How can parents contribute to your school?

People are often more inclined to offer help when they are targeted for their specific skill set. Helping becomes more about sharing your talent, than obligation.

This article was originally published on School News Australia

Many people have a special skill or talent they would willingly share – perhaps they speak another language, know how to umpire a netball game, have book-keeping skills or can catch unwanted snakes. Perhaps they have access to items that are costly to hire or buy, such as a mini-excavator, a portable dog wash or bales of hay. In many schools, the hidden talents and skills of the parent and carer community can not only save money, but broaden the options of school events and fundraisers.

Read the Term 1 edition of School News HERE

Research reported in the Harvard Business Review podcast suggests that people are twice as likely to want to help than we think they are. What this means is that while we are prevaricating about whether or not we should be asking parents and families to contribute their time and skills, there are a group of people who would happily say yes, if they were simply asked.

Get them to pre-commit

Also reported in the podcast was a study by psychologist Vanessa Bonds which asked strangers in a train station if they would complete a questionnaire. When they approached people and asked ‘will you fill in this survey?’ the response rate was around 50-55 percent. But when they first asked them to pre-commit by asking ‘would you do me a favour?’ and then waiting, of those who said ‘yes’ 88 percent of them agreed to do the survey.

By asking your school community to pre-commit every year or two to help in specific ways, you are more likely to get a positive response when the time comes to call in those favours. You also save time and effort by knowing precisely whom to approach.

Create a Database

The first step to getting your community to contribute is to find out what skills, talents and items they have. The trick is to be specific, while also thinking as broadly as possible. People are more willing to tick a specific item they are knowledgeable about, than (over)commit to a general idea or ambiguous request.

It’s important that people understand that this is simply an information-gathering exercise: they’re not being asked to commit to a specific event, and they won’t be relentlessly hounded to contribute. But you will find that people are usually quite honest and if asked ‘do you have a ute or trailer we could borrow to deliver sand or mulch’ they will be able to say yes or no without any hesitation.

The information can be collected via an online or paper survey with the information stored securely in a database such as Excel. It’s worth updating the spreadsheet every year as families come and go, and people change jobs and pick up new skills.

These are some of the skills and items you can ask your community to contribute:

Access to items that can be borrowed:

  • Portable marquees, gazebos and tents
  • Utes, trailers or small trucks, tractors, diggers, dingos, cherry-pickers
  • Trestle tables and stackable chairs
  • Catering items such as tablecloths, large quantities of crockery or cutlery, ice buckets, cake stands, serving dishes
  • Cooking equipment such as BBQs, slow cookers, paella pans, bain maries, coffee machine, ice machine, popcorn maker, fairy floss maker and portable coolers
  • Sound equipment, microphones, amplifiers, PA system, DJ deck
  • Disco lights, floodlights, fairy lights
  • Wheelbarrows, ladders, electric tools, generators
  • Gardening supplies
  • Boats, kayaks, tents, portable BBQs (for a camping trip)
  • Christmas trees or lights
  • Musical instruments
  • Store owners may have equipment that can be loaned

Vocational skills

  • Trades (bricklayers, builders, painters, gardeners, carpenters, tree loppers etc)
  • Special licence (ie skippers ticket, minibus licence etc)
  • First Aid, medical, nurse, vet, breeder, zoo-keeper
  • Book-keeping, accountant, legal
  • Grant writer or lobbyist
  • Fundraiser, event management
  • Designer, illustrator, artist, composer
  • Writer, journalists, proof-reader, editor, scriptwriter
  • IT support, website design, survey design
  • Data entry, data analysis
  • Hairdresser, professional make-up artist
  • Childcare, creche operator, music teacher, dance teacher

Hobbies and personal skills

  • Sewing, crafts, pottery etc (creating items, teaching skills)
  • Cooking, baking, cake decorating, jam-making, bread-making, wine-making
  • Able to play an instrument, singing, accompaniment
  • Gardening
  • Calligraphy, art, print-making
  • Dance and choreography
  • Photography
  • Sports
  • Languages


  • A dignitary, celebrity, sportsperson or expert who could be a guest speaker, special guest, raffle prize etc
  • Businesses that can offer training or work experience to students
  • Mentoring students
  • Personal history or experience to talk about to students (growing up overseas, refugee, being in the armed forces, unusual occupations, personal adventure or achievements).

How not to ask for help

Don’t over apologise.

Don’t make it transactional (if you do this for me, I will do that for you).

Don’t pretend it will be more exciting than it really is.

Don’t be ambiguous or vague about what is involved.

Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a freelance writer and author of Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed our World, being released by Affirm Press in October 2022.
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