Opening Doors for Younger Volunteers

Volunteerism March 04, 2008

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

An aging population means that most nonprofit groups are working with an ever-shrinking pool of donors and volunteers. Are we making the most of those people who are available to volunteer, and willing to donate their time, energy, and resources to a good cause? Noël-Marie Taylor would say, perhaps not!

An active volunteer before she had children, Noël-Marie was looking forward to returning to some level of community service after the birth of her daughter. Yes, her time would be limited by her new duties as a parent, but there was another issue that she hadn’t considered:

To my surprise and dismay, even when I did have time to help out, I was told that I could only do so if I left my daughter elsewhere. This was not an option I cared to entertain, but it seemed like the only way I'd be able to continue my community involvement. "If she were older, we'd feel differently" was the semi-apologetic comment I heard repeatedly.

But no kids were allowed at the blood drive. No one under twelve could help at the soup kitchen. And heaven forbid that I try to take an infant (even one that would simply sleep contentedly in my lap, as Maura would) to a committee meeting!

It seemed like there were two choices: Quit volunteering, or leave my daughter with a sitter.

This story has a happy ending:

Noël-Marie was that rare kind of truly dedicated volunteer willing to go to great lengths to find ways to continue her volunteer work, even while her child was very young. (For other parents in the same situation, she shares some practical suggestions in "Volunteering with Children: Juggling Kids and Community Involvement.")

Given all the hassle of finding a place that lets you volunteer with kids, why bother? For me, it's an important part of developing a sense of community, and a way of giving back. As my children grow, I want them to realize how lucky they are to have a good home and loving family. With these blessings, they have the ability to give to others who are not so lucky.

When parents and caregivers, and even siblings and peers, model a “giving” way of life by example, children pick up on that as quickly as those active little minds seem to pick up on other attitudes and habits that we might prefer they didn’t adopt! They begin to see ways in which they, too, can contribute – matching their own interests to the needs that exist around them.

For example, here are some good things that kids in my own community are doing right now, on their own initiative:

  • High school track-and-field team members volunteer to run in a charity marathon, signing up their friends as sponsors.
  • A nine-year-old boy reads about the needs of children in developing countries and decides to save part of his allowance to send to a charity that serves those needs; his parents agree to match his donations, two dollars for one.
  • Toddlers draw thank-you pictures for the department store manager who donated craft supplies to their daycare centre.
  • Teens from a local youth club spend a Saturday picking up litter along the riverbank, sorting out the returnable bottles and bagging the trash. For the kids, it’s active outdoor exercise and a social time with their friends; a favourite local beauty spot gets cleaned up; and the bottle deposit money goes to help a family in need.
  • An eight-year-old girl goes after school to visit her neighbour who has MS, and takes the woman’s helper dog out for a walk.

Each of us can probably come up with a dozen or more real-life examples.

Given a chance, most children do genuinely care about others and want to help; it makes them feel important, included, and valued in the community. And when children are actively involved in charitable work – with a nonprofit organization or more informally – it not only builds empathy and a sense of citizenship, it helps the children to develop a range of important life skills, not the least of which are cooperation, negotiation, and problem-solving skills! Don’t we owe it to kids to give them ample opportunities to do good and experience those benefits?

How might a nonprofit make volunteering more accessible to young families? 

Is transportation an issue? If so, perhaps a ride-sharing arrangement would help.  At an event or in your work space, will there be easy access to hygienic feeding and changing facilities for volunteers with infant children? 

Each age-group and every individual child is different, with different interests, capabilities, and lengths of attention span:  would it help to keep a list of small volunteer jobs – age-appropriate, of short duration, preferably with  immediate feedback or rewards – to offer to children and teens? Tasks that involve technology and the internet may be especially attractive to pre-teens and teenagers, for example, while smaller children may prefer to go places, meet people, and make things.

For adults and children alike, the social aspects of community service can be a major motivator, on top of the rewards of "good feelings," public recognition, and the chance to acquire skills and experience. Ask yourself, often: "Are my volunteers having fun?"

What does your organization do to encourage the parents of young children, and children  themselves, to get involved as volunteers?  


Additional Resources:

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.


  • Casey:

    Often times people look for an organization or an organized event with which to volunteer. However, I think they forget that if they just want to "do good," they don't need an organization. Make your own event! Announce that this Saturday is "Pick up My Neighborhood Day" to all your neighbors, and go around and pick up trash all together. Or, do the same at a local park. Or, go door to door and collect old clothes to take to the local Salvation Army.

    My mom used to take my 4-H group to the local nursing home. Now there's a place kids are welcome - for a short while, at least. :-)

    Don't let "no kids" stop you or your kids. It's as easy as picking up the phone!

  • Lori Halley

    Lori Halley:

    Good ideas, Casey!  And blogs like yours, at Volunteer Boston, are a great resource for people looking for opportunities to volunteer: sometimes a person might hesitate to act because they're unsure of where their help would be welcome, or what might be involved. The more ideas that the nonprofit sector can toss out there, the easier it makes  it to find a volunteering role that's a good match.


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