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117 Ideas for Volunteering With Your Family

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The hand of an adult and the hand of a child hold a felt heart.

Discover 117 ideas for volunteering with your kids or family and learn what science says about why volunteerism is important. Finding ways to serve others as a whole family isn’t easy, and volunteering is one of the first things to get squeezed out of a busy schedule. We hope these volunteer ideas will help you redefine what it means to volunteer and make it part of your family’s routine.

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Updated 7/8/21

This has been a summer of service for my family, and I cannot emphasize the benefits enough. I don’t know what the future holds for us, but I’ll be able to look back on this summer and know that we invested our time well. There’s no better feeling as a mom than to know you did something right.

Not because of the outcome for my kids…I can’t see that yet.

Not because of the accolades they earn…those will come and go.

Not because of a guarantee they’ll do the right thing…sometimes they won’t. 

But because I made the best decision for my family in that moment.

I haven’t always felt that much freedom and confidence as a mom. I’ve grown a lot in those areas in the last year, since Mary and I started SALT effect.

I believe in what we’re doing because I can see the difference in both of our families.

Don’t get me wrong–I still regularly mess up…I lose my temper, completely forget an appointment, don’t call a friend when I should, miss a deadline, give my kids too much screen time, work too many hours on the weekend, second guess a big change, hold a grudge when I shouldn’t…. We’re all a work in progress!

But I always come back to what really matters. 

Why Volunteerism Is Important for Families

Volunteering is one of the most important things you can do as a family. If you want to raise kids who make the world a better place, help them find ways to serve others. It’s also one of the best ways to spend quality time together.

SALT effect began with a focus on service (Serving And Learning Together) and that continues to be a core value.

We know it’s hard to fit service into your schedule–we’ve been there. We know it’s time-consuming to find ways to volunteer with your kids–we’ve been there too.

So we’ve spent the last few years finding ways to overcome those hurdles so we can pass it along to you (read our best suggestions here).

That said, I wish I could shout from the rooftops why volunteerism is important:

There’s no guarantee that everything will be okay. There’s no assurance that our kids will end up being kind, hard-working, high-achieving adults. The only thing that’s certain is what’s in front of us right now–the decisions we make at this moment. 

Our world is a mess. Our nation is angry. Our communities are divided. Our families are disconnected. 

That’s not okay with me. And I don’t want it to be okay with my kids either. The SALT effect–the impact of families who serve and learn together–starts small, but it spreads and grows and multiplies.

I can’t solve the big problems of the world. But I can start in my home and inspire other moms to do the same. 

Why Volunteerism Is Important For Nonprofits

Over 1.3 million nonprofit organizations are registered with the IRS. Not only is their volunteer work incredibly important, it’s expensive and time-consuming.

I love how the National Council of Nonprofits describes these charitable organizations: “They feed, heal, shelter, educate, inspire, enlighten, and nurture people of every age, gender, race, and socioeconomic status, from coast to coast, border to border, and beyond. They foster civic engagement and leadership, drive economic growth, and strengthen the fabric of our communities. Every single day.”

All of those things cost money and time.

Volunteers help run day-to-day operations, serve clients, handle communication, tutor students and adults, provide transportation, promote the organization, serve on the board of directors, help plan and host fundraising events, represent the organization at community events, recruit additional volunteers and more.

It’s easy to see why volunteerism is important to nonprofits!

Simply put, charitable organizations could not exist without volunteers who are willing to sacrifice their time.

A 2019 report from the University of Maryland found that fewer Americans are volunteering and giving than any time in the last two decades. In fact, the national volunteer rate is only 24.9% of Americans.

If we want a better world for our kids, we need to support these nonprofit organizations by taking action ourselves to improve the volunteer rate. Our goal is to be a small part of that by sharing ideas for volunteering you may not have considered.

Why Volunteerism Is Important For Individuals

Did you know that science has a lot to say about why volunteerism is important? When you realize all the benefits of volunteerism, it’s hard to ignore its value in your life and the life of your family.

The scientific benefits for people who serve others are numerous. The list below comes from the Harvard Business Review, the Mayo Clinic, Stanford Social Innovation Review, the Corporation for National and Community Service and Forbes.

