Impacts of volunteering on families

Volunteering may have positive knock on effects for family members

The difference volunteering makes to individual volunteers themselves, including enjoyment, happiness and improved well-being are well documented (McGarvey et al, 2019).

Less attention has been paid, however, to how these benefits may then have a knock-on effect for other family members or for the family as a whole. If individuals are happier this may then have favourable effects on their families (Stebbins, 2015). A small number of studies explore the positive impacts of volunteering on family members. Connections have been made between volunteering and reduced stress and tension of those providing care to children (Lin, 2018), improved relationships and communication within families and increased awareness of community issues among family members (Lawrence and Matthieu, 2018). One specific area of volunteering, parental volunteering in schools, has been particularly highlighted to benefit children within families (Haski-Leventhal et al, 2017). Parents are seen to bring a range of different skills to schools (Body et al, 2017), improving the confidence, educational achievement and behaviour of students including their own children (Burke, 1999 quoted in Haski-Leventhal et al, 2017; Neymotin, 2014).

Volunteering can adversely affect family life

One recent study found that one in 10 people who have had a negative experience while volunteering said that it had negatively affected their family life (McGarvey et al, 2019). This is a particular concern amongst those frequently volunteering. Other evidence on the negative effects on family is limited, although in-depth research from the UK has highlighted how volunteering can lead to tension or resentment within families if family members feel that less time is being spent with them or that family responsibilities are being neglected (Brodie et al, 2011; Ellis Paine, 2015). Volunteering has also been linked to the disruption of routines and schedules within families (Cowlishaw, 2008 and Morrow-Howell, 2009). Research with volunteer fire fighters and emergency workers shows how tensions may also be ‘strain-based’ where stress from the volunteer role affects family life (Cowlishaw et al, 2010a). The evidence suggests that particular types of volunteering, including roles that are demanding with high levels of stress, can have different kinds of effects on family life and relationships.