Introduction

This summary brings together what the existing evidence tells us about the links between family and volunteering. It looks at how family not only shapes the involvement and experience of volunteers, but how families can get involved in volunteering together. Three key questions are explored here:

  • How does family status, life events and family dynamics influence volunteering?
  • How can volunteering affect families and family members?
  • What are the barriers and impacts of families volunteering together?

Background

Volunteering is often viewed as an individual activity – something that people do in their spare time for a variety of personal reasons. Yet, volunteering is very much shaped by a range of factors that are external to the individual, including the family. Family context and relationships can affect not only how, why and when people volunteer but also why they stop.

The research and evidence summarised here explores this link between family and volunteering. It is based on a review of academic articles and practice documents from the UK and elsewhere. The review is part of a new research project being carried out by NCVO and the Universities of Birmingham and Salford, and funded by Sport England, Pears #iwill Fund, Greater London Authority and the Scouts Association. The research project will look to improve understanding of how families engage with volunteering and how organisations engage with families through volunteering. The research will be used to support volunteer-involving organisations that want to develop or enhance volunteering opportunities for family members.

The aim of the review is to identify evidence on families and volunteering to ensure we make the most of the existing knowledge and also to identify gaps that our research project will need to explore and address.

Our approach to the review

We searched a series of online databases and journals for articles that discussed family and volunteering and found 232 relevant documents that spanned a number of different fields and disciplines over the last thirty years. Most articles focus on volunteering that takes places through a group, club or organisation (formal volunteering) rather than more informal forms of participation.

Many of the studies are based on analyses of large-scale surveys, primarily in the United States and most explore the influence of family and family status on volunteering rather than family members volunteering together. In our searching we recognised that families are varied, complex and diverse. We used a broad definition of family which includes extended families, single parent families, gay and lesbian families, blended and non-custodial families (including step-parents and step-children) and families without children.

Here we provide a summary of the key findings from the review. First, we explore the links between family and volunteering and then we look at volunteering that takes place with other family members – ‘family volunteering’.