Energizing your school volunteers

There are many things that all schools have in common, whether they are public, private, charter, preschool, grade school, or high school.

All schools put their students first and work toward educating and supporting them. All schools are lively, busy, and full of caring, hard-working teachers and staff.

And everybody relies on their parents volunteering in schools to make everything work.

Parents volunteering in schools is vital to everyone’s success. However, many schools still struggle with how to create school volunteer opportunities that encourage and reward participation.  Here are some tips to help create the right school volunteer opportunities and so parents stay active and engaged for years to come.


School Volunteer Tip #1: Thank early. Thank often. Thank publicly. Thank privately.

 We all know how important it is to feel appreciated for what we do and who we are. Your school volunteers know, deep down, that their efforts are appreciated, but they need to be told to bring that knowledge to the surface and make it a part of their active experience in your school.


Here are some great school volunteer thank you ideas that are guaranteed to make them feel appreciated:

  •  Thank your school volunteers when they say they are willing to help.
  • Thank your school volunteers in the planning stages.
  • Thank your school volunteers while the event or activity is happening.
  • Thank your school volunteers when it is over.
  • Thank your school volunteers privately in the office, during pick up and drop off, or while they are performing their volunteer activities.
  • Thank your school volunteers publicly in your newsletter, on your web site, and from the podium while addressing the entire school community.
  • Thank your school volunteers by name and point them out to others.


I know this reads like a Doctor Seuss book, but “thank yous” are important.  And trust me, if I thought you would read 10 more school volunteer thank you ideas, I would keep writing them.

Parents volunteering in school are just like everyone else. You can never thank them enough. Think about how often you thank your volunteers.  Now double it!

Having a volunteer of the year award is not that difficult to do and will buy you tons of goodwill with that parent and his/her friends.


School Volunteer Tip #2: Create a Structure to Hand Off Items and Events

 Some events in the life of your school are enormous. The fall carnival, the winter gala, the spring festival, the annual fund, grandparents day… You name it. These types of events happen year after year in some form or another and they can be hard to cultivate volunteers for. They are a lot of work and it’s not unheard of for a volunteer who does it well once to get roped into doing it again. And again. And again.

Unfortunately, they will eventually be burned out and never want to volunteer for anything again.

Well run school volunteer programs create a structure where that doesn’t happen. These structures can take many forms, but having a chair and co-chair model, where the co-chair takes over the next year is a good start. This makes any big event a two-year commitment, MAX.

This also allows for a transfer of knowledge year to year, so school volunteers will have practical knowledge like:

  • Here’s where we rent the tent.
  • This is the band we’ve hired in the past.
  • That parent owns a sign printing business and gives us a good deal.

Document all of this and when the event is over – have them hand over that binder of information back to the school.  This way you never worry about it getting lost.

Knowing you won’t get constantly stuck with it and that there is a knowledge base to build upon makes for less burnout and more successful events.


School Volunteer Tip #3: Avoid the 80/20 Problem

So many school volunteers, after they’ve been around a while, start to feel the 80/20, or 90/10 problem. That is, 20% of the parents volunteering in schools feel like they do 80% of the work. They look around at events and see the same faces over and over. This can lead to burnout and resentment.

Broaden your volunteer pool to alleviate this problem. Ask people who you don’t see around school much. Reach out to the whole community when an event is approaching, give them a point of contact, and make it easy to get involved.

Most of the 80% aren’t refusing to help. They just don’t know how and are a little nervous to ask.  Or – they are willing to help, but you are just asking for volunteers in a general way rather than asking them specifically by name to be involved in school volunteer opportunities.  It is easy to ignore the call for volunteers.  It is a lot harder to say no when somebody asks you specifically to do something.

Make it easy and create some ownership and you’ll avoid the 80/20 problem.


School Volunteer Tip #4: Organize Grade Level Events

 One great way to keep your volunteers energized, and to broaden the pool, is to make certain big school volunteer opportunities grade specific. The 11th grade always hosts the senior breakfast. The 2nd grade is in charge of walk-a-thon, etc… This gives your volunteers a point of focus for the year and allows them to move on next year, avoiding the dreaded burnout.

It also creates that event memory and a structure to use that makes it all go a little easier.

There’s something to be said for turning these events into rites of passage as well. You know you’ve made it to 5th grade once you’ve been assigned to run the pancake breakfast!


School Volunteer Tip #5: Find Strengths. Engage Passions.

 Every school is filled with talented professionals in all fields. It’s important to know what your parents and volunteers do for a living. This can provide a great starting point when looking for a volunteer.

More importantly, know what your parents and volunteers love to do. What are their passions? Your parent who builds homes may love to spend their free time creating posters. Your marketing exec may really love creating surveys and analyzing data.

Asking people to do their jobs for you for free is less exciting for them than if you ask them to do what they love for free. And those may not be the same thing.  But don’t discount knowing what your parents do for a living and leveraging that skill set!

Keep that in mind as you search for your next volunteer.

And then thank them over, and over, and over again.




See what I did there?

Want more ideas on how to engage school volunteers?  

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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