As a PTA leader, volunteers are perhaps the single most important key to your organization’s success. Without them, you have virtually no shot of reaching your goals for the year. Since volunteers are the backbone of parent organizations, it’s crucial to find good volunteers, keep them, and ensure they come back happily again and again.

But why is that so hard for so many of us?

It might be because you’re making one of these five crucial volunteer coordinating mistakes. Knowing these will help you avoid common pitfalls and radically improve your PTA’s volunteer base.

1. You don’t communicate your volunteer needs.

It’s very simple—people can’t help unless they know you need it. First, determine and categorize the volunteer opportunities you will need in order to accomplish your organization’s goals (fundraising, events, spirit wear, etc.). Then, notify your school families of these available opportunities through every channel available: social media, email blasts, flyers in weekly student folders, the PTA website, and the school’s website.

2. You don’t follow up with volunteers.

The best way to lose a volunteer is to forget to follow up. Once you’ve gathered your volunteers, put together a volunteer contact list (by category) and include names, addresses, emails, and phone numbers. Never say no to someone who wants to volunteer—include everyone who’s interested on your volunteer contact list. Email your volunteers to welcome them and let them know who their main contact is. Continue to follow up regularly and send your volunteers the specific details they need to know (date, time, location, and duties). You might also consider having a volunteer orientation if the event has a lot of moving parts.

3. You don’t have a volunteer game plan.

Volunteers hate it when they don’t know what’s going on or what they should do. When they arrive on the day of your event or activity, don’t fly by the seat of your pants—have a game plan ready to go. They want to help, not stand around while you try and figure it all out. Designate volunteers to handle specific duties and let them know ahead of time. Make sure your volunteers know exactly what they need to do, and take the time to answer any of their questions. (Don’t forget to smile and relax—now you’re getting the volunteer help you need!)

4. You don’t thank your volunteers.

Trust me, if volunteers don’t feel appreciated, they won’t be back to help next time. Don’t forget to thank your volunteers—it goes such a long way! Thank you’s can be an email, a thank you card, or a small gift. (Pro Tip: There are a ton of wonderful and inexpensive volunteer appreciation ideas on Pinterest!) Our school has over 20 different committees and clubs, and at the end of each year, we host a volunteer appreciation breakfast. It’s a fun way to get everyone together to celebrate our accomplishments from the previous school year.

5. You don’t treat your volunteers with respect or kindness.

It almost goes without saying: You should treat your volunteers with respect and kindness. Value their time, talents, and efforts because they make good organizations great! One of my favorite quotes on volunteerism is from Erma Bombeck: “Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.” With that in mind, take the time to love your volunteers well.

Carrie Shearin lives in Tega Cay, SC, with her husband, Jason, and children Troy (10) and Zoe (7). Troy is a 5th grader and Zoe is a 2nd grader at Tega Cay Elementary School. Carrie was one of the Co-Vice Presidents of the TCES PTO during the school’s inaugural year and is in her second year as a PTO Co-President this school year. 

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