How Nonprofit Leaders Can Encourage Young People to Volunteer

Volunteerism is one of the best ways you can give back to your community and contribute to a cause you believe in.  It’s also an excellent way to engrain values and instill the virtue of responsibility within our young people.  

While it’s true that one out of every four Americans volunteer, only 22.6% of volunteers in the US are under the age of twenty-four. In light of this sobering statistic, here are a few observations about what nonprofit leaders can do to recruit young volunteers with a goal to strengthen community and integrity in young people and their communities.

Why Are Fewer Youths Volunteering in America Today?

It’s no secret that one of the challenges nonprofits are constantly faced with is keeping quality volunteers. However, recruiting young volunteers and keeping them is increasingly more difficult too.  Some of the reasons for this are obvious.  For instance, more and more, young people are endlessly consumed with other activities such as school studies, socializing, or engaging in recreational pastimes.  

Interestingly, even though volunteerism among the youth has drastically declined over the last 15 years it isn’t an indication that our youth are unsympathetic to charitable causes.  In fact, surveys conducted after tragedies such as school shootings, natural disasters, or even the recent outbreak of war in Ukraine revealed that 80% of young people today are deeply compelled to give their time to help their fellow humans or community in the face of such devastation and loss. 

How Can You Get Youth Involved With Volunteerism?

So if there is no lack of empathy or desire, what’s the missing link? While every person is different, there are solid practices you can put into play as a nonprofit leader that can engage and compel young people to volunteer. Here are a few suggestions to make volunteering for your church or nonprofit more attractive to young people.

Keep Them Organized

One of the worst mistakes you can make as a church or nonprofit leader is to incorrectly assume that a young person’s time is any less valuable than your own.  Just because young people might not have the obligations older members of the community may have, that doesn’t make their time any less important.  Therefore, when you present duties, projects, and schedules to young volunteers, make sure you stick to it and keep everything organized.

For example, if you have a church fellowship event scheduled, organize everything prior to having your volunteers show up.  Make sure your volunteers have all the resources they need in order to successfully accomplish their tasks.  You should also ensure you scheduled the right volunteer for the right time slot with the correct duties. 

Many nonprofit and church leaders opt to use software for managing church volunteers in order to keep all these details straight and organized.  This is an effective way to avoid idle time which leads to boredom. Consequently, bad scheduling or ineffective organization can lead to disinterest which can result in fewer young volunteers returning to help for the next function.

Recognize Their Efforts

Everybody likes to be acknowledged for a job well done, and it’s important to let people know when they help.  However, young people can be particularly responsive to positive reinforcement.  Take the time and go out of your way to praise your young volunteers.  Give them examples of how their efforts contribute to a better church, community or a greater purpose. 

Doing this can prompt young people to spread the word about your organization. In turn, this could potentially increase the number of younger volunteers in your ranks. Furthermore, reaffirming when a job well done is executed will help you retain the young ones in your group.

Incentivize Where You Can

The very nature of nonprofits might make the prospect of incentivizing volunteers seem counterintuitive.  After all, every cent earned is ideally put back into your church, community, or organization. However, giving young volunteers incentives to keep helping and contributing doesn’t have to cost money.

Consider citing your young volunteers in your church bulletin or in your local newspaper where you describe their impressive efforts to help the community.  You might even arrange an announcement through your local radio station that heralds volunteer efforts put for by your youth group. 

Additionally, you might approach various local businesses and inquire if they might pitch in for a pizza party or provide a shopping discount in order to reward your volunteers for their admirable contributions in the community. A little bit of networking or unconventional thinking can lead to a lot of ideas that will help you motivate your young volunteers to keep up the good work.

If you need to provide money, make sure that it fits the remit of your funding, particularly if you receive money from government sources. Use nonprofit fund accounting to double-check that you’re within the rules. You can sometimes use payments as incentives in non-profit businesses, but there are almost always restrictions. Most donors won’t write a blank check without applying restrictions. 

A Note About Rewarding Young Volunteers

Should our young people be rewarded for volunteering?  No, not necessarily.  Ultimately, volunteering should reflect the sentiment of St. Basil, who once said, “A good deed done is never lost. He who sows courtesy reaps friendship. He who plants kindness gathers love.” 

However, young people, by their inexperience alone, might not be familiar with this noble concept.  Therefore, as you lead by example and continue to nurture young people to volunteer, acknowledging and incentivizing them in the beginning can be an effective strategy. 

When you take steps to encourage youth in the community to keep showing up for volunteer work, you gain more opportunities to show them all the benefits of volunteerism so they will be inspired to carry on the good work for many years into the future.

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