10+ Ways To Improve Volunteer Booster Meetings

Boring Presentation

From a small business or band director perspective, I WISH I had a meeting room with wall screens, a meeting table and high-backed chairs like in this picture.

By John Gardner

Everybody who likes going to business meetings – raise your hand! Exactly. In this “Band as a Business” series, I will share experiences from my small business experience running a fundraising distributorship and cross-compare similarities to running the “business” of a high school band.

As the owner/operator/manager at QDP Corporation, I had weekly staff meetings, but was always aware how much that 30 minute meeting cost me when I considered their combined wages. That was my main motivation to increase organization, efficiency, effectiveness – and brevity. Now, much of that could be done with email, blog notices or through collaborative documents. Googledocs, Word and Open Office all allow for team input. Officers and directors could collaborate before the general meeting to ensure good communication flow — and that the main decision-makers are on the same page.

I’ve been both a participant and an officer in Elementary PTOs, show choir and band parent organizations. I was both a VP and President of the Band Parent Organization I now serve as a director, giving me a unique set of perspectives from which to share.

Corporate meetings are often boring, but are generally organized by and participated in by people trying to impress a boss, get a raise and a promotion — or to just keep a job. People attend (mandatory) and participate as paid, evaluated employees. I didn’t see so much of that in my small business, but did when I worked in a national company.

Booster meetings. When it comes to church business, leagues, elementary school and high school extracurricular group meetings — participants and leaders are more prominently energetic, enthusiastic, absolutely necessary strong supporters volunteering their time and talents to give their children the best possible experience. Most are there for all the right reasons. Most of the challenges of thriving booster meetings are attributed to untrained volunteers.

PTO Today Magazine describes the youthful inexperience of many who are first-time leaders in running an organization, often at the elementary school level. By the time they become high school band/choir/sports boosters, many have served on a number of boards and in several groups. Even so, inexperience in organizational leadership can undo the best of intentions. Other than magazines like PTO Today, there aren’t a lot of “training” opportunities.

Hopefully I am not describing YOUR group, but in my decades in elementary PTOs, swim teams, baseball leagues, children’s choirs, church meetings — and more recently as a high school choir and band parent (including VP and Pres positions), I would list the following as the more significant typical negatives many volunteer groups encounter:

  • Poor attendance. Two main reasons: 1) Many just don’t like meetings, but will probably help when asked,  and 2) some meetings go too long — so parents stay home and wait for someone to ask them to help. In the business world, you can at least make meetings mandatory….not so with volunteer groups. People are busy, time is valuable — and they need to know that you are not going to waste theirs.
  • Disorganized. Meetings are poorly promoted and people don’t know what will be happening or discussed because there is no agenda, or a sketchy agenda distributed at the beginning of the meeting — to late for collaborative refinement.  Officers are absent, reports are missing and communication is lacking. There is no excuse for a booster meeting with a handful of attenders.
  • Inefficient. Since there is no agenda or plan, the discussion regularly goes off topic, “chasing rabbits”.
  • Timeless. When will it start? More importantly, when will it end? You know your meeting is rambling when people start leaving.

We had a pair of booster presidents who operated on the “60 minutes no matter what” philosophy.

“Ok directors, you have six minutes – GO!”

In an article entitled “Make Meetings More Fun” for the August 2013 issue of PTO Today magazine, Liz O’Donnell lists several suggestions. PTO Today is a magazine that focuses on elementary school parent groups, but several of her ideas would work for high school groups. The quoted bullet-ed items are hers. The others, and the comments, are mine.