Volunteering and serving can:

  • Make you feel like you have more time 
  • Develop leadership skills (sometimes more effectively than academic programs about leadership)
  • Increase self confidence
  • Improve communication skills
  • Help you be a better team member
  • Teach you how to adapt and solve problems
  • Give you a sense of purpose
  • Help you live longer
  • Help you learn new skills
  • Decrease rates of depression and anxiety
  • Increase happiness and make you smile more often
  • Lower your stress levels
  • Help you explore your interests
  • Introduce you to different cultures
  • Introduce you to people with different backgrounds and beliefs
  • Build job-related experience and make you more marketable
  • Build empathy
  • Reduce isolation and loneliness
  • Strengthen social bonds
  • Help you meet others and develop new relationships
  • Help you feel healthier and stronger

I don’t know about you, but if the benefits of volunteerism for my kids include things on that list, volunteering moves to the top of my priorities. Volunteering and serving often get squeezed out when we have so many other obligations and responsibilities, but they should rival the importance of homework and practices.

Infographic titled Scientific Benefits of Volunteerism that lists physical, mental and social benefits of volunteering. Includes icons and lists of benefits along with source information
The scientific benefits of volunteerism can lead to improved physical, mental and social lives.

Teaching My Kids Why Volunteerism Is Important

I try to be intentional about finding ways to serve others with my boys, but I definitely rely on other people to help me. Volunteerism can become a generational activity in your family if you get more people involved.

After we got home from a service trip to Mexico (everyone in my family wrote about the impact of our trip), my tween and teen boys were off to the 5th annual PB&J Camp. This is one of the best weeks of the year for my two boys and my brother’s three kids.

Five tween and teen kids standing on steps with three senior adults. All are wearing matching orange tshirts with the PB&J Camp logo.
The PB&J Camp crew in their matching tees! The theme for that year was service My mom and my aunt had so many great ideas for volunteering!

What Is PB&J Camp?

My mom (Penny), aunt (Bonnie) and uncle (Jim) host this week-long camp at their house in Hershey. Their names are why it’s called PB&J.

My mom is a retired teacher and my aunt is a retired corporate liaison and event planner. Both were amazing in their careers. So when you put them together to plan something for grandkids, you can only imagine how they take it and run.

They have a logo and a magnetic sign for the car. Each year has a theme and a color for their matching t-shirts. They have daily agendas and a camp theme song.

what happens at PB&J Camp?

Registration packets are mailed to each individual kid a few months ahead of time, and must be promptly returned. Everything–and I mean absolutely everything–is top secret until the first day of camp.

The kids are assigned to “cabins” and bathrooms in the house and they get an individual color for towels and water bottles (so much easier to keep track of everything). An adult does a cabin check in the morning and the kids have specific jobs that rotate every day.

A girl in a pink t-shirt and glasses folds laundry next to a dryer and a rack of hanging orange tshirts.
Ideas for volunteering can include kids helping out when they’re away from home. When our kids go to PB&J Camp, they help with laundry, cooking, setting and clearing the table, packing lunches and keeping things clean in their rooms.

Absolutely no phones or electronics, no bad attitudes and no parents for the week.

Every activity is somehow related to the theme–even if they have to stretch it a bit. Themes for previous years have included Totes for Travel, the Olympics, Cooking and Transportation.

We keep telling them they need to find a way to make some money on this. My friends would send their kids to PB&J Camp in a heartbeat.

ideas for volunteering from PB&J Camp

I didn’t know this particular year’s theme until we dropped off the kids with my mom and aunt. It’s top secret! I was SO excited when I found out the theme was SERVICE.

I share all of this for 3 reasons: 

  1. To tell you about these amazing women who give an incredible gift to my boys and their cousins. 
  2. To remind you that there’s a lot of good in the world, and nothing is ever hopeless. This camp wouldn’t have been possible 6 years ago, before my parents’ divorce. It would have been unfathomable 30 years ago. My mom and her sister were estranged for 20 years. And I’m talking seriously estranged—wounds that ran deep and wide. But their faith and willingness to forgive brought freedom for all of us and our kids get to benefit.
  3. And finally, because I love how they organized the week. They created an acrostic for the word SERVE and covered one letter each day: Share, Encourage, Respond, Volunteer, Enrich.

