What is Family Volunteering?
Family Volunteering is essentially all ages group volunteering. Whether it be parents, children, grandparents, siblings, aunts/uncles, and/or cousins, family volunteering is ultimately any two or more people who consider themselves family and spend time together volunteering.
Family volunteering benefits organizations, families, and our communities. Organizations benefit by reaching multiple generations with your mission and building a larger base of support. It is also an opportunity to engage people who might not otherwise volunteer because it would conflict with family time. Benefits for families who volunteer together include helping parents instill values with their children, socializing, and helping family members connect with each other. When families volunteer it ultimately benefits our community by bringing people together, creating shared understanding and connection, while increasing the accessibility of volunteering and service.
The first step to creating a family volunteer program is establishing how engaging family volunteers in your organization contributes to achieving the mission of your organization. If engaging family volunteers does not contribute to the work of achieving your mission, then engaging family volunteers will not be right for your organization. However, most organizations will find the benefits of family volunteering bolsters their mission aligned work.
In order to create meaningful family volunteer opportunities that attract volunteers, it is important to understand the barriers that organizations and families encounter. This allows volunteer programs to better address these issues.
Potential barriers for nonprofits:
- Hours programs are offered in contrast to typical availability of families
- Finding activities that are suitable for a variety of age groups
- Liability issues and concerns
- Challenges supervising children/youth
- Volunteer management resources may already be stretched
- Staff may be reluctant to embrace family volunteering
Potential barriers for families:
- Finding the time and balancing other obligations
- Difficulty in finding family friendly opportunities
- Encountering poorly organized volunteer projects
- Childcare costs for young children
Policies, Procedures and Liability
As a rule of thumb, general principles for engaging groups of volunteers pertain to family volunteerism. However, it is especially important to check with your organization's insurance provider to make sure there are no age restrictions prior to engaging youth volunteers. Be sure to have a liability release form for parents’ to sign on behalf of their children as well. Here are some examples:
- Review this Volunteer Waiver and Release Form from the Asante African Foundation from the National Council of Nonprofits (U.S.).
- The Charleston Habitat for Humanity provides this sample Volunteer Waiver of Liability.
Regardless of insurance and liability release, some activities may not be safe for youth below a certain age, and may even be prohibited by law for that reason. Make sure you check your state’s Labor & Industry rules. Nonprofits need to consult with their lawyer for their feedback on these forms.
Planning for Success
When envisioning family volunteer projects, it can be useful to incorporate the seven key elements that Jenny Friedman and Jolene Roehlkepartain share in their book, Doing Good Together. First and foremost, make sure that volunteer opportunities will have an impact on a real need. Keep them simple. Be creative. Make sure that opportunities will appeal to multi-generations and allow for folks to build relationships with each other. Include the opportunity for reflection and don’t forget to encourage volunteers to further contribute to your mission by offering next steps!
Interested in creating or formalizing a family friendly volunteer program? Check out these additional resources:
- Building Blocks for Family Volunteering Tools and Resources for Organizations, by Volunteer Canada
- Both adults and children spend their limited free time on activities that are low commitment and allow them to bond with others. To learn more about global family volunteer trends, read Points of Light's Global Volunteerism Journey Report.
- 8 Strategies for Creating a More Inclusive Volunteer Program, posted by VolunteerMatch