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VOLUNTEER VACUUM Moms lack time for charitable work


Another Mother's Day has arrived and gone. For non-profits, that passing symbolizes their plight with volunteers.

Once the mainstay of voluntarism, mothers have returned to the work force. That single social phenomenon has produced one of the biggest headaches for non-profit organizations.

After working all day or, increasingly, all evening, mothers nowadays return to housework (even today women do the majority of house chores): carting the kids to Boy and Girl Scout meetings, music lessons and Little League, and attending self-improvement or career advancement courses. Given this schedule, there simply aren't enough hours in a week to give to charitable work.

Many mothers are distressed over this turn of events. In recent interviews with mothers, I found that feelings of guilt over neglected community responsibilities were just a few questions from the surface.

The guilt stretches beyond their own feelings regarding community service. They also feel that they are not serving as proper role models for children. Despite what many of us may believe, mothers are still the central source of the community service ethic for our children.

Of course, there are working mothers who still manage to serve as Scout leaders. Others refuse to give up volunteer time, somehow finding ways to carve out a few hours each week for their favorite charity or cause.

But, ask any director of a non-profit today and you will hear complaints over the crisis-level lack of volunteers.

That impasse is providing non-profits with serious challenges, and they must respond with innovative programs.

One way non-profits are succeeding in bringing back volunteer mothers is through family-event voluntarism. In this type of event, tasks are designed for an entire family: parents, teen-agers and young child. Accommodations often are made for on-site infant care. The event itself is broken into manageable time segments, allowing volunteers to attend a morning session, for example, and still make an afternoon Little League game.

These events might be more difficult to plan and implement initially. But they tend to draw mothers to the organization, and may even develop a family of volunteers.

I recently participated in an all-day community event in Washington. The focus of the event was an elementary school in an economically depressed area known for drug activity. Tasks included picking up trash, painting murals, building bookcases and bulletin boards, planting flowers and a host of other activities.

I was struck by the number of single mothers who participated in the event alongside their children. It was, an uplifting sight and a sad reflection on the state of positive male role models for these young boys and girls.

And I asked myself what would bring out more than 300 community members to sweat, get dirty and discover muscles they never knew they had.

The answer partly lay in the way the event was structured, a lesson for many non-profits plagued by a lack of volunteers.

There were tasks that enabled older youngsters to work with a parent. Others gave children an opportunity to work as a team with peers, under the supervision of an adult. Still others required adults to work together.

By the end of the day, a group of mothers decided to meet monthly to plan events.

American demographics still are changing rapidly. As the old methods of recruiting and using volunteers become ineffective, non-profits must develop similar programs to attract volunteers -- especially working mothers.

Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.

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