Developing Family-Friendly Volunteer Opportunities for Your Organization

Today’s post is DSCN0045the second installment of a two-part guest post by Jenny Friedman, founder and executive director of Doing Good Together, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that empowers families to raise children who care and contribute. 

The Twin Cities is enviable for its lakes, bike paths – and the vast number of parents who are eager to teach their children about caring, compassion and contribution. You can tap into this resource by developing a vibrant family volunteer program. It not only can support the work your organization does right now, but also help you recruit your next generation of volunteers and supporters.

Families are realizing that volunteering provides an oasis of meaningful time together to live out their values. Your organization, meanwhile, will benefit from improved productivity, public image and fundraising potential. Plus, when people volunteer with family members, they’re likely to volunteer more often and enjoy it more.

Equally important, family service inspires young people to keep making a positive difference as adults, continuing the pattern of philanthropy imbedded in them as children.

Your first step is to determine what opportunities you can offer. Think about ideas that are safe and appropriate for kids. Remember that families need flexible schedules and that younger children won’t have the attention span of teenagers. Then start small.

Consider a one-time project (perhaps at the holidays) that includes families, or invite two or three parent-child volunteer teams on board for a few months to determine whether such teams suit your organization.  You can also get started by having families with children gather (at your office, an off-site location or someone’s home) to create blankets, decorate cards, stuff teddy bears or put together kits for you. These “kitchen table” projects can lead to further volunteering commitments.

Think about modifying existing volunteer opportunities to include families. If you already use volunteers to serve meals, visit clients or run events, perhaps you could have whole families get involved. Keep an open mind. Families with children are often capable of much more than we imagine.

Your best bet for recruiting family volunteers – both for existing or newly developed opportunities – is to make projects creative and appealing. For example, Dorot, a New York agency that serves older adults, has a “Family Circle Program” for families with children ages 4 to 12. The families gather to make gifts for a senior, then stay for a 45-minute visit when they deliver the gifts.

Although families are often looking for something beyond holding a drive or fundraiser, you can attract interest in these ideas if you frame them the right way. First, think about what might be exciting for families to collect — say, cereal, socks, pajamas or craft supplies. Then at the drop-off area have the collection displayed in a creative way. One group clipped donated socks to a long clothesline. Another parked a large van in front of their agency and used the donations to “stuff” the van. (You could take guesses on how long it will take to fill it up.) Also use the occasion to offer tours of your facility.

Or take a cue from organizations with their own signature fundraisers, such as Alex’s Lemonade Stand and the Great American Bake Sale, and create your own event. For example, if your group serves families in poverty, you can give donor families a 30-day “calendar” and suggest an “activity” they complete each day (e.g., counting how many stuffed animals they have, counting how many closets are in their home, etc. ). They then place that number of pennies (or dimes or quarters) in a jar. At month’s end, they’ve had important discussions about wants and needs, and have raised money for your cause.

As you expand your program, you’ll become skilled at matching individual families with the right tasks.

These days, agencies are also increasing their appeal by offering parents an education and reflection component, such as journals, handbooks, child-friendly evaluations and booklists. These help children and adults better understand the impact of their volunteerism and help cement service as a lifelong value. (Check out the parent handbook that Doing Good Together created for Metro Meals on Wheels.)

If you want to build your agency’s capacity to better engage families in service through creative yet rewarding opportunities, Doing Good Together can look at your specific work and challenges, and suggest solutions tailored to your goals.

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