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 all schools rely on the kindness and generosity of volunteers to make everything work.


Keeping your volunteers active and involved is vital to the success of your school. Here are some tips to help make sure your school volunteers feel appreciated and stay engaged for the entire time their children are students in your school.


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 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.


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


I know this reads like a Doctor Seuss book, but “thank yous” are important.


You can never thank your volunteers 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.


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.


Until they are burned out and never want to volunteer for anything again.


Create a structure in your school 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.


  • 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 stuck with it and that there is a knowledge base to build upon makes for less burnout and more successful events.


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 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.  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.


Grade level events

One great way to keep your volunteers energized, and to broaden the pool, is to make certain big events 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!


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?

Nick LeRoy

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 nick@brightmindsmarketing.com or call us at 317-361-5255.

Brighten your inbox and stay up-to-date by subscribing to our blogs.