It’s a really helpful and easy way to think about volunteering differently and to realize how often we make it harder than it needs to be. 

117 Ideas for Volunteering With Your Family

Our list of volunteer ideas includes some familiar suggestions, but you’ll find new and unique volunteer opportunities that you can do on your own or for a nonprofit organization.

You may find some ideas that you and your kids are already doing. Call those things out as service. Help your younger kids recognize those ways to serve others and why they matter. Have conversations about it with your older kids. Talk about how it makes other people’s lives better and how it benefits your kids. 

(We know the value of starting at an early age, so most of the ideas will work with kids of any age. Some suggestions are best for older kids like tweens or teens.)

Infographic titled "What It Means To SERVE." Each letter of SERVE is defined: share, encourage, respond, volunteer, enrich. Each definition includes different ways to serve others.
We love this infographic as a reminder that organized volunteering is only one of many ways to serve others.

Share: 39 Simple Ideas for Volunteering

Be willing to give others what you have, including your time, especially if you have excess. Sharing may not be what immediately comes to mind when you think about volunteering, but it’s one of the best ways to serve others. And it’s a great habit to build in your kids.

1. Shop using Amazon Smile. This program donates .5% of eligible purchases to your favorite charity. There are no fees and no extra cost to you.

2. Sign up for any reward programs that give back to nonprofits. Check out this list of companies who allow you to donate your loyalty rewards.

3. Donate clothes.

  1. Volunteers of America will pick up your donations
  2. Vietnam Veterans of America may pick up your donations
  3. Goodwill
  4. Salvation Army may pick up your donations
  5. Dress for Success They help women achieve economic independence by providing professional attire, support and development tools.
  6. Career Gear: They promote economic independence for low-income men by providing professional attire, financial literacy training and job-readiness training.
  7. A local clothes closet (Find one near you)

11. Donate toys that are clean and in good shape. Call ahead to make sure your donation will be accepted.

  1. Goodwill
  2. Salvation Army may pick up your donations
  3. A homeless shelter (Find a local shelter near you)
  4. Preschools
  5. Churches 
  6. Stuffed Animals For Emergencies: They give clean stuffed animals and other toys to young children in traumatic or emotional situations.

18. Donate books that are unmarked and intact.

  1. Volunteers of America will pick up donations
  2. Half-Price Books
  3. Libraries: Contact your local library and ask to be connected to their Friends of the Library group
  4. Reach Out and Read: They incorporate books into pediatric care, so these books would go to children’s hospitals and doctor’s offices.
  5. A Little Free Library near you
  6. Books for Africa: They believe education is the great equalizer, and books are the foundation of a strong educational system.

25. Donate household goods (appliances, furniture, surplus building materials, etc.)

  1. Habitat for Humanity ReStores
  2. Goodwill
  3. Salvation Army may pick up your donations
  4. Volunteers of America will pick up donations
  5. National Kidney Services will pick up donations in Ohio and North Carolina

31. Donate towels and blankets to local animal shelters.

32. Donate eyeglasses to Eye Make a Difference, one of the volunteer programs through Lions Club International and VSP Global.

33. Donate food to a local food pantry. Decorate or write notes on the lids of the food to encourage those who receive it. (Find a food pantry near you)

34. Donate bikes to Bikes for All People in Columbus, Ohio. They refurbish and sell the bikes at an affordable rate to people who rely on them for all transportation. They also give free bikes and helmets to kids.

35. Donate your vehicle.

  1. Volunteers of America 
  2. Vietnam Veterans of America
  3. Habitat for Humanity
  4. National Kidney Foundation (One donated vehicle provides three people with free screenings for kidney disease)
Give kids and one adult sorting and labeling shoe boxes at a shoe closet.
The kids had a budget to buy new pairs of shoes to donate. Then they helped organize and label boxes at a local shoe closet.

