MTK Recruiting and retaining volunteers for your pta

Volunteers for your PTA | Recruiting, Keeping, & Thanking Them

Your PTA needs volunteers…and lots of them. Your organization quite simply wouldn’t run without them. However, finding volunteers can be a challenge. Your members WANT to help but may need a little encouragement to sign up.

Membership Toolkit works with all sorts of parent organizations and nonprofits and has assisted thousands of PTAs and PTOs in growing their volunteer communities. We’ve seen some great tips and tools that we want to pass on to you!

Before jumping into recruiting, it pays to take some time to figure out what you specifically need and what your organization can offer volunteers. You’re asking people to work for your organization without pay so it’s important to highlight what they can gain from working with you. Understanding what you’re looking for will help the process go smoothly.

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Before You Recruit Volunteers for Your Parent Organization

Before you begin recruiting volunteers for your organization, you might take some time answering some basic questions about your group so you can better explain the how and why of volunteering to your potential recruits. 

Clarify Your Mission

It’s hard to ask someone to help you when you don’t know what you need help with or why your organization does what it does. Chances are your board has already come up with a mission statement. If not, this is a great time to sit down and talk with the board to form one. Most likely, your PTA is charged with establishing a good connection between home, school, and the community. You probably do this by raising funds to supplement educational materials, providing fun fellowship activities, and assisting teachers with things they need for their classroom.

Make sure you can speak to the previous year’s efforts in fundraising and opportunities provided for the students as well as any specific goals for the upcoming year. Showing your volunteers what a worthy cause they can help work toward will be great motivation.

Explain Expectations for Volunteers

We’ve all said it and we’ve all heard it–“I just don’t have enough time”. Many are reluctant to sign on to volunteer because they don’t have time in their schedule. We know everyone is busy and trying to manage work/home balance but if you explain the opportunities available to volunteers, they’ll be more likely to sign up. 

Be up front about time commitments for each position. Maybe a potential volunteer only has certain days they can help. Some may find that they aren’t able to volunteer in person but could handle a few home tasks like cutting items for the PTA bulletin board, or sending in snacks with fun tags for a Teacher Appreciation Celebration. Make it clear to volunteers that any small amount of time they can dedicate is helpful.

Show the Benefits of Volunteering

Take the guesswork out of appealing to new volunteers by asking previous volunteers why they participated and what they specifically enjoyed about their time volunteering. 

Most volunteers participate because they’ve been specifically asked (a great tactic we’ll discuss later), or to have fun and socialize. Here are some other reasons we’ve come across over the years:

  • to make new friends
  • to test leadership skills
  • to learn something new
  • to share a skill/talent
  • to have an impact
  • to get to know & feel a part of the community

Tapping into a good motivator for your volunteers can help tie their work to your mission and create a greater purpose. It can help volunteers look beyond a time commitment and how volunteering affects their lives to how beneficial their time is to helping others.

MTK what not to do when recruiting volunteers for your pta

What NOT To Do When Recruiting Volunteers

Over the years, we’ve seen the good and the bad when it comes to recruiting volunteers. Avoid these 10 mistakes that we see organizations make:

  1. Do not stop recruiting. Continue recruiting. Every member you meet is a potential volunteer. If they have not helped in the past, maybe it was because they were waiting to be asked. 
  2. Do not expect all volunteers to have the same knowledge. Continuously train all volunteers. Explain expectations clearly. Supply volunteers with guidance manuals and resources for success. Buddy-up experienced volunteers with the newbies; this will help get everyone up to speed. The experienced volunteers will eventually outgrow the organization, leaving their replacements already in place.
  3. Do not get stuck in a closed mindset. Volunteers hate to hear, “But it is always done this way!” While historical information may be useful, it might be time to consider new options. Volunteers can offer new energy and be very excited. Take time to listen, contemplate, and respond. 
  4.  Do not depend on one person. Develop committees so that multiple people are involved and prepared for the event/program. What would happen if the lead fell ill or had to move away mid-year? Would the show still go on?
  5. Do not stress-out your volunteers. Consider the scope of the volunteer job—is it too big for one person to handle? If so, consider splitting the duties or changing the position to reflect what your needs actually are. This might require a change in policy or guidelines.
  6. Do not judge. First impressions and bias can sometimes cloud our judgement. Assume all volunteers are awesome. After all, they are spending their precious time volunteering. You will also have an opportunity to see that volunteer in action, which may help build future leadership as positions change yearly.
  7. Do not get lazy. Always be willing to do the same tasks you are asking of others. Be sure to lead by example. Working alongside the volunteers will command more respect and will get the job done more efficiently. 
  8. Do not expect special treatment. As volunteers, we work for free. We are helping others, not ourselves. We should not flaunt our volunteerism or expect reward.
  9. Do not assign a volunteer a task they cannot handle. We want our volunteers to be comfortable and feel competent in their task, both physically and mentally. 
  10.  Do not forget to recognize your volunteers. Regardless of your budget, be sure to express appreciation by writing a thank you note, purchasing small token gifts, awarding a certificate, acknowledging volunteers on the marquee, or by making a personal phone call. The goal is to have your volunteer want to come back and help. (Toolkit Tip: Need some great ideas on fun, inexpensive ways to say thank you? Check out our Blog: Have Fun with Puns to Show your Volunteers Your Appreciation)
MTK find volunteers for your pta at volunteer fairs

Recruiting Volunteers for Your Parent Organization | Getting Started

Armed with your mission and list of benefits, where do you actually start? There are many different ways to recruit volunteers for your PTA and good organizations use several of them. Pick and choose or try them all! Just make it clear that your volunteers are valuable and appreciated and the rest will fall into place.

Volunteer Fairs

Your organization can host a Volunteer Fair at the beginning of the school year. This is a great event to incorporate into Back to School Night. If parents are already at school to buy supplies and see their kids’ classrooms, have them visit the fair to see what your PTA is all about. 

Set up different stations explaining the different events/activities parents can get involved with. Have previous volunteers man the booths to talk about what the position entails, the time commitment, and the benefits of helping. Create a display of photos from past events to really show potential volunteers the joy that comes with helping.

Make a Specific Request

Throughout the year, ask for volunteers for specific events that come up. For example, have the chairperson of the Spring Carnival come up with the number of volunteers needed, type of work that needs to be done, and an approximate amount of time required for each task. Then make your appeals frequently and through varied communications like emails, social media, and newsletters, until you have your volunteers.

Volunteer Signup

Spread the Word

Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth among friends. Board members and current volunteers can talk up all of the benefits of volunteering and the good things your parent organization provides the students and the school. Board members can also encourage their friends to volunteer for a specific task with them–it’s always easier to have a buddy who knows what they’re doing the first time out.

Think Outside the Box

Even after all that work, sometimes the volunteers still aren’t there. It might be time to turn to the community beyond just your school families to fill those spots. Here are some other places to look for great volunteers for your PTA.

Student Volunteer Organizations
Did you know that student volunteer organizations are looking to fulfill their service hour requirements? Contact the local high schools in your area. They can direct you to school-based volunteer organizations such as: 

  • The National Honor Society
  • Key Club
  • Student Council Groups
  • PALS
  • AVID

Student Community Groups
Apart from schools, you should consider working with student community groups that have volunteerism as a mission such as:

  • The National Charity League
  • Young Men’s Service League
  • Scouting Groups
  • Church Youth Groups

Adult Community Volunteer Organizations
Did you know that adult community volunteer organizations want to share their servant leadership desires as well? These would include:

  • Junior League
  • Church-based Groups
  • Leadership Organizations with Chamber of Commerce
  • Corporations or Businesses that foster volunteerism as a part of work culture
  • Retirement Groups
MTK recruiting volunteers for your pta

Retaining Your Volunteers

It’s one thing to find and sign up volunteers, but it’s another to keep them coming back event-to-event and year-to-year. It takes one bad experience with one volunteer to be turned off from your PTA forever. And the last thing you want, is for them to share their not-so-fun experience with their circle of friends. 

Here are some steps you can take and tools you can use to ensure the best experience for your volunteers.

Approve Volunteers BEFORE They Volunteer

If all volunteers must be approved before volunteering within the building, it is likely your responsibility to verify their approval status. 

