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Volunteers need attention too

Most organizations appear desperate for volunteers.  

From my observations, there is a vicious cycle: fewer people are volunteering, then the people who do volunteer end up with too much on their plates, they get burned out and step away, and then even more volunteers are needed. Rinse, repeat.  

Parents feel the effects. Our childrens’ schools need chaperones, classroom parents, sports coaches, etc. Recreational sports or arts programs can’t function without volunteer coaches or instructors, fundraisers, and other jobs.   

In the end, we are often “voluntold” or guilt-tripped into volunteering. “Don’t you want your children to have this experience?” Of course we do, but our schedules are crazy or maybe this is just not in our wheelhouse, and we know that forced volunteerism is a quick ticket to burnout. (Note: By “forced,” I’m not referring to mandatory volunteer hours, because those usually come with options and often offset your out-of-pocket costs.) 

I don’t claim to have the solution. But for anyone who wants to recruit more parent volunteers, a few thoughts: 

Be clear about needs/expectations 

I know plenty of volunteers who have complained they were told the volunteer duties weren’t that extensive and/or could fit into their schedule, only to find the expectations were far higher. Don’t try to attract volunteers – especially people with already-busy schedules – by downplaying how much needs to be done. And don’t add more duties once they’ve signed on. 

Communication must be thorough and constant. If a deadline needs to be met, let volunteers know well in advance so they can plan. Spell out what’s expected in detail. As in everything in life, you can’t expect others to read your mind and divine your expectations.  

Meet them where they are 

As an organization’s leader, you know x, y and z need to be done. It might help to rethink how tasks are accomplished. Can the Big Project be broken into smaller tasks? You may not have enough people available to break down the project, but on the flip side, volunteering to be the Big Project Coordinator may seem daunting to prospective volunteers. Is there a Big Project Committee or will the coordinator have to do everything solo?  

Also, consider asking folks what their strengths are and putting those to good use. There may be skills you didn’t think of that help the overall project. People may be willing to volunteer but don’t always see a need for their particular skill sets, so find a way to hear and direct them. Some people want to work without a title, and you always need people who just show up and quietly pitch in. 

Give grace and gratitude 

There’s the thought that volunteering is like gift-giving; you’re not supposed to do it for thanks. But when a person is giving their time, they are more likely to want to continue if the activity fulfills them. The success of an event or seeing a project come to fruition is its own reward. Make sure you are giving volunteers the resources and support to carry out their jobs.  

It does help to be appreciated for your efforts. This doesn’t have to be elaborate or physical – again, the successful end result is gratifying – but because of our desperate need for volunteers, we can forget that they are freely giving their time and talents. Grace is another form of gratitude. Recognize that they are giving a gift of their time and understand that they don’t always have as much time as they would like. It’s discouraging to find time in an already-hectic schedule for a volunteer task, only to have the experience turn out unpleasant because the volunteer does not feel valued. Those volunteers won’t come back. 

How do you find time to volunteer? How do you think organizations can attract more volunteers, especially parents? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 



Jen Deinlein
Jen Deinlein is a self-professed “Jen of all trades and master of none.” She’s a SAHM to 8- and 5-year-old daughters, a freelance writer (you can also see her work in CPBJ) and head cheerleading coach at Penn State Mont Alto. She and her family live in Guilford Township, Franklin County, with a golf course in the backyard where they frequently rescue lost golf balls. You can reach Jen on Instagram: @groovypq; Twitter: @jlbd77 or by email: [email protected].

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