The Do’s and Don’ts of Volunteering

August 24th, 2011

(This post is on behalf of my friend and fellow Austinite Karen Bantuveris and her amazing company VolunteerSpot.)

One of the best, and possibly worst, things about my sons’ school is that there’s no shortage of volunteer activities. From Room Mom to Reading Mom to Door Decorating Mom, it seems that there’s a position for everyone. (Well, except for Tequila, Salt & Lime Mom, which the meanies in the PTA refuse to create for me.) Fortunately, there’s no lack of willing parents to take the jobs, but what I’ve discovered is that you have to be sure you find the right gig for your skills and tolerance level or you might be one unhappy little volunteer.

So, to make this a good school year for everyone, I’ve put together a list to help you identify the best way to volunteer at your school. You can thank me later.


If you can’t stand screaming children, bus fumes and manure under your fingernails, DON’T volunteer to chaperone the 1st Grade field trip to a farm.


If you’re good at removing industrial chocolate pudding from suede shoes and leather handbags, DO volunteer for lunchroom duty.


If you like reading aloud, DO sign up for story time. (But DON’T read US Weekly or Jackie Collins novels to the kids because principals and school boards can be very small minded about such things. Trust me on this.)


If you enjoy whistles, track suits and Gatorade, DO join the kids at Track & Field Day. After all, where else can you do your awesome Sue Sylvester impression?


If the thought of 25 third graders high on red dye #40 and pure cane sugar gives you the junkie trembles, DON’T volunteer for the class Valentine’s Day party.


If you’d rather sit home alone cutting out construction paper hearts for the teacher, DO volunteer to be the “Help Out At Home Mom.” There’s nothing wrong with volunteering while you’re also crashed on the couch watching Bravo.


If you love hearing Miley Cyrus songs butchered by someone who sings even worse than Miley Cyrus, DO sign up to work on the school talent show.


If you can’t handle 20 stage moms all insisting that their tone-deaf child be the headliner, DON’T sign up to be the school talent show’s director.


If you like to be in charge and take on tons of responsibility, DO sign up for a PTA board member position.


If you don’t like to be in charge and take on tons of responsibility, DON’T be shy to join me in the ladies room during PTA election time. I always have plenty of tequila, salt and lime in my stall.

I really hope these tips help everyone have a wonderful, relaxed year. Remember, volunteering is one of the best things you can do for your school. But knowing the right way to volunteer is one of the best things you can do for yourself. And your very fragile mental health.


Here’s a little information about Karen’s wonderful (and free) Volunteer Spot site. Trust me—if you don’t like getting 40,000 “Reply All” emails about what color napkins people are bringing to the class Halloween party, it’s the way to go.


Volunteeer free online sign up sheets with volunteerspot

I SUPPORT MY SCHOOL.. MY WAY! And I’m joining VolunteerSpot’s sponsored Back To School campaign to help raise visibility for parent involvement in schools.

Save time {and sanity} and get more parents involved at school with!

VolunteerSpot’s FREE online signup sheets make it easy to organize parents and signup to help for just about anything: classroom helpers, snack schedules, carnivals, library volunteers, parent-teacher conferences and more…. No more ‘Reply-All’ email chains or clipboard sign up sheets! Please share with your room mom, teachers and parent leaders…

Plus there’s a huge Sweepstakes on VolunteerSpot’s Facebook page!
Win $500 worth of school supplies for YOUR School! Enter here

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Add your own

  • 1. volunteer-in-nepal  |  August 24th, 2011 at 7:00 am

    Your tips are appreciated! I like it.

  • 2. Cheryl  |  August 24th, 2011 at 7:12 am

    Do they allow those of us who chose not to become parents to volunteer? If so, I’m definitely all in on every single sugar-coated holiday committee. I only have to supervise and taste test, right?

    (Thanks for filling me in on the Volunteer Spot. Been seeing it floating around and was too damn lazy to click the button. I’ll pass it on. I know lots teachers.)

  • 3. Marinka  |  August 24th, 2011 at 7:16 am

    This is just what I needed to start the school year off right. I’ll just leave my US Weekly at home (sob!)

