Dear Snarky – How Not to Suck at Recruiting & Retaining School Volunteers

dear_snarky_logoAs the school year is about to end there’s a topic I decided desperately needed to be addressed – school volunteers. I get a lot of letters from mothers complaining either about how nobody volunteers at their kid’s school and they’re having to do all the work to the opposite end of the spectrum about how the PTA, PTO whatever, is a mom clique that they can’t infiltrate. Well, I’m coming to the rescue with this advice about how to recruit and retain a quality school volunteer team. (As always feel free to print and laminate.)

Quit Being A Control Freak: This is for all the moms who pride themselves on being OCD. Well, here’s the deal – your OCD is making moms run away from helping you in any kind of volunteer capacity. Your freak out over how another mom stapled the school newsletter doesn’t make you look highly organized with a keen eye for detail. It’s behavior that is exhausting to the rest of humanity and makes you look off your meds crazy. When I signed up to help with the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon and then received an email from the PTO with a recipe of what to make AND what brand of ingredients (Whole Foods, of course) I should use along with what kind of serving dish to put it in I can assure you that was my last time to EVER sign up to help with that event.

Be Welcoming: The PTO is not a sorority mixer. It’s also not a country club with membership requirements based on your income or the car your drive. It does not have a dress code or uniform that specifies must look good in Yoga pants to volunteer. The fact that a mother does not wear spandex or drives a vintage AMC Pacer should not disqualify her from your volunteer pool. This type of social segregation leads to chronic volunteer inbreeding and results in having more talkers than doers on your committees.

Parents are Not ATM Machines: If all your school organization is designed to do is shake parents down for money than good luck because you will experience a mass exodus of volunteers after their first year in.

Smile: Oh sure, you say you want everybody to join but you’re not going to get or retain volunteers if you’re chairman of the stern scold. By that I mean using meetings to browbeat volunteers as to why they aren’t doing enough or how last year’s parents were so much better. (Too bad you ran those folks off.)

Acknowledge volunteers outside the school environment: If you want to tick me off, and I mean really tick me off, be one of those moms that is all lovey-dovey to me in school because I took on some job no one else wanted and then pretend you don’t know me when you see me at the grocery store. Really? Like I’m good enough to do the grunt work but don’t measure up as a human being outside of school. Those kind of moms can kiss my help (and something else) goodbye.

Gratitude: Be thankful for your volunteers. They may not be perfect (like you) but they’re free labor and all you’ve got. Appreciate what every mom does even if it’s something as simple (but important) like napkins for the last day of school party. You’re a mom, you know all about getting the best out of your kids now apply those same principles to your volunteer efforts and you’ll be amazed at what happens.

If you have a question for Dear Snarky please email me at