Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Should Parents Pay Their Children to Volunteer?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 27, 2010

    The economy is really tough for some folks; particularly for young folks without a college education. Anna, twenty, lives at home, cannot find a job, and is so bored she is “driving everyone nuts,” her father tells me. “She needs to get a job,” he says, as if saying it emphatically is going to make it happen. “What if she gets a volunteer job?” I ask, thinking that this economy lends itself to charity work. “I will pay her to do that,” he replies instantly. I pause. Volunteering promotes mental health. People feel good when they give of themselves. I wonder if the equation changes if the parent pays. It is an interesting idea. I hope Anna follows through.

11 Responses to “Should Parents Pay Their Children to Volunteer?”

  1. kristin said

    Unfortunately, in this economy, competition for volunteer positions is very fierce, even among kids with college and graduate school degrees. This is especially true for internship+type positions that offer substantive experience.It is so hard out there right now. .

    • Yes, but it is a mixed message to pay your kids to volunteer, or is it a good push into the work force?

      • A reader said

        I think it is a personal choice, but I don’t like the idea of the father “paying” the daughter for her volunteer job. It is artificial. The parents might agree to subsidize the daughter’s living expenses while she works in a volunteer job so that she can gain valuable work experience and be a productive member of society until she gets a paying job, but that is different from the artifice of “paying” the daughter for work she is doing for someone else. The daughter needs to understand that her reward for a job well done for the non-profit organization (beyond the intrinsic value of helping others) is the experience that she will gain, the potential references that she will get from her employer, and the contacts she will make. To get these rewards, she will have to work hard, show up on time, and be valuable to the organization she is volunteering for. She needs to understand, in short, that she will get no financial rewards from the job unless she makes a good impression on the people she is working for.

        Having her father pay her for the volunteer work would seemingly interfere with those incentives, at least in my mind. If her father were to pay her, the payment would be totally unrelated to the job she is doing. To me, that could lead to a sense of entitlement that is unjustified. She needs to understand that she is in debt to her parents who are subsidizing her, and that she needs to gain the rewards of the volunteer job so that she can eventually get a paying job so that she is no longer reliant on her parents’ subsidy.

        Rather than “paying” the daughter for her volunteer work, perhaps the parents could use that money to pay for a career coach to help the daughter strategize about the volunteer opportunities that would be most likely to further her long term career goals (and/or to help her to figure out her long term goals).

        Personally, if I were a director at a non-profit who was seeking to hire someone for a non-paying job, I would be reluctant to hire a kid who was being “paid” by her parents to work for me. By contrast, I would be delighted to hire someone who wanted to work for me in order to gain experience that might eventually lead to paying job. Whether or not the worker’s motive was purely altruistic would be less of a concern for me, frankly. Do you disagree? Do you think that any economic motive taints the charitable nature of the work?

        • Shirah Vollmer said

          I think all motives are “tainted” and as such, the question is about the least “tainted”. Although the expression is overused, I want to say “it’s complicated”.

  2. Suzi said

    I don’t know. I wonder if the family culture works that way? I don’t really mind either way.

    Perhaps Anna may end up finding enjoyment in helping others? Perhaps not.

    Really? I don’t know.

    • Yes, but should there be a dual incentive of helping folks and getting paid by their parents? To me, it is endlessly fascinating to answer that question.

      • Suzi said

        But Shirah, there is reward in helping people too. That’s what I mean… if Anna is actually seeking pay-for-work and her parents are able to pay her as an incentive to work (regardless of where or what) then… isn’t that just the same as people who ‘pay’ their children pocket money?

        If that’s the culture of the family (or social environment) then it makes sense to pay Anna to volunteer-work. If not, then I wonder why Anna’s father agreed to such a thing.

        I can’t see what is wrong with it. Family behaviour, the reasons why and the un-reason-able (stuff that doesn’t seem to have any reason) is something that I just don’t ‘get’. My question is… sometimes, perhaps I don’t need to?

        Tony is always banging on about our Australian social environment that creates a ‘nanny state’ kind of country (mentality). It’s true. I see his point. If this story were here in Australia then the parent wouldn’t have to pay the child… our government will. I sometimes wish money didn’t exist. It’s so often used as a dangerous crutch, so often used then to bribe and control.

        Ohh off on a rant again. Really none of my business and yet have a huge opininon about it. Sheesh!


  3. Shelly said

    Forgive my ignorance, but since I live outside the US, what does the economy have to do with volunteering? Why are all the volunteer spots taken? I would think that people would be out seeking paying jobs, not unpaid internships or volunteer roles.

    • The economy has made it very hard for young people to find jobs, so if they want to build a resume, volunteering is sometimes there only option. The volunteer spots are not all taken, it is just that people have different attitudes towards volunteering. People are seeking paying jobs, but the question is whether it makes sense, if parents have the means, to support a young adult’s dedication to a volunteer activity with a financial reward.

  4. […] Should Parents Pay Their Children to Volunteer? […]

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