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Volunteering: It takes a family

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Question:

What are a few key elements in creating a family-friendly volunteer experience?

Answer:

* Plan.

In planning a successful family-friendly volunteer event, you should start by thinking about the needs of your organization and the people you serve.

Which of your current programs could accommodate children of different ages? Do you have a program you could adapt to make it family-friendly?

Think of it as playing off the inherent strengths and talents of family volunteers, instead of merely accommodating their special needs.

* Orient.

The day of the event, you should hold an orientation for your family volunteers. Introduce them briefly to your organization’s structure, provide a description of your mission, and show how they’re contributing to your work in the big picture.

Give them a tour of your work area, introduce them to your staff, and address all the little worrisome details — where they can leave personal property and where they can find drinks and supplies.

It’s important both to avoid becoming the free babysitter and at the same time, reassure parents about their children’s safety.

Make it clear that parents are responsible for supervising their own children, but also be sure to emphasize any modifications you may have made to programs or the work environment to keep things child-friendly and set parents at ease.

* Supervise.

The key to a successful volunteer event is always effective supervision.

Assign your families to group tasks rather than separating them, and give them responsibilities that encourage working and learning together.

Make sure these tasks are appropriate and linked to their own interests and skill levels.

* Recognize.

Be sure to recognize each individual’s role in the event as well as their contribution as a family.

You can give traditional thank-you gifts — a certificate for the whole family, flowers, buttons, t-shirts.

A more innovative and always greatly appreciated thank-you is a newspaper feature. Invite journalists from the local papers to write up a story about the family volunteering together.

Parents love having their kids in the paper; they frame them, put them in scrapbooks, and generally adore them.

Careful, though – or the kids may get used to it!

–Compiled by Elizabeth Floyd.


Heather Jack is founder and president of The Volunteer Family, a Framington, Mass.-based nonprofit that specializes in connecting families with volunteer opportunities.

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