If most families in America are anything like mine, “busy” is probably the first word to describe life. Finding quality family time is often difficult amidst the day-to-day duties. And though I make it a point to volunteer in my community, it certainly is not easy to squeeze that into my schizophrenic schedule. But if a worthy organization in my area developed a family volunteer program, I would sign my family up in a heartbeat.
Why? It’s simple. First, I’d be spending time with my family. That’s always the top of my list. Second, we’d be doing something to help others, which will instill a sense of compassion in my children. And then of course, when they see mommy and daddy rolling up their sleeves to help, we truly become role models to our children in their search for a more community-minded sense of self.
Family volunteering was first identified in the late 1990s in research studies coordinated by the Independent Sector. In the IS research, they noted a trend among volunteers who were spending less time volunteering alone and more time volunteering together with their families. Since then, this trend has continued to grow.
A non-profit organization that relies heavily on a volunteer task force will benefit greatly from a family volunteer program. The most obvious and important benefit is that a family volunteer program will increase the volunteer force exponentially. Instead of recruiting just one helping hand, you end up with six or eight. Also, when the young children in a family volunteer for an organization, the chances increase that they stay loyal as they grow older and continue to volunteer for years to come, thus improving volunteer retention.
Reliability also tends to improve when families volunteer together. If an entire family unit has made a commitment to volunteer, it is rare that the entire family will cancel volunteer plans. This, of course, can sometimes be a factor when dealing with volunteers who are, essentially, workers that do not get paid. So, anytime a non-profit organization can increase reliability, it’s a very good thing.
Finally, non-profits find it difficult to recruit volunteers who have families because they lead such hectic lives. Give folks a chance to help out for a good cause and bring their families along too, and you’ve just boosted your volunteer recruitment opportunities.
So how can a non-profit organization create a family volunteer program? Here’s a quick look at how to get started:
• Talk first with your legal counsel to get legal clearance to include young children in your volunteer activities.
• Take a look at your needs and consider how you can delegate activities to a family. Remember that the family wants to spend time together. Don’t assign the mom to one task, the dad to another and the kids to something completely separate.
• Determine the minimum age that you will allow for volunteers. Perhaps children must be five years old to join in a family volunteer activity. The children must be old enough to respect your organization and understand the task at hand. And, though volunteer projects can and should be fun, families must not expect volunteering to be a source of entertainment or child care for their children.
• Host family volunteer activities during days that families would be available – weekends and evenings.
• Trial a short-term family volunteer project before you take the time and effort to develop a long-term program. See how the shorter projects go first before you build on them.
And for families interested in finding volunteer opportunities, call your local volunteer center, hospital, or non-profit agency and ask what programs they offer. Or, check out The Volunteer Family to find organizations that have family volunteer programs. Better yet, create your own service project that includes your entire family. Whatever you decide to do, you’re doing it together and you’re making a difference, and that is all that matters.
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