Family Volunteering

Family volunteering is increasingly popular, with parents looking for new ways to get their children involved.

People who volunteer regularly might take a break during school holidays to look after children or grandchildren, while others don’t start volunteering because of childcare commitments. Generally volunteering opportunities are offered on an individual basis, so organisations may be competing for someone’s limited leisure time with the person’s partner, parents or siblings.

Family volunteering is a great opportunity to overcome these barriers to volunteering, offering families a chance to spend time together, make a difference and contribute to your organisation, whilst having fun at the same time.

Involving families in volunteering can result in positive steps towards organisational goals, perhaps supporting beneficiaries or specific project work, as well as providing benefits for the family. It also helps to increase the diversity of your volunteer team, bringing new perspectives and new ideas to your organisation.

These pages will tell you all you need to know about setting up family volunteering opportunities in your organisation – and if you’re already involving families, we’d love to hear from you to find out what you’re doing and to learn from your experience so far.

Examples of successful family volunteering can be seen at the National Trust, where families take part in a variety of roles such as countryside conservation, vegetable gardening, cleaning the local coastline, or supporting preparations for events such as Christmas.

Thinking about family volunteering

Start by thinking about your organisational goals – what opportunities are there for families to be involved to contribute to your vision or mission? Aim to create opportunities for people to feel they’re making a real difference through their volunteering.

Getting the support of your leadership team and board of trustees is essential. Could your trustees lead the way by involving their families in volunteering? Also think about any roles that might be available for families to volunteer at higher levels of the organisation.

Be clear about the roles you can offer; you might have practical opportunities for families to support your beneficiaries, perhaps families could be involved in fundraising activities, or maybe you could set up a family advisory panel if families are part of the community your organisation supports.

You could open existing volunteer roles to families, especially any practical tasks that are usually completed by a team of volunteers. Alternatively you might want to start new projects or develop roles specifically for families including children.

Think about how each volunteering opportunity could be adapted for different generations or groups; sometimes you’ll have grandparents, parents and children, but at other times you might have a group of adult siblings, or a couple who wish to volunteer together. If you’re happy for very young children to participate, what will they be able to contribute and what will they get out of their time with your organisation? Would it benefit your families to make roles educational for children and, if so, how could you do that?

Do you want to organise a family volunteering day for lots of people to join or will you create separate opportunities for each family to take part? Some families might want to meet other like-minded people and enjoy the social side of volunteering, but others might prefer a chance to be just with their own family. This might depend on the role – you could create one day of activities based around a particular event or festival or you could have ongoing activities such as fundraising that families can pick up at any time of year.

Each approach requires clear planning to ensure the required time and resources are available to support the volunteers. What steps do you need to take in planning activities? Think about the schedule of events, volunteer role descriptions and allocating adequate resources and budgets.

Keep in mind that you’re not offering a family fun day, even though volunteering can be enjoyed by everyone including very young children. A mixture of practical tasks and learning activities can work well for engaging different generations, perhaps with intergenerational roles so that people can learn from one another through their volunteering. To get support for intergenerational work find your local network in Scotland through Generations Working Together.

National Trust teams often set aside larger tasks that need to be completed and run family volunteering days to achieve these. Groups of families can be involved in one-off activities such as a local beach clean-up, giving a great sense of achievement at the end of the day. This also provides the opportunity to make new friends and learn from other people, whilst working towards the organisational goal of getting people active outdoors.

Getting started with family volunteering

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • When you’re recruiting volunteers, who’s your audience and how will you tell them about your opportunities? Do you have beneficiaries or current volunteers who might choose to volunteer with their families? Is there a local group or organisation you could link with to promote family volunteering opportunities within your local community?
  • How will you select volunteers and give families the chance to decide whether the role is right for them? Are you looking for specific skills or experience? This depends on the role that you’re offering, but it’s important to decide your selection criteria in advance as you would for any other type of volunteering.
  • What will your induction look like? This depends in part on whether it’s a one-off or regular opportunity, but either way this is a chance to share information about the task to be completed, the role of the organisation and the impact the family’s contribution will have.

Getting the right people in the right role is the key to effective volunteering. Spend some time planning and preparing for recruitment and selection to ensure that you’re starting as you mean to go on. Make your induction a warm welcome to the team and set your families up to succeed.

If you’re involving young children through family volunteering, ensure your safeguarding policy is updated to reflect this. Make sure adults within families are clear that they have full responsibility for their own children and for supporting any vulnerable adults to enable them to volunteer. You shouldn’t need disclosure or PVG checks, as long as parents are responsible for supervising their own children at all times, but it is worth considering running safeguarding training for staff and volunteers who will be in regular contact with families.

The National Trust provides more information and practical advice for starting family volunteering in your own organisation on their website.

Making a difference through family volunteering

Once a family is ready to take part in volunteering activities you’ll need to make sure you’ve got adequate resources and people available to ensure the volunteering opportunity is successful. Be clear about who has responsibility for managing the volunteers on the day, to provide support, answer any questions and ensure people are able to enjoy themselves and contribute effectively.

One of the biggest benefits of volunteering is that everyone has fun whilst making a difference. If you’re involving young children, think about how you can create opportunities during the day for time out and play activities. If the family are older children and/or adults, give them the chance to tailor their volunteering tasks to make them enjoyable and relevant for themselves whilst meeting operational goals.

If you’re leading the volunteering activity, make sure you have regular breaks and a variety of tasks to complete. You might find the group finish tasks more quickly than you expect or you might find that with young children involved things take longer than usual. Be flexible and keep an eye on the time. If the volunteers are leading their own activities, check in with them regularly to find out how things are going, to make sure everyone stays on track to complete the task set without encountering any major difficulties along the way.

When challenging situations do arise, be prepared to address these immediately where possible, particularly if families are doing a one-off activity and you might have no contact with them once they leave. Consider who is best placed to deal with poor performance or inappropriate behaviour and be clear about who should respond if children misbehave. Be prepared to support your family volunteers as you would any of your long-term volunteers.

As with all volunteering, remember that someone’s motivation changes over time. Talk to people about why they wanted to volunteer as a family, get the perspective of different generations, and find out how people’s motivations change during the day. Not only will this mean that volunteers are able to continue making a difference in their role, it will also enable you to review and develop your family volunteering activities for future volunteers.

Building on the success of family volunteering

At key points during the volunteering opportunity, or when someone achieves something in particular, or when the activity comes to its planned end, consider how you can reward and recognise your family volunteers. Young children might like tangible rewards, something to take away, while adults might appreciate more intrinsic rewards. Think about what rewards you currently offer to volunteers and consider how you can adapt these for families.

It’s also important to celebrate the success of your volunteers internally and externally, and encourage people to recommend family volunteering to friends and family. Word of mouth continues to be the most effective recruitment tool for volunteers, particularly to promote something new or more unusual like family volunteering.

Family volunteering can be a way of introducing people to volunteering for the first time. You might find people are happy with a one-off opportunity or they might want to volunteer again if they’ve had a good experience. Once you’re up and running with family volunteering you could also set up regular volunteering roles for families within your organisation. Ask people what they would like to do and what opportunities they see for volunteering – they’ll look at things from a different perspective and might have some great ideas for new activities.

At the end of a day volunteering outdoors, family volunteers at the National Trust often enjoy tea and toasted marshmallows around a camp fire – particularly if they’ve been clearing or tidying the local countryside. There are also certificates and stickers available to take away and lots of photo opportunities.

In addition, the National Trust has combined corporate and family volunteering in The Big Family Day Out with companies to engage teams of employees for a day of volunteering with their families during half-term holidays.

Find out more in this recent blog: National Trust family volunteering