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Giving Time: Volunteering for the Whole Family
The holiday season inevitably becomes a time of hectic errands, as people shop online or brave the crowds in stores to buy gifts while juggling schedules crammed with social events. Amid the frenzy the holiday season can bring, many families manage to find time to give a very precious gift -- their time.
The holidays are a great opportunity for families to give back to their communities while spending important quality time with each other. As a philanthropic advisor, I'm often asked by parents how early they should involve their children in philanthropy. I believe it's never too early to start; cultivating a philanthropic perspective takes time, and children learn best by getting involved in charitable activities at an early age.
The following are some tips to help parents broaden their children's perspectives on the world through family volunteer activities over the holidays. Whether you're planning an intensive international volunteer experience or a trip to the local park, there are plenty of ways to spend important time together as a family while experiencing the true spirit of the holidays.
- Plan as a family. As you work to develop socially conscious children, it's important to involve them in your discussions about volunteer opportunities. By bringing them into the planning process, you will help your children understand why you want them to be involved and that their input is important in the decision-making process.
- Decide what you're looking for in a volunteer experience. Increasingly, volunteer organizations are providing opportunities for the whole family to volunteer together. Getting involved doesn't have to be that complex: how about getting started in your own community? VolunteerMatch can help you find opportunities to give back when and where you want. The key is to figure out what works best for your family.
- Determine the impact you want to have. Are you looking for a onetime experience, like volunteering at a clothing drive, or are you looking for an ongoing effort, like volunteering at a soup kitchen once a week? Would you rather volunteer at a community center, school, retirement center, or hospital?
- Find age-appropriate activities. Naturally, a toddler shouldn't be wielding a hammer on a construction site. When looking at options for your family's volunteer experience, consider first the needs and abilities of your own family. Children should be exposed to how they can help their communities, but this should occur in a thoughtful manner, which will help both the children and those you are trying to help.
- Determine your comfort level. Are you looking to roll up your sleeves and provide a little sweat equity, or would you prefer to work with children or seniors in an air-conditioned building? Make sure everyone in your family is aware of what they are getting into.
- Incorporate your family's interests. Perhaps you have a child with a strong environmental interest. Or one who likes music. Or a science buff. Whatever your children's interests, try to incorporate them into your volunteering to make the experience more personally meaningful and valuable.
- Build excitement. Volunteering can be fun! As you research and learn more about your volunteer assignment, encourage your children's curiosity and engage their interests. Have a countdown until your activity, and build in mini-events leading up to your charitable time together. Let your children know that giving back during the holidays can be just as much or more fun as receiving presents.
- Reflect together. Throughout your experience and afterward, check in with your children to see how they are doing. Volunteering together as a family can be fun and also extremely educational. Don't miss the opportunity to instill some life lessons along the way.
The holidays are a time for family members and friends to reconnect with one another. This season, don't forget the great gift you can offer together -- your time.
For more information, visit www.idealist.org's Volunteering With Your Family section, which offers articles, best practices, helpful tips, and ways to find volunteer opportunities for your family. PBS Kids has a Guide to Family Volunteering (pdf download) that can help you plan.
Janice Schoos is a senior philanthropic advisor at Changing Our World, Inc., a national fundraising and philanthropic consulting firm. She specializes in consulting with major philanthropists and families to develop targeted giving programs. Previously, she helped build and manage the JPMorgan Charitable Giving Fund, the fourth-largest donor-advised fund sponsored by a financial institution.