Family and Multi-Generational Volunteering

Volunteering done by several members of a family together as a unit, usually multi-generational.

From Volunteer Canada. A useful workbook highlighting key points. , 2011, pp. 26
A Policy Brief from the National Human Services Assembly on efforts to promote family volunteering as a strategy for strengthening low-income families with children. , 2006, pp. 20
Volunteer Canada describes how and why families engage in service, examines strategies and barriers to implement family projects, and includes an extensive bibliography. , 2002, pp. 22
By the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment. An preliminary study on the benefits of volunteering to the families who engage in it. , 2003, pp. 28
By Volunteer Canada. This study surveyed both volunteer managers and individual volunteers who engage in family volunteering and reports on the results. , 2002, pp. 44
An introduction to preparing your agency for family volunteers, by Kristen Porritt for Canadian Heritage.
Family Volunteering Resources on Idealist.org

This area of the idealist.org website includes information on the benefits of family volunteering and a list of articles on the topic. Contains information useful to families who want to volunteer and volunteer coordinators who work with family volunteers.

generationOn Blog

Features great youth volunteer stories and ways to involve families in volunteering, from Points of Light.

The Volunteer Family

This site includes ideas to help your organization become family-volunteer friendly, tips on supervising youth and family volunteers, information on legal issues and liability, and a place to post family volunteering opportunities.

Zoom into Action!

Site accompanying the PBS children's television series Zoom. Its "Action" section has many examples of volunteering by kids and families, plus how-to hints for adults and educators. Also provides a free guide to family volunteering to download at:http://www-tc.pbskids.org/zoom/grownups/action/pdfs/volunteer_guide.pdf.

Print and e-Books in Our Store

Children as Volunteers

The only book focusing on engaging volunteers under the age of fourteen in agency or community organizations.

Book cover

Provocative booklet that urges a new attitude toward young people as affected by adultism and shows how to be more welcoming to young leaders.

Book cover

Warmly provides practical tips for adults to share the gifts of generosity, selflessness, and compassion with children of all ages and get past the gimme-gimme mind-set.

Book cover

Stories and strategies of youth-adult partnerships that succeed, with over 20 reproducible tools to help you engage youth participants to the greatest effect in your organization.

Book cover

An assessment and planning tool for developing best practices for dealing with young people as volunteers, complete with forms to copy and use again.

Family Volunteering: The Potential
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Mention the concept of families volunteering together as an intergenerational group and the response is often, "Gee, that sounds great." But there are still far too few organizations actively recruiting families as volunteers.

Families who volunteer together share the bond of a common interest or cause. It's a form of valued "quality time" between parents and their children. Family volunteering is a great solution for the time-pressured, multi-tasking adult, offering a way to do something meaningful as a parent, something of civic and educational value, and a form of recreation more rewarding - and less expensive - than movies, theme parks, and other purely entertaining past-times. If the right project is chosen, family volunteering is fun and can even provide healthy exercise!

There are tangible benefits to the organization, too. The most important is that when a family accepts a volunteer assignment together, the agency gets many hands at once to do a job. This is especially helpful if a project needs intensive staffing. Bringing in a family of 4 or 5 to do the work substitutes for having to recruit 4 to 5 individual volunteers. There are also many times in which having volunteers of varying ages provides better service to clients or consumers of varying ages. Here are some real examples of family volunteering assignments that demonstrate the benefits:

  • Visiting a homebound client - a family can commit to a weekly visit and, even if only one member of the family can come in a particular week, it assures that a visit will indeed be made. Depending on the client, the presence of children may bring great joy.
  • Working at clean-up and other beautification projects - ideal because there are tasks suitable for every age and skill group.
  • Staffing a booth or activity at a fundraising event - which allows for sufficient coverage of that booth yet everyone can get a break, plus the younger volunteers can interact with other young people who come to the booth.

In truth, the right family team can tackle just about any assignment. It will depend on their interests, skills, and hobbies.

What's a "Family"?

We live in a world in which "families" come in all shapes and sizes. There are families of blood ties as well as intentional or chosen families. There are nuclear families and far extended ones. It doesn't matter how people self-define their own family. What matters is that there are two or more people who have a strong relationship with each other and who come from at least two generations.

One special type of family unit is a divorced, non-custodial parent with his or her children. Too often this parent is a playmate, looking for fun things to do on visiting days. Volunteering together may be a very satisfying activity that allows this parent and children to share something special with each other, while doing good in the community.

A whole family can volunteer together, or just one parent with one or more children, or a grandparent and grandchild together, or a group of siblings - there are so many possible permutations. Similarly, even if a family commits to the same organization, they do not necessarily have to work together at the same assignment.  

Possible Pitfalls

So, if family volunteering is such a hot idea, why isn't there more of it going on?

Agencies may be wary of the possible risks of involving children in volunteer work, either for the safety of the children themselves or for fear of harm done by the children to clients. In family volunteering, however, the parents are right there to supervise as well as to permit the activity to go on. So there is a built-in safety factor.

If your agency really feels that it cannot accept young children as volunteers, you can still have a family volunteer program for parents (or other adult relatives) and pre-teens or teenagers. Older children can be more independent and really carry their weight on the family team.

There may also be some suspicion that it's the adults who decided to volunteer and dragged their children along. It's very important for every member of the family to be committed to the project. Volunteer program managers need to interview all the family members before accepting the family as a team, not negotiate the project with only one or both parents. If most of the family members seem eager but one less so, be prepared to offer an alternative assignment that might be of greater interest.

Training needs to be adapted to different age groups. All members of the family should be trained (or at least get instructions), but the methods that will reach the adults may be different from what the children need.

Finally, families will almost always need to volunteer on a Saturday or Sunday, unless it is during a school break. For some organizations this provides a great source of weekend help; for others it may limit the possible assignments.

Consider making a conscious effort to recruit family volunteers. It may be possible to collaborate with another community organization seeking family activities. A nearby faith community, for example, might welcome the idea of encouraging a number of families to volunteer together as a group. A parent-teacher organization might like to sponsor a volunteering project as a way to reach more parents for its own needs. You might even contact a group such as Parents without Partners and propose a day of family service for their year-round calendar of activities. See what connections you can make.

Last Updated: December 2, 2016