Power Boost: Enriching Your Volunteer Program by Engaging Families

February 24, 2011

When we need a solution, where do we turn first? To family, of course! And that’s where several Twin Cities organizations are turning to find a terrific source of eager, energetic volunteer talent: families. Doing Good Together was called on to help each of these agencies develop programs to recruit and retain families as an ongoing volunteer resource.

The agencies faced varying issues. Metro Meals on Wheels wanted to augment its aging volunteer force with a new program to appeal to families (an “untapped resource”). Global Citizens Network wanted to set itself apart from other volunteer travel groups by making its adventures uniquely family-friendly. Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis wanted to enrich its vast volunteer program by providing its family volunteers with tools for parents to talk with their children about poverty and need. Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly wanted to expand on the valuable intergenerational connections that family volunteers so obviously brought to its elderly clientele.

Regardless of your own volunteer challenges, families with children can be an enthusiastic new category of help and support. They can make a measurable difference in your productivity, public image and fundraising potential. Other benefits of family volunteers:

  • Your helpers will multiply. More people can spare the time to volunteer if they can bring their families. And families end up giving you more hours (23% more per week) than non-family volunteers.
  • Family volunteers donate more to charity—  an average of 2.6% of their income compared to 1.9% for non-family volunteers. Those funds could end up in your coffers.
  • When children volunteer from a young age, we create a whole new generation of volunteers, donors and philanthropists. Research indicates that adults who volunteered as children and whose parents volunteered were three times more likely to be involved in community service as adults who didn’t. You can help start this cycle of giving.

In addition, people who volunteer with family members enjoy themselves more, provide positive role models to clients, and bring important energy to your program. And enlisting family volunteers can increase your profile within the community and cement your good name with the next generation of givers.

To attract families to your mission, you’ll want to create engaging volunteer opportunities that are appropriate and appealing. Some things to consider:

  • Do you have existing opportunities you can expand on? See whether your current volunteer projects can be modified to make them suitable for families. For instance, one mentoring organization began letting entire families mentor a child, in addition to its pool of individual mentors.
  • Would off-site opportunities work for you? Consider what items families could create for you in their own homes. For example, families decorate lunch bags for Meals on Wheels recipients, make tissue paper flowers for elders served by Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, make sandwiches for homeless shelters, and fleece blankets for children’s hospitals. These simple at-home efforts can lead to larger volunteer projects.
  • Could your volunteer programs be reconfigured to integrate families? Even if families with children haven’t traditionally cooked meals for your clients, for example, maybe that is a project they could take on. Agencies are often surprised at the diverse ways children and families can contribute when given the opportunities.
  • Are you being creative enough? One agency serving elders created something called “Bubbe’s Bakery,” in which families with young children bake traditional Jewish foods with their older clients, then enjoy an intergenerational tea party. Another agency encourages families to host lemonade stands to raise money. You are only limited by your imagination.


You’ll also have more success recruiting and retaining family volunteers if you:

  • Focus on flexible and short-term assignments that will fit the schedules of busy families.
  • Motivate child volunteers often with positive feedback and recognition.
  • Structure opportunities so that families can quickly see the impact they are having. For example, Feed My Starving Children has families pack meals for kids in developing countries, and the young volunteers are impressed with their ability to pack hundreds of packets in a short time.
  • Provide reflection materials. Today’s parents use volunteer jobs to educate their children about important social issues. Journals, handbooks and how-tos help make the volunteer experience more meaningful and ensure that service becomes a lifelong value. (See the parent handbook Doing Good Together created for Metro Meals on Wheels.)

If you are interested in building your agency’s capacity to better engage families in service, please contact us at Doing Good Together. We would be happy to look at your specific opportunities and challenges, and suggest solutions tailored to your goals.

Jenny Friedman

Executive Director – Doing Good Together