Key learning from the review

This review points to the important role of family in shaping volunteering motivations and patterns. Family acts as an influencer, motivator and recruiter (Nesbit, 2012a), however it can also act as a barrier to involvement. Family status, family transition and distress within families are shown to affect these patterns.

Giving families opportunities to volunteer together has been suggested as one way for organisations to engage with a wider and more diverse audience and make volunteering more accessible for those facing barriers to volunteering, including families with young children, single parents and families in transition. Indeed, families have been described as an ‘untapped demographic’ (Volunteer Canada, nd) and a ‘rich vein only just beginning to be explored’ (Saxton and Harrison, 2015, p63). However, the review shows that overall there is a lack of evidence on family volunteering. There are particular gaps on the extent and nature of family volunteering opportunities in the UK, the involvement of families in informal volunteering at the community level, and the barriers and impacts for families, especially ‘non-traditional’ families. There is very little evidence which explores the organisational perspective, especially in the UK. There are available some good practice guides and resources for families on how to get involved in family volunteering, and, for organisations on how they can develop opportunities and support families (see Hegel, 2004 and Volunteer Now, 2013), however, these are largely developed for a US or Canadian audience and are outdated.

This review has highlighted that future work and research focused on the family and volunteering needs to consider the following issues:

  • The diversity of family types and the evolving nature of the family – family structures are changing and different people and cultures have different experiences and understanding of ‘the family’. Future work needs to recognise this diversity
  • The broad spectrum of volunteering and the need to consider the influence of family on more informal volunteering (not just volunteering through formal organisations) as well as the involvement of families in informal ways in their communities
  • The influence of socio-economic status, education, religion, gender and ethnicity on family and on volunteering
  • Who is making decisions and who is ‘representing’ or speaking for the family - the need to listen to different voices and explore the different experiences of family members, including children
  • The different gender roles and different levels of power and voice within families and how this might affect volunteering choices and experiences
  • The possible coercion and inequality within families and the need to consider that shared family activities may not be viewed in a positive way by all family members
  • The negative experiences and outcomes of volunteering and family activities alongside the benefits for family members and organisations
  • The different ways organisations and groups engage with families in the UK and how opportunities are developed and communicated
  • The experiences of organisations and groups in involving family volunteers in the UK and the differences and similarities with other forms of volunteering, and in particular with other group volunteering opportunities and activities.