  • “Start with an icebreaker”. We do this at the beginning of a band camp to build teamwork. Do the parents in your meeting know each other?
  • “Invite a Guest Speaker.” About the only guests I’ve seen in meetings are the fundraising representatives giving a never-ending commercial for their company or products. [Note: That is the business I am in.]. For a band parent meeting, WHAT IF you had:
    • a college music professor talking about how to audition for scholarships
    • a guidance counselor talking about preparing for the SAT
    • a business owner talking about how to prepare for an interview (students and adults)
    • the music store rep talking about instrument maintenance, repair or why that instrument purchased in 6th grade is now hindering a proficient performer.
  • “Have an agenda and stick to it.” School boards always announce an agenda so that people can go to the meeting for a particular topic. There is usually a line item on the agenda for “public comments” – so people know they will have an opportunity to speak. In his article, “No Agenda, No Meeting, No Exceptions“, David Portillo says exactly that. If you don’t have a reason to meet, don’t.
  • Recognize Achievers. Did you have students make the honor roll, set a record on a sports team, receive a scholarship, get elected to student council? Can you recognize those who participate at solo contest, receive special rankings or state qualify? What about those in extracurricular ensembles and activities?Do you have Boy Scouts who have achieved “Eagle” or a Girl Scout earning the “Gold” award? If you announce on your agenda who/why you are recognizing, you 1) will get relatives and friends attending, 2) encourage others to do things so that they too can receive recognition.
  • “Give Stuff Away”. Door prizes, awards for sections or classes who have the higher involvement. What to give away: previous year show shirts, leftover fundraiser prizes (or products), coupons or gift vouchers from businesses who want to support what you are doing — and benefit from the publicity.
  • “Make It A Meal”. Snacks, desserts, coffee & pastry….or maybe the food committee wants to try out a new food idea for future use on a band/choir trip. Call that fundraiser who has been trying to get to your meeting and ask for cookie or cheesecake samples, or invite that local restaurant that wants to provide something for your next banquet or fundraising dinner.
  • Welcome, involve and inspire newbies. Are they comfortable asking what they fear may come across as a ‘stupid’ question? Do they feel like an outsider or do they perceive cliquishness in your group?
  • Follow A Format. Not everything needs discussion in the open meeting. Table new topics until you can get more information and assign an individual or committee for a report later. If people want to announce an idea, ask them to “get on the agenda” by notifying the president. Assign blocks of time to a topic and then reschedule continuance or otherwise remove from the general meeting. Long-winded topics usually result from lack of details in advance and can be solved by tabling until those details are available.
  • Show Respect. High school parents are busy. Their band student is probably also working a job and involved in another sport or two. Siblings are involved in elementary or middle school activities — and they are asked to participate in those parent meetings too. Chances are both parents work, and if it is a single parent, he/she is already frazzled with un-shared pressures and responsibilities.
  • Schedule, Announce, Promote. Send home a flyer or publish information on the group facebook, twitter or website page.

Additional suggestions

  • Get training. Perhaps one of your parents is a business or corporate owner/manager experienced in running meetings — and could meet with officers and director(s). NOTE: Write it all down so you can share it with your replacements next year.
  • Create job descriptions and notebooks. During my first year as VP of a band booster group, I was frustrated by the number of times I ran into variations of, “Oh, the VP takes care of that.” The next year, when I took the Pres position, one of the things I did was require all committee chairs and officers to create their own job description – base on what they had been doing, and to keep all notes, calendars, reminders, to-do lists, etc IN that notebook.
  • Have an officer’s meeting before the general meeting. Best would be earlier than “just before”, but even that short time together, especially if it follows some pre-meeting collaboration, can be very effective and increase efficiency.
  • Let the director run the meeting. Teachers are professionals; planners, organizers, communicators and teachers. They attend lots of education-related meetings and have had lots of opportunity to learn from those experiences.

Thanks for reading. Need any help?

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17 yrs experience as a high school band director. 14 yrs as college adjunct faculty. 30+ yrs in the fundraising industry and 24 yrs as a small business owner. (Don't add all those up.). Experience in both the fundraising sales and education worlds give me a unique combination of perspectives in both. I love working with the youthful enthusiasm of today's teenage achievers and with those who work with them. Also 4yrs as proprietor of VirtualMusicOffice.com, which offers a wide variety of virtual services including web/blog design/hosting/managing, social media management (scheduling posts/tweets for maximum impact and brand enhancement) and small business consulting - specializing in school product fundraising.

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