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?

VMO Business Card

Posted in Band as a Business, Business strategies, Consulting, High Schools, Show Choir, Small Business, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , ,

10 Reasons To Hire Band Students

Hire MeBy John Gardner

Band  students make better employees and employers find the payback for working around rehearsal and performance schedules is a win-win for the business too.

By the time they are old enough to get a job, band students have learned the value of hard work. They have spent hours in the heat learning new skills under the watchful eyes of seniors, section leaders, staff and directors. They have been corrected, challenged — and have learned to pay the price. They have seen the benefits of dedication and are willing to commit to a job. Band students won’t quit the job because the manager gives them criticism because they understand that is what makes them better. And they learn that striving for excellence is a worthy goal.

Band students understand dedication, commitment
and that striving for excellence is a worthy goal.

At the age they are joining marching band, teens are battling with balancing the reality that they are not quite adults with the increasing desire for freedom, responsibility and individuality. Some rebel against parents, push back against teachers and are super-sensitive to peer-criticism. And yet, marching band requires they give up individual freedoms for the good of the cause, makes them earn responsibility and tells them they have to look, act and behave like everybody else – uniformity.

The first time they are thrust into a fast-paced, pressurized workplace environment, teens from the general school population will be more likely to throw a tantrum, quit — or get fired. Not band students.

Band students understand the value of,
and respect for chain of command

Students are together in lots of different classroom mixes, but only for fifty minutes on school days for a semester or two. Band students can be together for 10-15 hours Monday through Thursday, plus 3 hours for a Friday night football game and 14 hours for a Saturday rehearsal/competition. Couples break up, personalities don’t mesh, they come from different parts of town and with different family and economic situations — but they learn to work together, a skill many non-band teens and a lot of adults never develop.

As I talk to teens (and even many of their parents), one of the most common reasons to quit a job is because of relationships with co-workers. Band students will be even more frustrated with the mediocrity and lack of cooperation and weak work ethic they will find in the workplace, but they will commit to making it work.

Band students know how to cooperate
and collaborate with those from
different backgrounds and capabilities.

In a part-time work environment there will be competition for hours, raises, promotions and responsibilities. The tendency is to look out for self and to heck with the other guy. Students compete within a band but they want everyone to do well. They compete with other bands but will wish them good luck as they pass on the way to the competition field. They will applaud for other bands – even those that beat them. Band students are team players and they understand sportsmanship.

Band students learn good sportsmanship.

By the time they’re ready for that first job (students usually turn 16 during sophomore or junior year), band students have already learned patience as marching band staff is teaching or fixing drill; perseverance and endurance through extreme temperatures, long rehearsals and so much more we teacher types throw at them.

They understand, through the system of seniority in most bands, that they will need to prove themselves and demonstrate strong work ethic to earn leadership positions or, when they get a job,  a raise.

Band students learn patience,
perseverance and endurance.

There is often a penalty for arriving late to a band rehearsal. When I was in a marching band, it was a lap around the field per minute late. Some bands use push-ups — or job assignments. Arrive late today and you get to take the water to the field tomorrow. And because there are always new things happening in a rehearsal, missing is never an option. Some bands will make you an alternate for an unexcused absence. So when band students get a job with a schedule, they are there — and on time.

Band students learn the value
of attendance and punctuality.

Bands rehearse scores of hours per minute of marching band show. Stretches, running and endurance exercises, fundamentals (yes, they already know how to march, right?) and then sets of drill over, and over. Do they get tired? Absolutely, but they understand the price of success and that there are no shortcuts to achieving it.

Band students learn that there are
no shortcuts to success

Most years, prior to the final competition of the season, we allow seniors to talk to the band. They say a variety of things, but there are two predominant themes: 1) Band is family, and 2) band taught them responsibility with accountability.

Band students learn
responsibility and accountability

Where, outside of public education, is the focus on making the student (or employee) feel good about themselves at the expense of excellence? We read about schools eliminating valedictorians and class rank or even grades, so lower achievers don’t get a negative vibe.

When my child was in first grade, the education fad of the day was a program called “writing to read”, where the emphasis was on the child being able to read whatever they wrote. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc…. were not corrected. Teachers emphasized that a child reader would have a higher self-esteem.

Students who have gone through a feel-good system can hit a brick wall when they get to college or into the workforce. Good band directors instill in their students that a healthy self-esteem comes through achieving excellence. In that pursuit, however, the student learns to accept criticism from directors, staff, seniors and section leaders – and they are willing to pay the price to get the prize. Here is a post I wrote about Excellence and Self Esteem.

Band students learn that self-esteem
is raised by achieving excellence

Because of their extreme rehearsal schedules on top of homework and, especially with the responsibilities of a job, band students develop good time management skills.

