Principals and their leadership team are more important than they realise to the success of their school’s parent committee.
This article shines a light on the importance of this relationship and offers some simple steps all school leadership teams can take to support a flourishing parent committee.
Most principals and staff will value the contribution that their parent volunteers make to their school, both in terms of their non-tangible contributions as well as the funds they raise for the school. Although appreciated, most principals may not realise the power they have to make or break a parent committee.
In my book The Practical Fundraising Handbook for School and Club Volunteers, I identified five ‘secrets’ common to successful fundraising committees. They were:
1. They create a strategic plan
2. They always communicate expectations
3. They create an inclusive culture
4. They have effective leadership
5. They retain and pass on knowledge
Since I published the book in 2013, I have come to realise that I had missed a sixth ‘secret’. It’s an omission I will correct when I publish the updated version in 2022. Here it is:
6. They are supported by the school or club leadership
This ‘sixth element’ *see what I did there* has become evident to me after hearing so many tales of active and motivated parent committees being frustrated by Principals and leadership teams in their efforts to make a difference in their community.
On the flip side, an energetic and open principal can be the driver behind an active and successful committee. When I speak with successful committees, they invariably say that they feel supported.
Here are three simple things your school leadership team can implement to make certain you provide the support your committee needs.
While most parent volunteers will have reasonable access to their principal, for others, this is not the case.
Naturally, principals are busy and you do not have time to attend to every question from every volunteer. If access is an issue, have time set aside on a fortnightly basis that a representative from the parent committee can sit down (or zoom) with you for half an hour. It will be up to the committee to gather all questions that need clarifying and weed out anything that isn’t important or is duplicated.
This way, you won’t be inundated with constant questions and your parent volunteers can relax knowing they will have their opportunity to meet with you and not feel like they need to stalk you from the car park.
It always surprises me when a parent committee does not have set projects that they are working towards for the school. It may surprise you that this happens All. The. Time.
A tangible goal to work towards is not only more satisfying for volunteers, it actually leads to better fundraising outcomes. This, naturally, leads to better outcomes for your school in the form of resources and investments.
Of course, it isn’t the responsibility of the school leadership to drive the agenda of the parent committee. A switched-on committee will embark on its own strategic planning process, hopefully engaging the broader community in the process, as well as the school leadership team.
This may or may not happen in your school, but you can play a proactive part in the process.
At around budget time, sit down with the executive or a representative and invite them to cast their eye over the document, looking for any projects that might be suitable as a target for fundraising.
If you’re not comfortable with this, pull out a list of projects they can potentially take responsibility for, including your broader ‘wish-list’ of projects.
Suitable projects are ones that will excite and motivate parents to get on board with their time and money to make sure it happens. Be generous and strategic with the projects you are prepared to hand over – it will pay you back with a more engaged and satisfied community.
Not every parent committee leader is going to be easy to get along with. Let me share a little secret with you – nor is every principal!
Good communication cannot be left to chance. Yes, you may be lucky enough for the key players in your school community to simply get along. Even the most positive and fruitful of relationships, though, will hit turbulence in times of stress or dispute. This is where your professionalism needs to kick in.
You may think we covered this off in the ‘access’ section. You’re inviting them to come and see you regularly, surely that’s great communication!?!
Regular meetings are not there to ‘tick a box’. Your volunteers need to feel heard. You won’t always be able to answer their question or give them what they seek, but as long as you recognise their efforts and are working in the same direction then you are doing well.
Be open about the constraints and pressures that you operate under. What looks like persistent nagging to you may feel like healthy advocacy to them – remember, it’s not your job to say yes, it’s just your job to support and value their efforts and make sure they have something worthwhile to work towards.
I hope that this article serves as a timely reminder that you are all-important when it comes to your parent committee. Make the most of it!
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