  • Make sure that ALL volunteers have applied for their background checks (this includes you and all Board Members also).  
  • Work with the office staff to get regularly updated approval lists. 
  • Remind your volunteers to bring a government issued photo ID upon their first visit to the campus. 
  • Remember to mark the approvals through the Volunteer tab on your Membership Toolkit site, this will allow you to see quickly who is up to date and able to volunteer!

Make New Volunteers Feel Comfortable

Welcome your new volunteers with a phone call, an e-mail, or host an on-site orientation. Volunteers appreciate knowing where to go and how to use the tools available to them. This could include showing them how to use the laminator, where the PTO storage is located, or which bathroom they should use while on campus. It is helpful to include emergency procedures when on campus (i.e. lockdown, inclement weather, fire drills, etc….). The office staff can direct you on these safety measures. When your members feel prepared and confident that they know where to go and what to do, they will be more willing to volunteer for you.

Utilize the Natural Talents of Your Volunteers

Chances are, you have a volunteer pool with a wide variety of talents and experiences that can be used for the betterment of your organization.  But, the only way to know that is to ask and then to listen! Recently, someone asked if I was creative or made crafts as a hobby. I said, “No.” What do you know—they put me in charge of decorating. What? If she had listened, she would have known that I prefer sales. I could have had record sales at the Book Fair had she listened to my response. Instead, she got a big receipt for reimbursement since I went shopping for decorations.  Knowing in advance who has what talents can help you create committees that are sure to succeed! You can even create a “Volunteer Interest” signup form that allows your members to tell you what their talents and hobbies are.  Then, you’ll have a natural pool of people to call on when you have a specific need.

Make Sure Your Volunteers Feel Appreciated

Remember to treat each and every one of your volunteers with kindness. If they are willing and have the desire to help, you want to develop trust and nurture those relationships. The goal is to have volunteers become regular volunteers who will return to help, and possibly one day will eagerly take on larger responsibilities within the organization. Letting your volunteers know how much you appreciate them, and that your organization could not survive without volunteers, will make them want to help out again.

Membership Toolkit Tip:

Make sure you show up for your events with a good attitude!  Organizing volunteers can be stressful but your helpers will feed off of you.  If you show up excited and in a good mood, chances are you will all have more fun and your volunteers won’t view their involvement as work, but instead, something they would willingly do again!

Use Tools to Encourage Volunteers


Carve out a space in your newsletters and emails dedicated to all things volunteering. Explain WHY you need volunteers and explain how to become a volunteer. Include helpful tips to make first-time volunteers comfortable. This is also a great place to THANK your volunteers publicly. It is always nice for potential volunteers to see that you appreciate those already volunteering. 

Social Media

Social media is a great tool to keep your volunteers up-to-date. Entice them with a fun graphic and details of what you need from them. Don’t forget to use it as a way to thank them afterwards and share pictures of not only your successful event, but your volunteers having fun pulling it off! Others will be tempted to join in next time.

Make It Easy to Sign Up to Volunteer

Membership Toolkit offers unlimited online signups with lots of options. You can decide how volunteer slots present: list format, calendar format, or days and times for shifts. And you can choose who sees the signups–everyone in your database or just one particular group.

Volunteers subscribing to the “signups calendar,” will see their signup commitments on their personal calendar so they’ll be sure to remember!

Save tons of time by automatically sending reminders to your volunteers as well as thanks after an event is over. Easy!

Use Our FREE Volunteer Appreciation Graphics

Make sure your volunteers know that your organization could not run without them.  Thank them in person and on your website, in newsletters, and on social media. It’s easy to throw one of these graphics into each communication to show your appreciation.


Celebrate Your Volunteers

Thanking someone for the gift of their time is one of the most important jobs you have as a leader. Volunteer Appreciation Week is the perfect time to do just that! Volunteers give their time because they can see the bigger picture and want to lend themselves to it. That being said, just because they’ve signed up once to lend a hand, doesn’t mean they are locked in for good. Showing your appreciation for all that your volunteers do will help ensure they step up year after year. 