  • 4. Erin I'm Gonna Kill Him  |  August 24th, 2011 at 7:59 am

    The Junkie Trembles, ha.

    The only thing I offered to do all year was bring in some grapes to the auction. And then I balked at the $40 it cost me.

    But I still get a pass since no one really wants help from the lady with a baby in a Bjorn.

  • 5. Alexandra  |  August 24th, 2011 at 9:11 am

    What the heck? No library committee caveats? Where everyone’s undies get in a bundle because there is a book that shows an EGG and a SPERM???


  • 6. Tonya  |  August 24th, 2011 at 9:36 am

    I wish I had read this before I signed up to help wrangle 16 3 year olds on 2 city buses to an indoor bouncy castle tomorrow. I’m more of a help from home kinda gal.
    Help Me.

  • 7. Invader_Stu  |  August 24th, 2011 at 10:02 am

    How about reading them Steven King?

  • 8. Issa  |  August 24th, 2011 at 10:02 am

    I bring napkins. Literally that’s what I always sign up for. Helping? Nope. I have no time. Making stuff? Uh nope. I suck at making stuff. So yeah, I bring napkins. Ha.

  • 9. Peajaye  |  August 24th, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Clearly, Tequila, Salt & Lime Moms are being discriminated against and I urge you to file a lawsuit against the state immediately. Or right after Happy Hour.

  • 10. Elise  |  August 24th, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    One other pointer I’ve, er, heard about is don’t take PTA duties if you will be averse to spending ample of amounts of in-person, phone and email QT with the “crazy” lady that adores creating centerpieces for her kids’ birthday parties and the class Thanksgiving celebration and St. Paddy’s Day and Labor Day and… well I think you get the point.

    I’m with Wendi on the tequila, salt & lime committee; it’s the ONLY sane thing to do.

  • 11. The Mommy Therapy  |  August 24th, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    As the parent of a kindergartener, I’m sure this list will be invaluable to me soon.

    I feel slightly intelligent though in that I already made a good decision by volunteering to help with “special projects” at home. I’m all over cutting something out, just don’t ask me to come in to supervise anything because I’ll be bringing a 1 and 3 year old and it won’t be pretty.

  • 12. Diane  |  August 25th, 2011 at 6:00 am

    I’ve finally found myself with free time now that all 4 are (finally) in school. Thank you for these honest analysis of what I might do with all the free hours I have. Tennis anyone?

  • 13. ChiMomWriter  |  August 25th, 2011 at 7:29 am

    My kids are still little, so at this point “volunteering” is contained to signing up for snack day. It’s a wonderful opportunity for other moms to sneer at your muffins and make snide comments about how you never really know what’s in those box mixes. So far, I’ve managed not to pelt my from-scratch-moron-muffins at anyone’s head, but we’ll see what this year holds.

  • 14. Lady Goo Goo Gaga  |  August 25th, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Thanks for a great list – I definitely would love nothing more than meeting you for tequila shots! Half the time I filled a “Much-needed” volunteer postion last year – I would get there and complete the smallest most menial task… I swear they make stuff up just so we don’t get too comfortable at home with no children!!

  • 15. Jeffrey Trapnell  |  August 25th, 2011 at 8:52 am

    I think you are missing a key point here. You can control your husband with the mere mention of signing HIM up to volunteer for something. Ladies, please, know how to play your cards to your benefit. My wife knows they do vasectomies on Thursday’s mornings as an outpatient at the doctor’s office. No way am I ever letting her make my doctor’s appointments.

    I gave the welcome to Kindergarten speech to incoming parents. I told them they will get 31 birthday invitations, you don’t have to go to them all. We talked about never being the parent who sends crappy snacks; which elicited a scowl from the parent who child has every known food allergy in the world. But the principal stopped me short of introducing them to 1) head lice 2) ear aches 3) snotty noses from Sept – May 4) my favorite, the stomach flu for the entire family over the Christmas holiday!

    Nice list. I will pass it along to my wife!

  • 16. the mama bird diaries  |  August 25th, 2011 at 9:13 am

    What about “People?” Can we read that to the kids?

  • 17. Christine  |  August 25th, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Love it! I am PTA president this year and I’m totally creating a Tequila Chair :) Maybe that’s more acceptable now that we’re in middle school?

