Have you ever beat your head against the wall trying to find volunteers? Or maybe you have to constantly take over positions because no one shows up? Or maybe you would love to have a science class on Fridays for the 13 year olds but you don’t have time to do it yourself? We’ve all run into these sorts of problems, but there are lots of ways to avoid headache and create synergy instead if you just follow a few easy guidelines.
1. Find Their Passion!
We were desperate for an economics teacher for high school this semester. We had a wonderful teacher the first part of the year who was unable to continue teaching because of illness, and we were scrambling to find a replacement. I posted on Facebook, asked around the co-op, looked in the community…finally I started calling all of the high school parents and low and behold, one of the parents loved economics! She ended up taking over the class and has done wonderfully. On top of that, when we asked for an assistant teacher, we found out one of the elementary parents had work experience around economics and wanted to assist!
When you find out what people are truly interested in and plug them into that position, they are self-motivated. Do a little snooping. Find out what they like, what they’ve done in the past as jobs or hobbies, even what they did in high school. Ask them what they like best about homeschooling (they might hate history but have a passion for science), or what they think their strongest personality traits are (maybe they are very meticulous and would make a great treasurer, or are great multi-taskers and would love being the registrar, or have a gift for decorating and would set up for events.) Whatever it is, do your best to find them a spot they will enjoy and you will have a motivated volunteer for life…or at least until they quit homeschooling!
2. Let Them Start it!
When we first started our group I had to do a lot…I taught, I organized teachers, I even hosted it in my home! Of course now, there’s tons of people doing jobs all over the place, and we’ve learned to delegate more and more as the group has grown.
I still do a lot, but it’s because I enjoy it. However, I don’t commit to things I don’t want to do. For example, the art teacher asked my why we don’t have a summer co-op in addition to our school year co-op. I told him, “It’s because I want to keep my sanity! If someone else wants to organize it, I’ll be glad to attend!” I help run the co-op because I want to. Would I like to have a Valentine’s Day party? Sure, but I don’t want to plan it. So will we have a Valentine’s Day party? Only if someone else wants to organize it. If no one wants to organize it, we don’t have it. We just put it out there that if anyone wants to plan something, we’re all for it! This year we had a really fun Valentine’s Day party at the local ice skating rink. One of the moms wanted to organize it, so she did! We all showed up and it was a blast!
Of course there are always going to be some jobs that have to be done no matter what…vacuuming after co-op, assisting in a class, posting communications. Put in your requirements up front that everyone has to help in some way, and if possible let them choose what they want to do. But all the other stuff, let other people start it. Then you won’t be fighting people to do things they don’t really want to do, but instead you’ll be enjoying the fruit of someone else’s excited energy!
3. Make Them Sign!
When we first started our co-op we didn’t have any guidelines. Being the rose-colored glasses person I am, I assumed everyone would be wonderful, helpful, dependable…well, you can imagine how that turned out. After that we developed guidelines for our group and made everyone sign them up front. That way they know the expectations up front and by signing are agreeing to them. If they need to pitch in and help and this is a requirement that they agreed to, they are much more likely to help with a willing spirit.
Of course, there are things that happen out of the control of people–one of our members’ fathers got burned and was in the hospital for 6 weeks. Of course we did all we could to cover her volunteer requirements so she could help her parents. Unfortunately, you may still run into that parent that doesn’t show up or do a good job. But at that point you have the guidelines to fall back on if you need to tell them this is not a good fit for them, as everyone here has committed to helping, so they should look for another group that might work better for their family.
4. Make Them Pay!
Everyone works harder when they have skin in the game…including me! Paying up front for an event/class/field trip makes people more motivated to make sure they show up and help out. At our co-op everyone has to pay up front for the entire semester. You can bet they want to make sure the co-op is successful, or their investment will be wasted.
Even for events it’s better to charge at least a small amount. People are much more likely to show up or to help. Alternatively, you can require them to pay a larger amount up front for a certain set of field trips/events, and then require them to help with one or more. If they have put in a substantial sum of money up front, they will be more invested in the outcome.
5. Find a Friend!
If you would like to see an event or field trip or class started, ask two people who are friends to organize it! People are much more likely to want to spend time and energy working on something if they get to be with their friend (or two families where the kids are friends).
We have two families in our co-op who really enjoy each other, and they organize a lot of the younger kid’s classes together. They love working together and get a lot of synergy from it, so it makes a wonderful experience for the rest of us and there is no outside motivation required!
6. Take a Personal Interest!
If you or your team takes a personal interest in each family, it goes a long way to motivate people to want to help out. A friendly hello, a sincere, “How’s life treating you?”, taking time in between classes or during an event to talk to them, or offering to pray for their needs, helps people know they are not just a number. This kind of kindness makes people want to help and also makes them feel that they are a part of a community. Feeling needed and liked as part of a community should not be underestimated. This is important for everyone, and homeschool families are no exception!
7. Say Thank You!
Everyone likes being appreciated. This semester we had a teacher who brought in special people from the community (Policemen, Librarians, Veterinarians, etc.) every single week for our Pre-K through 2nd graders. I made sure to tell her several times how much we appreciated it and how special it was for the kids.
I also try to say thank you as much as possible to our leadership team, even in a simple text dialogue I deliberately try to thank our leaders for all they’re doing. I know it doesn’t make up for all the time they expend, but I hope that knowing how appreciated they are will encourage them to want to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to do it as a manipulation. I truly appreciate all they do and just want to make sure I don’t overlook the opportunity to show it. You can be appreciated to the moon, but if no one tells you, it can be a thankless job and easier to get burnt out. So don’t forget to say, “Thank You!”
8. Give Them a Carrot!
I’m not going to lie. I didn’t start this co-op originally to help other families. I started it to help my own family have a place where all my kids could have friends and classes in our community. I started it for myself!
It’s easier to motivate volunteers if they can see what’s in it for them! This year I met a mom and really liked her and her kids. I told her about our co-op but she was unsure about attending because she really needed a break, and felt a drop-off co-op might be a better fit. I didn’t try to dissuade her…in fact, I encouraged her to do whatever was best for her family. But I did reassure her that she would not have to teach unless she wanted to, and that all moms get at least 1 to 2 hours off during the co-op day when they don’t have to volunteer so they can have time to socialize, read, grade papers, make phone calls…whatever they want.
That family did end up coming to our co-op and it has worked out great! Our co-op is closer than others, so she doesn’t have to drive, and she has time during the co-op to relax and catch up, so it still has some of the appeal of the drop-off. In fact she liked it so much, she volunteered to teach this semester!
Because we were able to give her something that benefited her, she was much more interested in coming and helping out. If you want someone to organize and event, encourage them with something that they care about, “It will be great because your kids can meet some new kids”, “It will be so much fun because Jenny said she’d help if you did, so you can do it together!”, “This nature park is supposed to be one of the best in the area and I bet your son will love it because you can touch all the animals, plus you can count it toward your science credits for the year!”, etc.
Sometimes people just aren’t motivated to volunteer because it’s not on their radar. I know I get requests from church or organizations to volunteer and often just delete them because I don’t have a vested interest in the particular event, or I’m just busy and don’t want to think about it at the moment.
On the flip side, I’ve posted on our Facebook page that we need help with something and gotten mute silence. But inevitably, if I think of a few possible people that would be good at it, and call them or ask them in person, someone always ends up being happy to do it. They just needed someone to ask.
On top of getting it in front of them, it’s easier to say yes to a personal invitation (and harder to say no!) So don’t let this powerful weapon slip out of your tool box. You never know when it will come in handy!