For families who want to volunteer with children under 18 years old

There is increasing interest from families, particularly parents with children / young people, who wish to find meaningful, educational, purposeful activities for them to do as a family. Volunteering can provide the perfect conduit for this aim. One-off or group volunteering opportunities are often suitable for families as they can be tailored for different age groups, require flexible commitment and tend to be projects that are short term in nature. Families remain an untapped resource with respect to volunteering; there is a lot of scope for organisations to consider promoting volunteering directly to families. Research has shown that targeted campaigns, such as those focused directly on families, can be much more effective than general marketing approach. Due to the variety of work being done by volunteer involving organisations, there is potential to involve families in a wide range of ways. Some of the most common reasons given for not volunteering at all or not volunteering in a particular area is ‘I didn’t know about it’, ‘I wouldn’t know how to find out about it’, ‘I don’t have the right skills or ‘I don’t have the time’. Therefore marketing and communication is key to the development of any new volunteering models, especially where the intention is to involve a greater range of people. School holiday periods and weekends are ideal times to try to attract families.

Which projects can you join?

Volunteering as a family offers benefits to the parents, children and the project itself. Your family can have a unique experience, immersing you in the culture whilst contributing to an on-going volunteer project in need of support. Many families find that volunteering brings them closer together as the trip creates amazing memories, stories and experiences that you will never forget.

Family groups provide drive and motivation to the project, creating great team dynamics and being of huge benefit to the project. In addition to this children will often provide insight into the volunteer work from a fresh angle, this is something that staff and other volunteers truly appreciate.

Below is a list of some common activities associated with family volunteering:

Conservation/environmental: beach & public parks clean; working in community gardens & nature reserves; small animal box building (helping improve the habitats for small animals such as birds, bats, red squirrel, hedgehog).

Advisory Groups: If families are a key target market for your organisation, consider involving them as advisors on ways to improve user experience.

Community outreach: helping at a shelter or soup kitchen; painting & making repairs at a community centre; visiting a nursing home, walking animals for housebound or vulnerable neighbours and helping to pack Christmas hampers.

Arts: getting involved in community theatre; sorting resources, shelving & issuing books at a local library.

Fundraising: bag packing at supermarkets to raise funds for an organisation

The benefits of Family volunteering

Family volunteering holds many benefits for both families and volunteer involving organisations. That’s what makes this form of volunteering so worthwhile for both parties.

The National Trust is a great local example of an organisation successfully offering family volunteering opportunities. Although some of their activities are not transferable to all organisations, they do demonstrate great creativity in terms of how families can get involved. In addition to conservation and gardening work, they involve families in leading on cookery demonstrations, hosting activities, dressing in character attire etc.

Benefits for Organisations

When families volunteer together, the most obvious benefit for organisations is that volunteers increase in number and in demographic diversity. The more diverse a volunteer pool is, the greater the range of skills and knowledge that will be available to organisations.

One of the most common barriers to volunteering for people of all ages is a lack of time because of work and family commitments. Family commitments can include carer responsibility and a desire to spend spare time with loved ones. Fortunately, family volunteering allows people to fulfil their family responsibilities whilst also getting involved in voluntary activities in the community.

By involving families in their activities, organisations can strengthen their ties to the communities they work in; raise the profile of their work to a varied range of people and increase the interest in other areas of the organisation’s work i.e. increase membership and participation in activities. Other benefits for organisations include:

  • Helps to get work done fast.
  • Engaging families in a one off event may lead to longer term commitment. For example, child volunteers are likely to continue volunteering as teens and adults, if they have a positive experience.
  • Increases the skill base of volunteers as organisations will attract new types of volunteers because of the family connection
  • Attracts media attention, particularly if a novel way of volunteering is being used.
  • Helps develop intergenerational relationships within and across families.
  • May not require Access NI checks if the activities are offered under the condition that the parents / guardians of the children and young people are responsible for the children / vulnerable adults while volunteering. However, it is still advisable to apply good risk management and child protection practices.

Benefits for Families

Volunteering helps organisations to get work done that supports their beneficiaries i.e. people, environment, animals, wildlife etc., however if done well it can also be a win for volunteers. There are many benefits from volunteering together as a family. Organisations should consider some of these things when promoting / marketing their opportunities. Volunteering together can strengthen the bonds between family members by providing them with positive shared experiences.

Children can develop new skills and learn respect for people of different backgrounds and beliefs in a safe environment. Family volunteering can also be a very appealing offer to families as it can be a relatively cost free family activity that brings added value.

  • Develops family pride, sense of purpose and feeling of being part of the community.
  • Teaches positive values, such as civic responsibility, empathy and respect.
  • Creates positive role models for children and young people.
  • Improves family members’ understanding of and respect for each other.
  • Improves family members’ understanding of and respect for people in the community who are different to them, their local environment, heritage etc.
  • Fosters a shared sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from giving back to the community.
  • Offers an informal type of work experience for young people that they can use in job and college/university applications.
  • Develops people’s critical thinking and problem solving skills

Top Tips and references  

The National Trust has developed 10 guiding principles for involving family groups as volunteers. Although based on pilot work done on its own sites, they are useful for any organisation wishing to develop this model. lot_Evaluation-NAT_TRUST.pdf

 Volunteer Now has developed an occasional volunteering information sheet which sets out good practice points when involving groups of people in bite sized opportunities.