Maximizing strategic volunteer participation at your school

Time, treasure and talent.  Everyone whose child attends a parochial school or even a secular private or charter school understands that you are asked to support the school in those three categories.  For most schools, they have a well-developed program in which to solicit funds or to get parents to donate generic time.

It is harder to leverage talent, but you will find that this can have some of the highest payback in improving the operations of your school and making long-term improvements.  As schools are being asked to do more with less, how can you get more school volunteers who can deliver strategic value to your school?

There are five steps that a school needs to take to unleash the talent potential of your parent base and get more school volunteers.


Build your volunteer database

One of the most critical elements that most schools fail to do is to create a volunteer database that reflects the skills and abilities of your parents.  This doesn’t have to be a fancy Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database; it can be as simple as an Excel or Google docs spreadsheet – but it is very important to know the resources and talents that your parents possess.

When a new family enrolls in the school, as part of their enrollment paperwork, parents should be asked to fill out a family information sheet that identifies their profession and any specific talents that they possess.  The school also needs to go back to all the families that are currently enrolled and identify the jobs and talents of all your parents.

Once you have asked all your parents, it is easy to finish out your parent spreadsheet by getting the list of parents that you don’t have information on and matching them up against their LinkedIn profile.  Taking this step not only is going to help you in tapping your parental volunteers but gathering this data will also pay dividends in any fundraising activities that you are undertaking.


Identify projects and define the scope

The next step is to clearly identify the strategic projects that you want to enlist volunteers to assist with.  As part of your strategic planning or goal setting process – you should have a list of projects that you want to accomplish, but might be beyond the time or knowledge capacity of your staff.  Some of these might be;

  • A redesign of your website
  • Development of a social media communication plan
  • A recruitment video

There are some items that might not be projects, but just ongoing needs that you have like guest speakers or parents who can be part of a career day symposium.  Or areas where you feel that you could use some assistance to supplement staff like in marketing or development.

Once you know the projects, it is important to clearly define the scope.  This scope definition is important because generally you are going to be asking working professionals to assist you in projects and so you want to make it as easy as possible for them to apply their talents to your projects.


Proactively ask

Most of the time when a school needs volunteers, they will post a notice and ask for people to volunteer.  This is a fine approach when the talent that you are seeking is more general in nature.  Anybody can count box tops for the fundraiser or move furniture around for the fall barn dance, so a generic ask is fine for projects like this.  But for more specialized or strategic goals, you need to be more specific in who you ask.

A common trend that we all can appreciate is that 20% of your parents will do 80% of the work.  This is because only 20% will proactively volunteer.  To get at the 80%, you need to do the ask.  And you need to ask in a way that makes the potential volunteer feel flattered by asking.  This is as simple as saying, “Dear Mrs. Jones, St. Mary is currently in the process of updating our website.  We would love to leverage your experience in working for Jones Web Design firm to help us make St. Mary’s website the best it could be.”

You will be amazed at the willingness of parents to volunteer their talents if they are personally asked.


Thank them

Most parents are motivated just by wanting to help their child’s school, but everyone appreciates getting a thank you note.  This is especially important if the project that they are assisting on does not directly impact their child.  A handwritten thank you note from the principal or better yet from the class that the parent helped will go a long way to having them repeat their volunteer efforts.

Many schools offer a volunteer of the year award or make it a point to recognize them in school newsletters or even at mass by the priest.  You can never thank volunteers enough!  A private thank you is good, but a public thank you goes even further.


Leverage your awareness of your parental base in future activities

Now that you have identified the professions and employers of your parent volunteers, this knowledge becomes an asset in other activities.  For your upcoming fundraiser, you now know all the companies that your parents have connections to and with.  Instead of cold calling the various stores around you, you now know that you could ask Mr. Jones who owns the local Chik-Fil-A to donate meals for your next event.  But this shouldn’t just be a one-way street.

Creating a list of parent-owned firms and actively promoting them as “Friends of St. Mary” is a great way to support the businesses of your parents.  Any small business would love to have their message and higher awareness in front of a new audience.  Most parishioner families would like to support other parish businesses but often they don’t know that the local restaurant is owned by their daughters best friend’s family.  This provides a nice benefit for those businesses and helps to strengthen the bonds of your community, school, and parish.

Get help with all your questions about volunteer positions, Just contact me!

Lets Chat! Lets Chat!

Nick LeRoy

Nick LeRoy, MBA, is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. Bright Minds Marketing provides enrollment and recruitment consulting to private, Catholic and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve its’ student enrollment, send an email to or call us at 317-361-5255.

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