Encourage: 24 Unexpected Ideas For Volunteering

Be generous with positive and encouraging words when people least expect it. Do random acts of kindness for others. Make a point to talk to your kids about how much this means to other people so they understand why volunteerism is important in this way.

40. Follow a local nonprofit organization on their social media accounts. Like, comment on and share their posts. It’s a great way to raise awareness.

41. Order a book on the Amazon Wish List of the Prison Book Program: They send free books to prisoners to provide educational and spiritual development.

42. Pay for the next person in line at a coffee shop or fast food restaurant.

43. Send a sympathy card to someone who has lost a loved one or a pet. Even better–send another one a few months later when the flood of cards has stopped.

44. Compliment someone else who wouldn’t expect it. If you see a teen being especially helpful, make a point to tell them. If a cashier is friendly or really patient, let them know you noticed.

45. Do a chore that a sibling hates or that would really help a parent.

46. Surprise someone with flowers, candy or coffee.

47. Order a few prints of pictures on your phone and send them to grandparents.

48. Leave a larger tip for your server, stylist, pizza delivery person, grocery shopper, hotel workers.

49. Pull in the trash can for your elderly neighbors.

50. Give hot chocolate, coffee, water or Gatorade to school crossing guards.

51. Leave snacks and a note for mail carriers and delivery people during the holidays.

52. Write a note and mail it to someone who needs a pick-me-up. I always keep these flat notecards on hand so I can send a quick note.

53. Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk or driveway.

54. Keep index cards on your kitchen table and write compliments on them for your family members. Be specific and notice the good things they do.

55. Write a review or testimonial online for a restaurant or business you love.

56. Follow, like, comment and share posts from a social enterprise or small business (take it from us, this is a big deal and a HUGE encouragement).

57. Start a family gratitude journal or make a gratitude wall.

58. Check in on friends or family members (including their kids) going through a divorce, death, job loss or other difficulty. You might not know what to say and that’s okay–they just need to know you’re thinking about them.

59. Bake cookies and take them to a fire station. Schedule a tour to learn more about how they serve the community.

60. Sit with the new kid or invite the new employee to lunch.

61. Tell a parent something you notice about their kids that has nothing to do with intelligence or ability and everything to do with character.

62. Let someone go ahead of you in line at the store. 

63. Nominate an elder to receive letters from Love For Our Elders. Maybe you know a senior who is lonely or someone in a nursing home who is celebrating a birthday. Volunteers for Love For Our Elders write letters because they believe everyone deserves a full mailbox!

A basket full of small bags of candy with notes that say "thank you for serving others."
More great ideas for volunteering! The kids put together these small bags and handed them out after they volunteered at places like the fire station, summer camp, shoe closet, church and nursing home.

Respond: 12 Thoughtful Ideas For Volunteering

When you notice a need, find a way to meet it. And notice more often. It’s so easy to get caught up in the pace of our life and forget to pay attention to what’s happening outside of our bubble. Teaching our kids to stop and notice, and then respond, is a powerful lesson.

64. Choose one of our Top 10 Ways to Help Children at the Border

65. Take a meal to a new mom or grieving family. If you don’t like to cook, order takeout from their favorite restaurant and deliver it yourself.

66. If a neighbor or friend is heading out of town, offer to water their plants, get their mail, take care of their pets or house sit.

67. Find a classroom in need and help them afford supplies through DonorsChoose.org.

68. Donate to a reputable organization after a natural disaster. Use CharityNavigator.org to find a nonprofit you can trust. Donating money is the most helpful thing you can do after a disaster.

69. Offer to babysit for a few hours so exhausted parents can get a break and reconnect with each other.

70. Send a care package to a homesick college student. My college students are never without caffeine and they love Starbucks, so this coffee gift basket is perfect.

71. Find the perfect book to help or encourage a friend. Order the book from Amazon and have it delivered. If you know they’d like a devotional, Jesus Always is my go-to pick.

72. Become an organ donor.

73. Collect pop tabs to help raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities.

74. Clean up litter in your neighborhood or local park. 

75. Keep a stash of blessing bags in your car or backpack so you can respond to kindness or acknowledge someone with something tangible. Put whatever you like in the bags and be sure to include some kind of note.

