There are few activities with greater multiplier benefits than the concerted, dedicated efforts of volunteers. At the same time, using volunteers in school environments takes a whole new level of organizational skills and insight not often present in the formalized hierarchy of educational command and control environments. Ask anyone who’s planned a church benefit or community action program and they will say it can be similar to “herding cats” or “teaching worms to march.” However, the positive effect of a well-organized, successful volunteer effort for your school reaches far beyond the concern of raising money.
Long before you dream of a program to marshal volunteers for, identify a pool and profile the talent necessary to create a strong effort. One place to begin is with a card file containing ideas you can draw from. What should you note?
- Effective leaders or co-leaders. Enthusiasm is not enough. Leaders and co-leaders must be really good at getting others on board with the effort. Where are these people? How do you spot them? The adage, “If you want something done, find a busy person” makes sense here. You can find your next leaders by looking at those who have risen to the top in other activities and are frequently chosen by their peers for leadership roles. Perhaps they successfully managed the school carnival. Perhaps they’re administrators of the church vacation bible school program. The list goes on. Their knack for leading volunteer efforts is evident.
- Good workers and what their interest(s) might be. Who do you know who might like to be involved in school activities? For example, retired elementary teachers who could help struggling older students read. Or hobbyists who have an activity appropriate for the classroom (i.e., woodworking, photography, bird watching, etc.).
- Areas you wish to ensure certain “enthusiastic volunteers” are not placed. There is an old joke that the sports booster club is there to “boost the coach out.” A parent with anger about how they were treated in school can make a mess of a bond issue campaign. While these same individuals might be great in some activities, you need to be sensitive to the possibility that they might have a hidden, negative agenda. It only takes one negative volunteer to bring a whole program to a halt, causing other excited, positive people to wander off in disgust. There may be good reasons why an individual is actively campaigning for a school volunteer position, but such active seeking should be a cautionary clue to you to investigate for hidden motives.
- Volunteer efforts that might have rewards for your students. There should be volunteer activities that meet the needs of all students as well as activities that meet the needs of selected classes of students. Your list should include both small, limited objectives as a training activity and large, grand programs designed for major impacts. Efforts should have powerful education goals for students, not just field trips and fundraising gains.
- Ideas for “paying it forward” in the community. Find places for you, your personnel, and your school to help with the community’s programs. This can include encouraging teachers to sign up for the roadside clean-up campaign, having classes remove trash from the small stream that runs through the park near the school, or using the school as a voting place. If you want to have the multiplier effect of community volunteers come back to the school, you need to have the school go out to the community first.
This article originally appeared in an issue of our monthly publication NorthStar for Principals.