Are you frustrated in your attempts to attract young volunteers? A common concern among not-for-profits is the “aging out” of their volunteer workforce. Baby Boomers and the generations prior to them are dropping out of the volunteer workforce in ever-increasing numbers due to health and mobility issues. Many social impact organizations are now looking to youth to fill the gap but are finding difficulty in attracting and retaining them. If this sounds like you, I have some tips.
Before we get into them, though, it’s worth thinking about what the younger demographics (18 – 24 years) can bring to your organization. To start with, they bring energy and passion. This group has a multitude of calls on their time, from school to friends to online entertainment. If they choose to volunteer with you, it’s because they really care about what you’re doing. Leverage that! Obviously, they will bring a host of new ideas. They see the world differently from your older volunteers, which means they can come up with innovative solutions to the issues that you face. In many cases, youth can be more open-minded. They have grown up exposed to more diversity than earlier generations and thus can be more accepting and inclusive of differences.
You can also make a difference to them, and to your community; this article from Galaxy Digital explains how.
So, what can you offer in exchange that will bring that energy and attitude into your organization?
Tip One – Flexibility
Find ways to bring flexibility into your volunteer roles. Can times be changed? Can roles become virtual or hybrid? How can tasks be done differently but still effectively? By allowing your volunteer to have some autonomy in how they do their assigned role, you give them a sense of ownership and pride in what they do.
Tip Two – Social Opportunities
Everyone needs to be part of a group, but this is especially important for youth. Provide opportunities to complete their tasks in pairs or as part of a group. The old adage “Many hands make light work” is particularly relevant here, as young volunteers can grow their social networks and make new friends while learning new skills.
Tip Three – Incentives
There are several incentives that you can offer youth that don’t involve paying them. The opportunity to gain hands-on experience in certain skills can be huge to someone just getting started in their careers. Many youth need volunteer hours to gain credit for school; help them with forms and tracking. If you can, give them opportunities to go to events or meet well-known people in the course of their volunteer duties.
Tip Four – Mission-Focused
One of the most important ways to attract young volunteers is to ensure that the roles you are filling are mission-focused. As mentioned earlier, when a youth volunteers with you it’s because they care deeply about what you’re doing. Make sure that they can clearly see how the tasks that you have them doing are moving the mission forward. Make them completely aware of the difference they’re making.
Tip Five – Growth Opportunities
Most youth are ambitious. They have big plans for their lives and they’re looking for ways to further them. Providing training opportunities, job references and networking opportunities that will help them succeed in the future is a great way to attract young volunteers. Also, give them a chance to advance within your organization; whether that be leading a team they had previously served on, or offering them a place on the Board of Directors if they seem capable.
There are a few other things to keep in mind. Recognition and appreciation are just as important with young volunteers as they are with older ones. Be diligent in avoiding age discrimination; don’t assign youth low level positions just because of their age. Provide mentors; a new environment and tasks can feel isolating and intimidating.
One last thing – and it’s only partially tongue-in-cheek – if you feed them, they will come!