Two young teenage boys and a senior man in matching orange tshirts are picking up litter in a grassy area behind a guard railing.
One of our ideas for volunteering is to pick up litter. My son talked for days about all the things he found.

Volunteer: 18 Ideas For Volunteering With Nonprofits

Participate in organized volunteer or community service projects. Invite others to join you. These volunteer opportunities help support the hard work of specific nonprofit organizations. We found a variety of causes and ways to serve others, plus we included some of our favorites!

76. Sign up with VolunteerMatch to find local organizations that match up with your interests and family members’ ages. I often get notifications about opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about.

77. Hold a book drive for Reader to Reader: They bring free books to the nation’s poorest communities and under-resourced libraries.

78. Volunteer to read a public domain book for a collection of free audiobooks on LibriVox.

79. Gather some friends or coordinate with a club advisor to write letters to lonely senior citizens through Love for the Elderly, a nonprofit started by a 13-year-old boy in Cleveland, Ohio.

80. Sign up to deliver food to seniors and older adults through Meals on Wheels.

81. Participate in a walk or run for a good cause that matters to your family. RunGuides is a great resource for finding running events in your city or state across the US.

  1. Here are 10 options around the country for cancer, clean water, adoption, veterans, Parkinson’s, juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injuries
  2. Join the Out of the Darkness overnight walk through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
  3. Walk to End Alzheimer’s through the Alzheimer’s Association.

85. Sign up for virtual activity that benefits a nonprofit organization. Find lots of race options for virtual volunteers at Virtual Run Events. Get a bib when you sign up and a medal when you complete the race!

86. Participate in the Carry a Bead program through Beads of Courage to support a child with a serious or life-threatening illness. We did this program with our families and it was a great learning experience for our kids.

87. Volunteer at a community garden (find one near you).

88. Organize or distribute food at a local food bank. Even better, host a canned food drive and donate it to the food bank.

89. Find a local nonprofit and offer to help with cleaning and/or organization. Our kids teamed up with my great aunt and great uncle to help clean cabins at a summer church camp.

90. The YMCA welcomes volunteers of diverse abilities, so there are lots of options here.

91. Attend an Honor Flight celebration and welcome veterans home at a local airport. This is one of the most powerful volunteer activities we’ve done as a family. Our kids held up homemade signs and American flags as we cheered to welcome home WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.

92. Pack a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child.

93. Choose an idea from our Top 10 Community Service Ideas for Tweens and Teens.

Two families (four adults and five tweens) are dressed in red, white and blue. They hold patriotic signs and flags in an airport.
Mary’s family (on the left) and my family welcomed home veterans after they flew to Washington, D.C. for the day to visit their war memorials. It was a surprisingly emotional experience for all of us. This Honor Flight event is one of our favorite ideas for volunteering with your family because it’s unique and works with kids of any age. Honor Flight has hubs all over the US and events throughout the year.

Enrich: 24 Long-Term Ideas For Volunteering

Make a long-term or larger commitment to a person, cause or organization. Focus on relationships. When something is especially important to us, it’s a perfect opportunity to invest more of our time, energy and/or money into making a positive difference.

94. Start your own Little Free Library 

95. If you sing or play an instrument, contact a nursing home or local hospitals to find out how you can use your talent on a regular basis to bring some joy to patients.

96. Plant a garden and share extra produce with a church or local food bank (contact them first).

97. Foster an animal through a local animal shelter or rescue organization.

98. If you love photography, offer to take pictures at local nonprofit events.

99. Organize an Angel Tree Christmas at your church or organization for the children of prisoners in your area.

100. Interview a grandparent or other senior citizen. Record the interview, transcribe it and then share with family members.

101. Commit to buying birthday and holiday gifts that support charities. We love give back brands and we curated a shoppable list of gifts that give back for everyone on your list. Everything on the list is less than $50.

