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Maine VolunteerFare

Family Volunteering: Quality Time and Lessons

Published June 27, 2006


Family Volunteering: An Exploratory Study of the Impact on Families

Laura Littlepage with Elizabeth Obergfell and Gina Zanin

Center for Urban Policy and the Environment, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University?Purdue University Indianapolis

The vision of the family volunteering program of the Points of Light Foundation is to make family volunteering the norm in the United States. To accomplish this vision, the Foundation has focused on developing models of family volunteering, building capacity of nonprofits to engage families in volunteer activities, and raising awareness of the values gained from families volunteering together.

Proponents of family volunteering have stated that the benefits to families from family volunteering include sharing quality time together, transmission of values, modeling of compassion and civic engagement by parents, and improved communication between family members. While all of these results may be benefits of family volunteering, there may be others. In addition, it is important to determine why families volunteer. The purpose of this paper is to present the results of exploratory research that has been conducted to inform the conceptual framework of a study of the impact of family volunteering on families.

In June 2002, the Center conducted a focus group with three winners of the National Family Volunteer Award, given annually by the Foundation to families and organizations participating in notable family volunteering experiences. The findings from the focus group were used to design a structured telephone interview instrument with open-ended questions to survey other families who volunteer together. The Foundation provided contact information of a small sample of families recognized for outstanding volunteering. These families were contacted in September 2002. In addition, the Center conducted a literature review to identify research related to family volunteering and family interaction. The results of the focus groups, interviews and the literature review informed the design of the survey instrument that was distributed on National Family Volunteer Day. It was distributed at seven Volunteer Centers and a total of 88 surveys were returned.

While still preliminary, the findings from both the focus groups and phone interviews are similar to that of the survey respondents.

Respondents to the survey indicated that:

? Almost half volunteer with their family at least every few months.

? Most respondents were satisfied with their accomplishments and enjoyed the day.

? Most felt that volunteering has given them a new perspective on the world.

? Two-thirds of youth felt that volunteering has helped them decide what they want to do with their life.

? Most respondents felt that volunteering helped them to share values and talk more easily with their family, and it allows them to spend quality time together.

? Even so, almost one-fourth of respondents indicated that volunteering makes their life more hectic, and almost one-fourth of youth respondents indicted that their friends make fun of them for volunteering. These are both issues that volunteer coordinators should be aware of and possibly address.

? Most families seem to be motivated to volunteer because of their concern for others rather than for social reasons.

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