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Wendy Johnson

The High-Tech PTA: A Look at VolunteerSpot

Wendy Johnson

In the digital world, we measure influence by Twitter followers and Klout scores. But in the realm of lunchboxes and soccer games, influence is measured by how quickly you can mobilize a group of parent volunteers to staff the school book fair.

These days, clipboard signup sheets and chains of reply-all emails just don’t cut it when it comes to getting members involved. PTAs and other parent-driven volunteer groups have started using high-tech solutions to keep up with the demand for an easier user experience that allows them to be more effective.

One of these solutions is VolunteerSpot, web-based app that allows coordinators and volunteers to easily organize. It was created in 2009 by Karen Bantuveris, a working, traveling parent who knew there had to be an easier way to mobilize volunteers.


How VolunteerSpot Makes Volunteering Easier

As just about any parent can attest, the volunteer needs of schools and other children’s activities are vast. The lapse in communication and need for improvement presents a great market for tech companies.

VolunteerSpot is one technology that helps simplify the process. A teacher, volunteer organizer, coach, etc. can quickly create a free volunteer sign-up online, email the link to parents, or post it to their Facebook or Twitter feed. Then parents can easily sign up for a spot directly from their smartphone and sync their commitment to their digital calendars. To help volunteers even more, the system automatically sends out reminders to volunteers about their upcoming events.

VolunteerSpot Mobile

With VolunteerSpot, organizers don’t have to juggle easy-to-lose paperwork amid the slow trickle of communication, and parents can more easily volunteer. Electronic sign ups allow for them to quickly find opportunities that fit their schedules and not have to worry with the time consuming back-and-forth dialogue between organizers.

How Technology Brings Diversity to the Volunteer Pool

The stereotype of the stay-at-home-mom who volunteers daily up at school has become a myth, a legend of days long past (or at least it is the rare bird only found in highly affluent suburban neighborhoods). In 60% of homes with children, both parents work. And in 40% of those homes, the mom is the primary breadwinner.

VolunteerSpot helps attract more working parents, men in particular, to volunteer opportunities by providing a simple, interactive structure – one that replaces what used to be a largely word-of-mouth recruiting model.

As the founder of VolunteerSpot, Karen has received feedback from teachers all over the US who report dramatic increases in volunteer sign-ups with VolunteerSpot, especially from dads and working moms. Karen herself witnessed a very dramatic difference. When her daughter’s school began using the software to organize cafeteria volunteers, the number of regular volunteers increased from 10 to 50, and the number of male volunteers increased by 50%.

How Educators and Parents Use VolunteerSpot

It is a fact-backed by numerous studies that parent involvement in their children's schools leads to better grades and higher graduation rates. Tools like VolunteerSpot play a vital role in facilitating that involvement. Teachers and parent volunteers are using VolunteerSpot to coordinate donations for holiday party supplies, to staff booths at school carnivals, to schedule parent reading circles – basically to coordinate any event that requires more than 2-3 parent volunteers.

VolunteerSpot Add Item

  • Supporting the education process: One the best attributes of VolunteerSpot is the role it plays in supporting the educational process and enhancing students’ experiences at school. Teachers can easily coordinate parent/teacher conferences and school districts are using it to schedule district-wide test prep for students.
  • Enriching student life: School isn’t just about academics. VolunteerSpot can help support the many extra-curricular activities that make school life more rewarding. Band directors are using it to schedule private lessons for their students and colleges are using it to organize interviews at career fairs.

VolunteerSpot is for More Than Just School Volunteers

VolunteerSpot is essentially a tool used to schedule participation at events that require the coordinated efforts of many participants.

Primarily, VolunteerSpot allows users to:

  • Schedule events that span 1 day to many months or create date-free sign-ups like wish lists.
  • Create multiple sign-up types: sign-up to bring specific items, sign-up to attend an event, sign-up to work at an event, or all three.
  • Automatically create patterns in the schedule (for example, you may need 5 people to bring an entree every Friday to your work’s potluck lunch).
  • Reuse the sign-ups from event-to-event.
  • Pass sign-ups on to new organizers when they take over.
  • Get volunteers to sign-up without requiring a password.

A few examples of non-school-related ways you can use VolunteerSpot include:

  • To coordinate nationwide festivals: The Vans Warped Tour has been using VolunteerSpot since the app was in beta to coordinate hundreds of volunteers across 47 cities for their annual summer music festivals. These volunteers help them make the Vans Warped Tours greener events.
  • Feed the hungry: From scheduling hundreds of volunteers to serve Thanksgiving dinner to 3,000 homeless individuals to setting up a summer schedule for a community garden, local charities are using VolunteerSpot to more effectively serve the needy.
  • Support church efforts: Churches all over the world are using the scheduling powers of VolunteerSpot to organize everything from potluck dinners to international prayer circles.

Opportunities for innovation are all around us. Karen Bantuveris found a pain point in the status quo and with technology was able to improve it dramatically. VolunteerSpot allows teachers and parents to work together to deliver better educational and enrichment opportunities for students.

Wendy Johnson is a sought after messaging and content strategist, she helps companies connect with customers via targeted content and social media. She shares how she does it at KapowContent.com, where you can join her 28 Day Writing Challenge. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

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