102. Become a foster family (find your state’s organization here).

103. Team up with another family and use your talents to bring joy to a nursing home or assisted living facility. This is an annual part of PB&J Camp and the residents look forward to it every year! The talents don’t need to be limited to music. My boys have dribbled basketballs and soccer balls, performed simple magic tricks, told jokes and shared building projects.

104. Organize or join a team for a national or international mission trip (check with local churches for opportunities). My family and I wrote about our experience on a service team in Mexico. It stretched us in a lot of ways and led to insightful conversations with our boys.

105. Become a lasagna chef with Lasagna Love, a nonprofit that started during the pandemic. Sign up to do homemade meal delivery for families in your area. Cook as often as you wish–a few times a week or once a month.

106. Measure precipitation in your area or backyard to help the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network maintain accurate weather data. Become part of a nationwide network that provides important information to The National Weather Service, city utilities, the USDA, engineers, ranchers and farmers, teachers and more.

107. Open up your home (it doesn’t have to be perfect to be used!).

  1. Invite friends or new acquaintances for dinner.
  2. Host a family game night, Bible study or book club.
  3. Offer an overnight stay as a quick and inexpensive getaway for friends or relatives.
  4. Be the place where friends (adults and kids) can go to relax and recharge.
  5. Invite a local college student (or a few) for a home-cooked meal.
  6. Host a regular get-together for your kids’ friends. Mary does a pancake breakfast for a group of tween boys before school on Fridays. Yep–those boys get up early to eat and hang out together.
  7. Host a shoe party to benefit Sole Hope. This nonprofit combats diseases that enter through the feet to create positive physical and psychological difference for people in impoverished communities in Uganda.
  8. Host a rock painting party through The Kindness Rocks Project
  9. Host a no-sew fleece blanket making party through My Very Own Blanket for kids in foster care (located in Westerville, Ohio but you can ship finished fleece blankets).
Five tweens and teens plus two senior women are dressed in matching orange tshirts. They are using instruments as part of their volunteer talent show at a nursing home.
My mom and aunt managed to get these kids to perform with boomwhackers (yep, that’s what they’re called) during their annual talent show at a nursing home. Boomwhackers are tuned plastic percussion tubes and our kids loved playing them!

117. Train a therapy dog. Below is a brief interview with Micah, a teenager whose family is training a therapy dog named Blue. The PB&J Camp kids met Blue and interviewed Micah about how they are serving others.

What are you training Blue to do?

We are training Blue to be a therapy dog, which means he gives comfort, affection and love to people in need. So instead of a service dog that helps mostly with physical disabilities, therapy dogs aid people emotionally. My family owns Blue, but we take him places like the Ronald McDonald house or retirement homes to help give comfort, affection and love to those people. 

What made you interested in doing this?

I have had some health problems with my knee so I’ve spent time in hospitals and physical therapy sessions. When my family and I got our first dog he showed me what unconditional love he had and could bring to anyone he was around. He brought happiness into my life and taught me how to love. I wanted to extend all the love he gave to me and taught me so that others could feel that joy too. 

How has it helped you to serve others?

This volunteer experience has taught me that there is no end to the help that I can give. That there is always more love to be given. And finally that you should take advantage of what God gives you in life. You never know what doors open into so many more opportunities until you trust God to open those doors. 

How could families learn more?

You can search for national dog therapy organizations in your area. You could support therapy dog services and ask if your school has a therapy dog and if not, consider talking to the administration about getting one for the students in need. (Note from Kristie: You can find more information from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and the American Kennel Club.)

Seven tweens and teens plus one senior woman sitting on the floor of a church with a Bernese mountain dog therapy dog.
The PB&J Camp kids met Blue and interviewed Micah about training therapy dogs as a way to serve others.

READ MORE >>> Top 10 Community Service Ideas for Tweens and Teens
Gifts Under $50 That Give Back For Everyone On Your List

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2 Comments

  1. Cheryll P says:

    You guys, this list was super mega-sized, but it shows just how much volunteering matters! Thank you for some new ideas and that great SERVE info graphic!!

  2. Lauren Pratt says:

    I am always looking for ways to give back that I can involve my kids in. There are some very simple ideas in here to help get me started. Thank you!

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