Band students develop time management skills

You might also enjoy: Earning and Receiving Great References

Person Holding Hire Me Sign in Crowd



Posted in Income Opportunity, Marching Band Tagged with: , ,

My Advice For High School Graduates

By John Gardner

Pomp & Circumstance is over, diplomas are distributed and graduates are celebrating with Open Houses, a tradition new to me when I moved to this area. Parents spend days (weeks) preparing for food, getting the house ready or space reserved, sending invitations. The gathering consists mostly of the graduate’s family, friends and relatives — with an occasional teacher thrown in. I would love to contribute to the significant cash cache of these deserving teens — but instead I write a personal note and usually share pictures from their years in band, hoping that the words and pictures will remain after the cash is spent.

Here’s some additional advice:


Read more….

Posted in Teaching Tagged with: , , , ,

Do it right the first time, or do this…


“If you don’t have time to do it right,
when will you have time to do it over?”
-John Wooden, basketball coach

An appropriate variation of that quote for high school students….

“Do it right the first time, or do this…..

This year…

Wednesday – Last Student Day
Friday – Graduation
Monday – Memorial Day

So school is out and many students experience two weekdays and a holiday before going back to school for several more weeks — starting at 8:00 am every weekday morning.

NOTE: Yes, there are other reasons (besides taking classes over) for summer school, such as:

  • freeing up a spot during the year (maybe for band)
  • re-taking a class to raise a GPA
  • just because you want to learn more about a subject

Those are all legit…..keep doing those.

But for most….summer is to retake a class students failed during the semester.

This happens…

every year

every year

every year

…and for years, I have debated when the best time is to discuss it.

DURING THE SUMMER, as the band is rehearsing and some of our students are starting each day at 8 am, there is absolute agreement on how terrible summer school is, but it seems too late to warn them about it. And next year is so far away.

BEGINNING OF EACH SEMESTER seems appropriate to encourage students to “do it right the first time”, but, of course, they are going to do that. Nobody is thinking summer school in August or January, except that they hated it the last time.

We try to talk to students struggling in classes and to make them aware that, when classes have to be re-taken, that counselors tend to pull students out of the arts or unrequired classes to retake those failed the first time.

When we have that conversation, almost without exception, the response is…..

“I’m re-taking that class in summer school.”

Read more ›

Posted in High Schools, Public Schools, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , ,

3 Types of Thriving Teens Graduating

By John Gardner

This year’s high school graduation will be the twelfth at my current school. There will be roughly 350 graduates total, but of those I know, there are generally three types of thriving teens graduating and who will be walking across that stage.

Teens who have thrived and are graduating…


1. …BECAUSE of their parents

For one group, I give much credit to good parenting. These are the parents who are active and involved in their teen’s life. They’re on the PTO, in the band/choir/athletic booster groups, they come to watch practices, performances or games, they volunteer to help and they put up the money that most worthwhile ventures require. Some, are more behind the scenes supporting, enabling and encouraging. Outside of school activities, the family is together a lot. Maybe there isn’t a lot of money for fancy vacations, but they find ways to do things together anyway. Single parents and those who have remarried can also do fantastic jobs. My heart goes out to those super parents who are experiencing what author James Dobson calls “the strong-willed child”.

I see a lot of parental frustration at times from parents who are TRYING to do the right things; checking on their student’s grades, communicating with teachers, removing privileges for falling behind and/or rewarding good grades and progress. I have had numerous parents thank me for “staying on” their child. I usually respond that we’re a team….and that if they keep doing what they’re doing and I keep holding their child accountable from my end…..that we will get him/her graduated.

Keep the faith and keep doing what you’re doing. The teen will figure it out eventually.

2. …IN SPITE of their parents

A second group, and one that I especially admire, are those teens who turn out great “in spite of”  their parents. These are the teens who have every reason (mostly by example) to crash and burn, and yet, they determine NOT to follow the paths of their parents and instead, commit themselves to a better life.

I’m not faulting single, lower-income, laid off or otherwise challenged parents doing the best they can. My parents divorced when I (oldest of 5) was in 7th grade. My mother was a polio survivor without a car. We didn’t have it easy but we had love and support — and we all survived.

I DO fault those who could but don’t share or support the child’s enthusiasm for a worthy activity.

Your child knows, is hurt, embarrassed and deflated by your lack of support.

A high school clarinet student once tell me,

“My dad has never heard me play.”

You will only have that child in your care for a short time.

I was outside our band entrance door greeting students arriving for rehearsal. The car stopped and both student and parent got out. The girl ran to me, in tears, frantically exclaiming, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” before running into the building. Behind her came the papa with the band schedule in hand. There was no warm, fuzzy response to my “Hi, how ya doin’?” Instead, he almost slapped me in the face with the schedule as he grunted, “How much of this schedule is mandatory?” After my response, “All of it.”, he mumbled something I wouldn’t print even if I heard it clearly. The daughter was waiting for me in the office, still crying, and apologizing for what she was sure I had endured. My respect and admiration for her attitude and work ethic skyrocketed after that.

A sophomore asked me for some personal clarinet coaching. Things were going great until she came in one day tearfully explaining she had to quit. She had gotten a job to pay for her lessons, because her parents would not, and when they learned how she was spending her earnings, they started charging her rent.

I continued her lessons anyway.

