Last week, I watched my 12th-grade son manage a pretty large initiative to feed 5000 under-privileged kids a special meal. He got a quick-service-restaurant on board to provide the meals with a great discount, he raised the money for the effort, all fairly easily. But where he really seemed to have trouble was to get enough other kids to work with him on the effort. He pulled it off, but since then I did some research and reading on engaging young volunteers. And it looks like there are some answers for him and for others looking to engage with young volunteers.
- Appeal to the social leader. Young people enjoy participating in volunteer activities with their friends. According to the Dosomething.org Index on Young People and Volunteering, an astounding 75.9% of those whose friends volunteer on a regular basis, also volunteer. If key influencers are convinced about your cause, they automatically bring in other friends in. Allow this peer-camaraderie to develop naturally.
- Appeal on their terms. Young people are born tech-savvy. While they are on their phones all the time, very few young people actually make calls or check their emails on their phones. They also intuitively do their own stuff on mobile apps all the time. So you definitely need to let young people set their volunteering schedules and preferences on their own through a mobile app. Give them ways to share status updates and pictures on their favorite social media. Not only does this bring more awareness of your cause, you will definitely have more young volunteers from their social circles.
- Involve them in the issues that they care about. From that same Dosomething.org Index, the top 3 issues that teens care about are Animal Welfare, Hunger and Homelessness. While the percentages for each of these vary across regions, overall these are main issues. If your volunteer opportunities are in these areas, you’ll definitely see a lot of interest from younger volunteers.
- Use young people as fundraisers. Overall, fundraising is the top way that most young people volunteer. 38.5% of young people who volunteer have fundraised for charities. Can you think of anything more potent than a passionate teen asking an adult for a donation for a good cause? Believe me, it’ll work much better than that cold call or the flyer that you were thinking of. Young people can be the best ambassadors of your cause.
- Lighten up the rules. Young people work differently. Bend your rules slightly to deal with the way that they work. They may come in late, leave early and seem remote. Give them work that they could thrive at. They’re naturally tech savvy. So anything to do with tech, music, sports, working with younger kids, they’ll love. Young people complain that they get jobs that no one else wants to do. Give your young volunteers jobs that give them responsibility and a sense of achievement. Give them things that they can do as a group and you’ll never be short of helping hands.
- Find different incentives. The single largest concern for most young people is college. If possible, offer them volunteer opportunities that help with college admissions. If you want to give them incentives, make that something that works for admissions too. T-shirts (though always welcome) may not be the best incentive. Find out what the latest little gadget that kids seem to be hankering for. See if you can make that the gift for your volunteers.
By better understanding how to engage and retain young volunteers, you are laying the foundation for the next generation of your long-term volunteers.