By Becky Dimock / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance (Performing Arts)
Every dance studio relies on parent volunteers for dozens of jobs, but it can be difficult to get the help you need. I should know, I was a parent volunteer at my daughter’s dance school now employee. I watched our dance teacher try for years to get more people on board, but it wasn’t until we really started implementing some of the following tips, that she really got the support she needed.
The best way to get parents to volunteer is by making it super easy to help out, and hard to say no. It’s also important for parents to understand why help is still needed even though they are paying for the service of dance instruction.
It can be a hard road to navigate, but if you follow these tips, studios can get the help they need while keeping parents happy.
The Biggest Reason why Dance Parents Do Not Volunteer at their Dance Studio!
To understand how to get more volunteers, we first need to understand why parents don’t volunteer.
The first reason is that everyone is busy, and the parents of dancers are no exception. But while they will probably tell you that that’s the reason they can’t help out, that’s probably not the whole reason.
In my experience, parents who don’t volunteer actually feel like they shouldn’t have to.
They feel that they already pay for classes, costumes, and many other fees, such as competitions or performance fees.
They buy dance clothes, drive their kids to and from the studio – why should they give time too?
That leads us to our first way to get more volunteers:
1. Make Sure Parents Understand Why Their Help is Needed
You need to help them understand that while you recognize that they do a lot for their dancers, there are more things that have to happen at the studio for a recital for example to be a success.
Show them all the additional jobs that need to be done for their child to perform and explain that if parents don’t take the opportunity to volunteer, you’ll need to hire more staff, which would end up costing them more.
2. Offer Many Different Ways for Parents to Help
Have a lot of different ways that parents can help, and have multiple volunteer opportunities throughout the year.
Some parents have schedules that make it difficult or impossible to help backstage at a show, for example, but they might be glad to help run your social media page from home or they might have a lighter load during the summer and could help coordinate walking in a parade.
Here are some of the jobs filled by parent volunteers at our studio:
- Helping run the social media page
- Taking photographs at shows
- Filming at shows
- Media outreach
- Watching the young dancers backstage
- Helping with sets and props backstage
- Helping with costumes backstage
- Transporting costumes to the theater (and back to the studio)
- Ironing costumes before a show
- Taking tickets
- Selling tickets
- Set tear down
- Designing T-shirts
- Designing show posters
- Running the studio’s online “swag” store
- Designing parade flyers
- Walking in parades
- Cutting costumes out
- Sewing costumes
- Doing hand work on costumes
- Creating sets
- Painting sets
- Coordinating volunteers
- Teaching sewing classes
- Bringing treats to sell during show intermission
- Selling treats during show intermission
- Setting up community events, such as story times, parades, and performing at festivals
3. Get to Know The Parents of Your Dancers
Parents will feel more like they’re part of the studio if they know you, and they’ll be more likely to volunteer if they feel like they’re part of the studio.
Find out what they’re interested in and what they’re skilled in.
They might be able to contribute to the studio in a way you hadn’t thought of. Maybe a parent is a photographer, an accountant, or has connections that could be helpful. Ask them if they have any ideas of how they can help out and be ready to listen.
4. Be Easy to Work For
When someone signs up to help, make sure their responsibilities are very clear.
No one wants the vague job of “backstage help”.
What exactly will they be doing backstage? What is the time commitment? Do they have to know how to run the lights or a sound system?
Make sure that everyone understands that they will be trained for the job they’ve signed up for, then follow through with that promise. Have a parent who’s done it before mentor any new ones.
Don’t forget to spread out the work! Try not to use the same parents over and over. You don’t want them to get burned out. Also, make jobs small enough so busy parents are able to contribute.
Finally, be sure to start asking for volunteers well in advance; giving parents plenty of time to plan. Do whatever you can to make it as easy as possible.
5. Make it hard to say “no”
Ask parents personally, and ask them if they would be willing to do a specific job. People want to feel like they are needed. And it’s easier to ignore a group email than to say “no” when you’re asked face to face.
Remember to touch base with parents who have volunteered in past. Don’t assume that they’ll volunteer again, and encourage them to try new things.
Shifting people around makes sure that multiple people know how to do each job. You don’t want only one parent to know how to do something. If that happens and they leave the studio for some reason, you might be left scrambling.
Having people try different jobs also allows more people to contribute. Maybe Parent A always helps in the dressing room, so Parent B feels like they’re not needed or not welcome. Or Parent C kind of wants to help backstage, but they feel like they can’t because they don’t know-how.
6. Have Help Keeping A Tab on Your Volunteers
If all of this is starting to sound like a lot of work – it can be. Especially when I am saying to break down the jobs to make them easier.
So instead of keeping tabs on everything yourself, have your admin person be in charge of finding out whether jobs have been completed, or even ask your keenest and most reliable volunteer to be the leader on some projects.
Just make it clear that it is not their job to pester anyone to get the jobs done, rather it is their job is simply to tick the to-do list boxes and let you know when things aren’t running to schedule so you can find a solution to the problem.
7. Make it easy to sign up
Most parents probably prefer an online signup, but some prefer to just sign up on a piece of paper that’s taped on the studio wall, so you need to offer both.
Granted, it can be tricky to coordinate, in case multiple people sign up for the same jobs, but it’s doable.
Print out a new version of the signup sheet every day, or fill in the volunteer’s name on the physical sheet when someone new has signed up online – if you keep a pen attached to the signup sheet, that is super easy for you to do as well!
You’ll also need to keep an eye on the physical sheet so you can remove filled jobs from the online signup.
It’s a pain, but it’s the only way we get some of our parents to volunteer – and again I help our teacher out with this job so it is something you can get a parent to do for you especially if they are one coming in almost every day with their kids!
8. Thank your volunteers!
This is probably the most important tip!!!
Make sure people feel that you notice and appreciate them.
Remember that they’re giving up their free time to help out. Be sure they know how grateful you are.
The thing is – you don’t have to get everyone a gift, just saying thank you personally can go a long way.
If you did want to do something you could make each parent a muffin or write them a note to say thanks.
Time to Take Action…
So there are a lot of ideas on this list, but what I know is that if you were to try and implement them all at one time, it can be overwhelming. So which could you do this week to help get in more volunteers at your dance studio?
This is what we do at our dance studio and I am sure that if you follow these tips, you’ll be getting more parent volunteers in no time!