Another student came in from the parking lot to ask for some help with a flat tire. He called his mother while the other director and I taught him how to change a tire. To get to the spare, he had to unhook the huge woofer in the trunk. The mother and boyfriend arrived and, instead of thanking us for staying or trying to help, boyfriend starts screaming at the teen, “How dare you let somebody else touch my car. This isn’t over, kid.”

These are the students we find walking home after the concert, football game, or competition — because they know their parents will not come pick them up. Some get their own jobs to raise their own money to pay the participation fees, even earning money to go on the Disney trip.

These students don’t complain, but you can see and sense their pain when they see their friends with families after a concert, for example.

These students are determined NOT to be like their parents, and they see education as the way out of that trap…. and so work extra hard, without support from home, to earn a chance at college or a better life.

…and they deserve it.

3. …because of who they are

Some teens naturally have what it takes for greatness. Natural greatness combined with good parenting is definitely a winning combination.

Thanks for reading.


Posted in College Prep, High Schools, Personal experience, Teaching Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Pre-Digital-Devices Fidget Spinner

My pre-band, pre-digital-devices fidget spinner may have accomplished something. Held on sides w/thumbs and spun w/other fingers. My parents and grandparents said I would spend hours at it. Isn’t that the purpose of the current electronic version of fidget spinners; to entertain and calm?

Nimble fingers help high-speed clarinet-ing?

#WhenYouDoNotHaveALotOfToys #ChildhoodImaginations

Perhaps I should have marketed the concept (anybody remember pet rocks?).


Posted in Parenting, Personal experience Tagged with:

Teens are worth it!

As a high school teen (in a previous century), I benefited greatly from a band director and clarinet teacher who helped me, made connections and enabled opportunities that changed my life. One of the best parts about teaching, and one of my core-motivations, is to similarly advocate for today’s teens. I invest in as much individual interaction as I sense students are comfortable with. And when I have been able to improve or enable, often after expressions of gratitude, I explain that I had people help me, which is one of the reasons I am trying to help them — and that some day they’ll be in a position to do the same for others — and that when they do, I want them to remember me — and smile.

This time of year, after writing scholarship, job and admissions reference letters, sending notes, returning calls to potential employers checking references, etc., I tend to get a few notes like the one below. I’ll share some over the next few days. Please don’t try to figure out who is who…that is not the point.

Those of you in the adulting business, know that you can have a positive impact. Try, even when you don’t see the results, or the result isn’t what you hoped for. And then, when you get one of these occasional notes, recharge your advocating batteries and keep at it.

Teens are great — and worth it!

Posted in College Prep, High Schools, Personal experience, Respect, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , ,

And the band plays on – at Graduation

By John Gardner

graduationThe graduation ceremony can be one of the least favorite times for band students. First there is providing prelude music for the incoming noisy, uninterested and unappreciative crowd. Next comes Pomp and Circumstance over, and over, and over again…. how big is YOUR school?

Then…. they get to sit through an hour (or more) of speeches and the reading of names. Then there is the postlude music that no one is listening to.

Yeah, just another day in the life of a band student. It is the last official function of the current year band, with which many of the students also performed in:

  • parades. For some bands, that can be a half-dozen or so. Parades are typically short, but requires half a Saturday to get to school, travel or get ready to perform and then, afterward, putting things away and getting home again.
  • football games. 4-5 home games x two performances per game. Also, sitting through an entire game to periodically play the school song in support of the team, or to play some drum cadences to which the cheerleaders react (but no one else).
  • basketball games. 5-10-15-20. Including pre-game rehearsal and the game itself, that is about a 3-hr commitment per game. For how many band concerts will the athletes reciprocate?
  • marching competitions. For many, this is why they are in band. Sadly, most in the community have no clue what happens there.
  • concert band concerts / festivals.
  • jazz band performances.
  • school pep rallies.

Seniors are gone and school is out. Marching band, for many, is already up and running and the next year is under way. The local band has a parade performance two weeks after school is out.

…and the band plays on.

Posted in Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , ,

Marching Band Myth Busters: Why I Can’t Be In Marching Band

By John Gardner

For a writing prompt exercise, I asked a class of non-marching freshmen …

Why are you NOT in Marching Band?

Myth BustersI blended the variations of their responses into these common threads — and used them to create a recruiting tool I called “Myth Busters”.

Read more ›

Posted in High Schools, Marching Band, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , ,

All Music Award

What it took:
* Marching Band GOLD at ISSMA Scholastic Prelims
* Instrumental Solo/Ensemble Group I GOLD at ISSMA District/State
* Jazz Band Group I GOLD at ISSMA JazzFest
* Concert Band Group II GOLD at ISSMA Organizational
* Wind Ensemble Group I GOLD at ISSMA Organizational
* Show Choir GOLD at ISSMA Qualifying Event
* Vocal Solo/Ensemble Group I GOLD at ISSMA District/State
* Choir Group I GOLD at ISSMA Jazz Choir Festival
* Choir Group I GOLD at ISSMA State Qualify

Year ’round SEARCH FOR EXCELLENCE by dedicated teens!

Posted in High Schools, Personal experience, Teaching, Teaching Music