How to get and keep your most valuable assets: volunteers.
School fundraising is not the most glamorous form of volunteering. Thus, when it comes to getting parents on board to help run them, it takes a little extra ingenuity to sell this as an impactful opportunity, especially to parents who already don’t have enough hours in the day.
Carol is a mother of three elementary schoolers, so the daily grind involves getting them ready to go to school, all at the same time, while making lunches and dropping them off before she must be at work. Add to that extra-curricular, dinner, and homework, and you won’t find much time in Carol’s schedule for volunteering.
Many parents will find that Carol’s daily routine resonates with them. With such limited time to offer up, parents may avoid assuming additional duties for fear that they won’t be able to meet the demands of a school fundraiser.
As fundraising season approaches, start thinking about how you can recruit (and hopefully retain) fundraising volunteers.
Make Fundraising a Social Affair
Parents are the first to feel guilty when they take some “time off” from their most permanent role. However, parents often forget that taking time to care for themselves is a critical part of being their best parent. According to Washington Post, time away from the kids is increasingly recommended.
Build in and highlight a socialization component throughout the planning, carrying out, and wrapping up of the school fundraiser. This “adult time” will feel less like a waste of an hour and more like a wise investment since it’s geared toward supporting their child’s educational success. Consider these ideas:
- Host a short kickoff breakfast that parents can attend when they drop their kids off for school. If you can wrap it up before 8:30 a.m., parents may be able to attend without missing any work.
- Host an appetizer hour right after work and offer to provide babysitting. Find some high school students who can watch the younger kids and eliminate participation barriers by ensuring parents are covered.
For fundraising leaders, creating these opportunities to bring parents together will give you a captive audience to help communicate your mission; get parents to sign up for specific roles, and inspire them with the unique energy and enthusiasm to come together for a common cause.
Have Fundraising Roles at Various Levels of Commitment
School fundraisers benefit from being short, but that does not necessarily mean some volunteer roles won’t require a couple of months of commitment. For example, if parents end up on a planning and celebration committee, they might have work before, during, and after the selling period.
However, the modern parent may not have this kind of time, according to “We Are Teachers.” Their research found that uncertainty about the school’s needs and too little time to volunteer are significant hurdles to parent engagement. Fundraising leaders can work around this by subdividing large jobs into smaller tasks less intimidating to time-strapped working moms and dads. Ensure your tasks are:
- Specific. Clearly define the expectations and completion time for tasks. Fill in as many blanks as possible. The less uncertainty a parent will overcome before signing up, the better.
- Tied to more significant impact. Small tasks don’t have to be insignificant. Communicate how even posting fliers can make a difference.
Creating roles of different sizes might mean that, as a leader, you’ll have to fight your fear of delegation. It might be difficult for you to imagine that someone wants to do a task you personally loathe, but someone out there wants to take it on and can do it well. Trust your team.
Leverage Remote Connectivity
The social media revolution has shown us that you don’t have to be in the same place to be productive. Email has been displaced by much more instant and interactive forms of connectivity, including Facebook and text messaging.
Find out what remote platforms the parents in your volunteer group use by doing a simple survey at the first meeting, and make as much use of these tools as possible. Marketers regularly talk about “playing in the same sandbox” as their audience, and this metaphor translates well for fundraising volunteers. If your volunteers are already spending their free time on a site like Facebook, use Facebook groups to communicate and get business done. We’ve got plenty of tips on how to take your fundraiser into the social space, as this is something student sellers and parent volunteers increasingly look for.
Some folks will always prefer face-to-face interaction—and that’s completely fine. Being at the same table is still one of the most effective ways to work and create a sense of team. But for those parents who still want to be a part of the action, use other forms of communication—such as Facebook or email—to update and inspire. You’ll attract more parents to lend their time if they know they can communicate and be engaged from work or home. These minor adjustments can make volunteering a natural fit for the 21st-century mom or dad.
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Clay Boggess has been designing fundraising programs for schools and various nonprofit organizations throughout the US since 1999. He’s helped administrators, teachers, and outside support entities such as PTAs and PTOs raise millions of dollars. Clay is an owner and partner at Big Fundraising Ideas.