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We are family – thinking differently about family volunteering

Date: 28th Sep 2020 Author: Jon Nutten

We know that volunteering powers our movement. Now a new report points to a bright future for family volunteering in particular, says Tim Kidd, UK Chief Commissioner. He explores the findings and looks at ways we can welcome new and different people.

Let’s be honest: the need for volunteers is greater than ever. Based on what you’ve told us, up to a quarter of groups are at risk of not having enough volunteers to keep going in the future.

That’s why a new study from NCVO (The National Council for Voluntary Organisations) and partners – on family volunteering is both timely and welcome. It gives us new insight into the reasons why people volunteer, and most importantly the benefits of engaging families in the life of our groups.

At its heart is some brilliant work that highlights the five different types of family volunteering, all of which we’d recognise in Scouts. In this blog, and a companion blog written by Kester Sharpe, Deputy UK Chief Commissioner, we’ll be looking at the different models to help you with your recruitment as well as signposting the practical help available.

Why family volunteering matters

We often talk about being part of a worldwide family of Scouts. But how often do we talk about the contribution individual families make to support groups across the country?  The fact is that without the support of families, so much of what we do would grind to a halt. Our hidden force of over 800,000 parents and carers, siblings and extended families do so much more than uniform ironing, ferrying to and from meetings, or doing the washing after summer camp. They are the glue that keeps our movement together.

Five ways families volunteer

The first type of family volunteering identified in the report is ‘Do Together.’ In Scouts, the classic example would be a parent who is a leader, who has a child who also volunteers as a Young Leader or volunteer in the same Group. With this approach, the family probably lives and breathes Scouts – it’s a major part of their lives and identities and it’s probably the thing they love doing most. Most likely there’ll be chats about Scouts around the breakfast table and over dinner.

‘Do alongside’ is the second model – and similar to the first, except that this time family members volunteer for Scouts, but in different ways, and not necessarily at the same time. A mum might be on the Group Executive committee for example, while the Grandad might be a Scout section leader. One or more children might volunteer to help out in other sections.

The third key model is ‘Do for.’ Again, this is something we’d instantly recognise in local Scouting, where a family member volunteers to provide a service to another family member – as well as others, of course. As a practical example, a grandparent might cut the grass at the District campsite – (we have so many little jobs that need doing and not everyone wants a leadership role). You might also find a mum on a parent rota as an Occasional Helper, and her son might be one of the Cubs. Not only is she supporting her son’s section, but she’s starting to feel much more part of the life of the group and part of our family of Scouts. She’s starting to get that great sense of belonging.

Tudor, the dad of a Scout, was invited in to play the guitar to help the young people brush up on their musical skills.  ‘The whole experience was a joy from start to finish,’ he said. ‘Not for one moment did it feel like a chore or something out of my comfort zone – or even, for that matter, was it like ‘volunteering’ in the traditional sense. It got me wondering how many other parents standing out in the rain waiting for their children have a skill to share. Whether it’s sports, cooking or language, when you ask people to do things they love, it’s an easy ask. It isn’t volunteering. It’s just fun.’

Tudor is just one parent who, with the right support, could become a key part of the group. According to our 2019 Scouts Experience Survey, some 39% of our current volunteers got involved because their child takes part in Scouts. That percentage increases for some role types such as trustees and leaders.

‘Bring along’ is something we see less of in Scouts. This describes a scenario where a family member volunteers, and other family members accompany them in more passive roles. For example a parent might bring along a son or daughter to a Scout section or activity that they are not actively part of. By being flexible and accommodating it means we’ll be able welcome more parents who might otherwise feel they cannot join. Let’s think imaginatively about we can welcome people; even making small changes can we mean we’ll attract more volunteers.  In some areas volunteers will often run a crèche facility at events, which means the parents of even very young children can get involved and play their part.

Finally, ‘Do separately’ is the model where family members volunteer for different organisations. A dad might support St John Ambulance for example, while a mum, aunt, grandparent, son or daughter might volunteer for Scouts.

Supporting families better

But why is it important to look at these different models? Because it helps us support volunteers in a much more targeted way. The mistake we sometimes make is taking a ‘one size fits’ all approach, whereas families often support Scouts in different ways, and each approach comes with its own needs and challenges.  We all have a role to play in supporting each other and making it as easy as possible for new volunteers to get involved and help out.

Taking action

So much for words. Now let’s use these insights to take some practical steps to welcome in more volunteers. Please take a look at Deputy UK Chief Commissioner, Kester Sharpe’s excellent blog on how we can to start making a plan to transform our local adult recruitment.

Need more support?

Getting ready to recruit webinar

Support for adult recruitment

A special thank you to Pears Foundation for helping fund this valuable study into family volunteering.

Put your phone down and what are you left with? Just teamwork, courage and the skills to succeed.’
Bear Grylls, Chief Scout Bear Grylls