How and Why to Make Volunteering a Family Affair

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Guest post by Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler Group

A mother and daughter volunteer together with the Sacramento Tree Foundation.
A mother and daughter volunteer together with the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

Whether you represent a food pantry, youth program, senior center, theater, or other organization or agency, families are likely a key constituent of yours. They may be welcomed as members, program attendees, visitors, or clients. They may be cultivated as donors or participants. Rarely, however, do families easily and readily find ways to volunteer at these organizations – to volunteer together.

Meanwhile, families are as busy as they have ever been and finding time together is a priority. Parents are seeking to spend meaningful family time together, to live out the values they want to instill in their children, and to make a positive difference in their community. In response, many organizations are beginning to actively engage families as volunteers, whether for a one-time event or in an ongoing relationship. Many different factors have inspired that new commitment to engaging families.

Last year, our firm shared a case study about one family volunteering program at the Aquarium of the Pacific. That institution was inspired, in part, by the powerful connection between young visitors and young volunteers. Sean Devereaux, the Manager of Volunteer Services, described the interaction between an 8-year old volunteer and a visitor of similar age:

“The interaction was truly magical. The young visitor was able to get so much more depth of knowledge than if he had interacted with an adult because the kids spoke to each other in a common language. It was remarkable. I wasn’t the only one who was noticing that magic. The Aquarium as a whole recognized the value of peer-to-peer learning. So we began marketing family volunteering as a valuable and integral program for our volunteer corps.”

Organizations can harness the energy of families working together, and, as seen in the “magic” observed at that aquarium, the benefits add up to far more than just the hours contributed by the family volunteers. Everyone benefits – the volunteers, the organization, the visitors or clients, and even the community-at-large.

When organizational leaders are strategic and careful about the roles they create for family volunteers, they can expect tangible contributions from family members of all ages. Creating meaningful and appropriate roles takes time, but is possible. In their book, Doing Good Together, Jenny Friedman and Jolene Roehlkepartain share seven “keys” to a successful family service project. They are:

  1. Purpose; impact on a real need
  2. Simplicity
  3. Creativity
  4. Intergenerational appeal
  5. Relationship building
  6. Reflection
  7. A next step

This list is a great starting point to discuss what makes family volunteering effective for all involved. Discuss what each of those seven key elements means to you and your constituents and what they might “look like” at your organization.

There are meaningful roles for families at most organizations. The challenge is to surface them. Here are a few suggestions to get the ideas flowing:

Social Service Agencies: Families can organize food drives, unload and shelve donations to a pantry, raise funds by organizing family-friendly events, and host information sessions at their homes or schools to educate others about the pressing needs in their own communities.

Community Centers: Families can help with facilities projects like building or painting playground meals to seniors, tutor children, or brainstorm, plan, and run events to bring new members to the Center.

Farms and Community Supported Agriculture: Families can tend crops and harvest food to be donated to a local food pantry, thus helping the environment, learning new skills, learning about issues related to hunger, and feeding the hungry all at the same time.

Museums and Cultural Organizations: Families can serve as tour guides, interpreters, greeters, or program ushers.

These are just a few examples of successful family-friendly volunteer roles. What can families do for your organization?

To learn more about family volunteering, join guest blogger Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler Group President, for a free webinar at September 3. Click here to register!

Beth Steinhorn is a nationally recognized leader, writer, and innovator in volunteer engagement and nonprofit management. As President of JFFixler Group, she leads consultations, facilitates workshops, directs research, presents keynote addresses, and publishes blogs and articles. Throughout her 25+ year career with nonprofit organizations, Beth has worked to help organizations and their leadership to achieve their missions through strategic and innovative engagement.

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