Volunteer Appreciation Week is a designated time of year where you’ll be able to shower all volunteers with love and appreciation for all that they’ve done throughout the year. From your room parents that have signed up for a yearlong gig, to the dads that set the cones out for your jog-a-thon that one morning. All raised their hand and without them, you would have had to find someone else or would have had to do it yourself. For this, you are thankful.

The Volunteer Celebration

A morning? A day? A week? It’s up to you, your committee, and your budget exactly what type of volunteer celebration you have. Pick a time that works within your means, whether it’s a morning continental breakfast, an evening potluck, or a weeklong of grab and go goodies. Anything you choose will work as long as it’s done with thought and care. Make sure to coordinate with your principal and/or admins. They, hopefully, will want to participate and you’ll want to make sure they will have the opportunity to do so-even if for just a quick pop in!

Volunteer Appreciation Budget

No matter what you are going to do, you’ll have a budget to maintain. If you are planning a week of grab and go goodies, seek out donated items from your local stores and businesses. A catered lunch? Big chain and local restaurants do donate or discount catered lunches for nonprofits, but you have to ask. And don’t forget to give them a social media shout out! If you are celebrating virtually, think about setting up grab and go boxed lunches or meal vouchers you can put in a card for your volunteers to pick up or you and your committee can drop off. Any of these options are a fantastic way to show your appreciation. 

Volunteer Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Virtual Meet-Up

Yes! All of these work well to host an event. Volunteers are usually the ones running around trying to get all the things done. They are the best and most appreciative group of people you will ever do anything for! Choose one and run with it. Meals can be catered (remember to ask for a discount!) or potluck. Be sure to include teachers in your planning to get their ideas. They may want to run with it.  I know this firsthand. At my son’s school, our teachers took volunteer appreciation over many moons ago and now it’s an amazing luncheon they put on every year. It’s something we all look forward to. All because at one meeting, the teachers were included in the conversation and two teachers said “we’ll handle it”. Needless to say, we are so appreciative of those two teachers that set the “new pace” for our volunteer week! 

Thank Your Volunteers Personally

Nothing can be truer than the saying “it’s all in the details”, so make it personal, not business-like.  Set your theme for your event. It can be as simple as printing out volunteer or acts of kindness quotes and putting them on the tables. (Check out our Volunteer Graphics and quotes above to download.)  Think about what type of celebration they’d prefer. In person at a restaurant, the cafeteria? Virtually? Short and sweet or a lingering dinner with lots of catching-up time? Do they want their kids and spouses there or do they want some “me time” and just have it for them? All details to consider. 

Teacher Appreciation puns from Membership Toolkit. Image of a plate of heart shaped cookies.

Use our 101 Ways To Say Thank You for ideas on all that you can do. Once you decide on the event details, make sure to send out an invite (hand-delivered or electronic) to each volunteer.

The Volunteer Thank You

Why are you all gathered? So that you can thank them! If you are honoring special volunteers for the year, make sure and give a proper toast with details on all that they’ve done. Don’t forget to thank their families for their time as well. Volunteers’ spouses and kids are often the first to arrive and the last to leave. They are often part of the set up and clean-up crew. Make sure to recognize that. Maybe think about giving a little special thank you gift to their kids.  Baked goodies, flowers, plants and a good ol’ fashioned printed framed award speaks volumes. Our Fun With Puns article has some fun and easy gifts all will love. Again, it’s all in the details. At the end of the day, your thank you should be heartfelt and genuine as that will be the greatest gift.

There is never one person behind a year’s worth of events.  Your volunteer appreciation celebration is the time to thank and show how appreciative you are to all that lend a hand and help make the work a little bit lighter…and definitely more fun.

Volunteers are the backbone of parent organizations and we simply couldn’t do it without them. So, recruit and retain them just as you would paid staff and treat them as the integral part of your organization that they are. If you prepare a little, keep lines of communications open, and set expectations up front, you will have no problem finding good people to help your cause. Oh, and don’t forget to thank them…often!

Your PTA needs volunteers…and lots of them. Your organization quite simply wouldn’t run without them. However, finding volunteers can be a challenge. Your members WANT to help but may need a little encouragement to sign up.
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