One of the most frustrating things for the leaders of any sort of group is encouraging and maintaining member involvement, and parent organizations are no different. During the registration periods there may be lots of enthusiasm and good intentions, with parents signing up to be members but as the school year begins and planning for events gets into full swing, life happens.
Parents suddenly realize that being at a meeting means they might not be able to make dinner that night, or attend a soccer practice, girl scout meeting, or swim meet. And so, they prioritize. Are they going to be an active member in their family, or an active member in their child’s school community? Sometimes they’re prioritizing for their own sake – do they want to use their few hours of free time to decompress, or get ahead on household chores, or use it to plan the next after-school session? Whatever their motivation, you can guess what they aren’t choosing.
To help engage parents initially and keep them engaged throughout the year, we’ve pulled together a list of some things to try. We would also love to hear what works for your organization!
- Lay out the time commitment in advance. If you’re upfront with prospective members about how much time you’ll require from them on a weekly or monthly basis, they’ll know what they’re getting involved with and be able to make an informed decision about whether or not it makes sense for them to participate at all. Otherwise you’ll end up with 20 parents who are eager to get involved but realize too late that they simply don’t have 8 hours per month to spare.
- Set guidelines and agendas early. There is nothing worse than sitting in a meeting that’s scheduled to be an hour long that ends up being three hours long. Each meeting should have a definite start and end time that is respected. If a meeting is scheduled to begin at 6pm and end at 7pm, stick to it – your members will appreciate that you’re respectful of their time and other commitments. Similarly, every meeting should have a set agenda – don’t schedule weekly meetings if there isn’t enough worthwhile progress to report over the course of the week. If you find that planning the Father-Daughter dance doesn’t make substantial progress on a week to week basis, only add it to the agenda for a monthly update until the event is closer.
- Wondering what constitutes a “substantial update?” Things like “still waiting to hear back from the DJ” or “I sent out the survey I mentioned last week, and will have results by next week” are not substantial. The substantial update would be the results of the survey, or having a contract in hand.
- Conversely, be flexible. At the end of each meeting check with your members to ensure that the next scheduled time to meet still works for everyone. While it may seem easy to say “we meet the second Tuesday of every month” it may turn out that while the second Tuesday in September and October was conflict free, the second Tuesday in November has a big sporting event scheduled, or there are family commitments that people have made as the holidays draw near. Be willing and able to shift the meeting time around to accommodate the most members at each session.
- Embrace Democracy. One of the quickest ways to see engagement drop is to only consider or act upon the suggestions of a small group of people. All large decisions should be voted on, and every member should feel comfortable knowing that their voice will be heard and their opinion respected. If you don’t truly embrace everyone’s opinions, you’ll end up with a group of people who just don’t see the point in participating – and therefore don’t.
- Set Up Committees. In some situations, it just isn’t a good use of everyone’s time to be meeting regularly. If there’s an event coming up that needs to be organized, then set up committee meetings for those members that are directly involved with the meeting. Other members can volunteer to assist at the event itself during the larger monthly meetings, but should be spared from dealing with the minutia of planning if they aren’t an active participant in the planning.
As always, Pay4SchoolStuff.com is prepared to help you make this year the best ever! We can assist you in collecting and processing dues and donations, creating and managing volunteer signups, and so much more! Visit us at Pay4SchoolStuff.com to request a demo.