  • 18. Karen in San Diego  |  August 25th, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Can I be the Rum & Coke chair on the “Adult Refreshments” committee?

  • 19. Karen in San Diego  |  August 25th, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Oh, and thank you so much for plugging the VolunteerSpot website! I’d never heard of it before. It looks like it will make my life a LOT easier this year! :)

  • 20. Patty  |  August 25th, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Never, ever leave a meeting for the ladies’ room if you want to avoid being nominated, nay, NAILED into a position of responsibility with no authority. There isn’t enough tequila in this universe to erase the horror of finding oneself a Girl Scout Cookie Chairmen with hypercompetitive parents trying to outsell each other. The scent of Samoas is still lingering in the hallway of my former home, 25 years later. DON’T DO IT!

  • 21. dusty earth mother  |  August 25th, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    And don’t forget, if you want a volunteer position that would train you to run a small country, be a Girl Scout Troop leader. Oh, how I sometimes wish that I had been hiding in a ladies room stall when my friend said “Wanna do something fun with me?”

  • 22. Becky  |  August 25th, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    See you in the bathroom. I’ll be the one with the Jose Cuervo and salt lick.

  • 23. Wendi M.  |  August 25th, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Wish i had read this earlier. Cause now I am on the MFPTA board. You can imagine what MF stands for. They tricked me this summer.

  • 24. Plano Mom  |  August 25th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    As I’ve said on TMH, I’m popular, not powerful – tell me how much and where to send the check. And once a year I make the book fair fund raiser posters.

    Lastly, hang around at the end of all big events, pick up something and loudly say “I want to help clean up-where does this go?” so you get credit with the powerful ones.

    See? Popular, not powerful.

  • 25. N&Em's mom  |  August 25th, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Any presidential candidate that lists PTA president or Girl Scout leader on their resume will automatically get my vote.

  • 26. Leigh Ann  |  August 25th, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    Please. Like any of that Valentine’s Day candy is made with pure cane sugar.

  • 27. deborah l quinn  |  August 26th, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I ran the school PTA for two years. I am now equipped to launch invasions of small countries, run a prison and/or rehab center, conduct interventions with adults who cannot & will not let go of their own childhood traumas. Because of this volunteering experience (which actually I kind of loved, which is the really sick thing), when I read your post I saw “talent show director” as “talent show dictator.” Which just tells you a little bit about our school’s volunteers. Sage advice, Ms. Aarons, as always. I tip my tequila to you.

  • 28. Ann  |  August 26th, 2011 at 9:13 am

    If you hadn’t suggested body shots for PE, I think Tequila mom might still be an option.

  • 29. jennifer  |  August 27th, 2011 at 2:32 am

    That’s not actually coffee in my travel mug when you see me at school functions. It’s not coffee in my friends travel mugs either. We may call it coffee, but we ARE the tequila, lime, and salt committee. :)

  • 30. Jen  |  August 28th, 2011 at 6:45 am

    I don’t have kids but have volunteered for so many different things in my life. I think the whole volunteer thing is the same. You feel good about it at first and then utterly frustrated with some know it all on your committee that just wants to tell everyone what to do and who never brings good snacks.

  • 31. Melissa Wright  |  August 30th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Best volunteer tips ever. The PTA is so finicky about some things, aren’t they? I mean, every group needs a tequila volunteer.

    And if you’re volunteering for a small-town school’s events, the inebriated volunteers come standard, so why not? … Or maybe that just says a lot about MY school years.

  • 32. Bloggers Do It Their Way &hellip  |  August 30th, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    [...] schools, and their plans for the year ahead.  Giese organizes a rock concert every year.  Aarons has figured out the do’s and don’t's of volunteering.  Take a moment to appreciate Rachel, who [...]

  • 33. Bloggers Do It Their Way &hellip  |  August 30th, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    [...] schools, and their plans for the year ahead.  Giese organizes a rock concert every year.  Aarons has figured out the do’s and don’t's of volunteering.  Take a moment to appreciate Rachel, who [...]

  • 34. Lena Teegal  |  September 1st, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    ummm, never volunteer to do anything with 1st graders. That kind of insanity should be pad for.

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