The Savvy series contains thoughts, musings, advice, and maybe some humor from a veteran small shop development director wearing many hats at The GreenMount School in Baltimore, Maryland.
It is joyous to work at a small CO-OP school where each parent commits 40 hours of service to the school each year. It is not that difficult to recruit volunteers at this school, but finding the right volunteer for specific needs, keeping them engaged, and ensuring the work is meaningful are elements to volunteer management that are universal. I have also worked extensively with volunteers at three other schools that were not CO-OP schools, and I have found the following to be truths worth upholding when recruiting and managing volunteers. Your school and your life will be richer for the relationships you forge with your volunteers, but a degree of Savvy and a commitment of time is needed.
Understand the volunteer job. You are asking for help because you can’t get the job done yourself, but the Savvy recruiter knows that you must take the time to understand the scope of the job or project. Ask people who know how to do this job to explain it to you, understand what you are asking someone to do, how long it will likely take, and the specific skill set it requires. Asking a parent to chair the spring event, greet visitors at Grandparents Day, or to be an annual fund liaison are very different roles and the respectful and Savvy recruiter knows the difference and what traits are needed for success in each role.
Meet as many parents as you can. Do your research, meet with admissions staff in the summer to get as much information about incoming parents as possible. Know each parent’s profession, hobbies, availability, and desire to volunteer. Now put on your extrovert hat and get out of your office and talk with parents in the carpool line, on the soccer field sidelines, or on the playground after school. Be where parents gather and meet them and talk with them.
Thoughtfully match parents to the needs of the school. The blanket email plea for volunteers for Fall Fun Fest might yield a few intrepid souls, but your best volunteers, the ones that are invested, excited, and willing to share their considerable talent are the ones that you personally ask to help you because you know they are the right people for the job. Call, don’t email, for a more meaningful approach.
Give them tools to succeed. Volunteers want to partner with the school and with you. The Savvy manager knows that no volunteer should ever fail in their job. They need information, resources, and enough of your time to understand what is expected. They need encouragement and feed-back…just like a co-worker, because that’s what they are.
Share the glory. Carefully chosen, trained, and managed volunteers will make you look very good in your job. Acknowledge the talents of your volunteers at every opportunity, in every public communication that makes sense, and with every leader in your school who will listen. Only good things will come from your genuine appreciation of volunteers.
Volunteers make monetary gifts to the school. Volunteers are invested in their child’s (or grandchild’s) education on another level. Data suggests that they are twice as likely to give as non-volunteers. It’s just another Savvy reason to encourage volunteerism at your school.
Everyone wins when you are Savvy!