relate to. In fact, shifting this mindset means shifting your volunteer culture a bit. It may take some time but be patient and consistently do a few of the following:
- Let parents know that it’s NOT all or nothing, and genuinely mean it!
- Ask parents if they can commit to participating in at least ONE THING each school year, whether it is helping for half an hour, or delivering some flyers. Let them know you are aiming to 'Get a little help, from a lot of people.'
- Don’t overwork the few who do help, or pressurize them into doing more. Instead, make sure they know that their time is valued and is making a difference to the school.
- Tailor your communication. If you need to send out information that applies only to a select group of parents, make sure you send out that information to just those parents. Be selective when you contact people, so they actually pay attention when you do because they know it will be relevant to them.
Issue #4: Some (ok, Most!) Parents are Seriously Strapped for Time
And then we come to this biggie. As you know, most parents have good intentions but just have limited time. Whether due to work, health, or family obligations, parents are usually juggling more commitments than they can reasonably attend to.
PTA President Strategy?
Make sure you have a ready list of tasks that can be done at any time, requiring different skill sets, time commitments, and daytime availability. This makes it easy for those people who can do something at 9 p.m. but could never volunteer during school hours.
Let people choose for themselves from a list of available tasks. Provide a way for parents to connect easily with their class parents online, and also browse through volunteer tasks for upcoming PTA events. That way, parents can check out what is needed whenever it is convenient for them.
Oh... and remember to thank your volunteers afterwards, so parents feel that their contribution is acknowledged.
Now it's time to get the team together...
By incorporating some of these strategies, you can evolve the culture of your PTA and help parents feel empowered about playing their part, no matter what their skillset or availability.
Now, let's be honest. Will you reach every parent? Of course not, but if you give people clear instructions, more flexibility, demand less of their time overall and make it really easy to step up for a small task, you're sure to see new volunteers coming in soon.
And, most importantly, you'll be nurturing an encouraging and inclusive volunteer community at your school, where volunteering is the new normal.
That's pretty powerful stuff.
About Plan Social
Plan Social's easy-to-use digital tools empower PTAs and PTOs to connect their school community safely in a private Community Hub, where they can efficiently plan events, and radically increase volunteers and funds raised. Start a free Community Hub for up to 100 members here in 2 minutes!
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