I’ve worked with the same nonprofit for over 10 years now… and I’m currently 24.
Hi. My name is Roxi Morris and I was a teenage volunteer.
All jokes aside, teenagers are not like normal volunteers. They are energetic but unfocused, enthusiastic yet irresponsible. Some of them don’t even have their driver’s licence yet.
Many nonprofits that I speak with just simply avoid them all together.
Yet, they might be the most underutilized volunteer group out there. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 26.4% of teenagers volunteered in 2015. They make up a huge force, and if you can get them focused and engaged, they can be a major influence within your organization.
But how do you do that? There are a few tricks I have seen work in bringing this group into the fold.
1. Give them their own projects.
Teen volunteers may not enjoy being grouped together with the rest of the team. They have friends that they want to hang out with too. So use that to your advantage and give them their own project to work on. Make it small and realistic, but give them the responsibility for it. For example, you could have them be in charge of a water station during a 5k or have them sell pop-up concessions at a local festival. You can even ask them for their ideas and let them take charge once it has been approved.
2. Pair them up with an older volunteer.
Give them someone that can mentor them, guide them and show them the ropes. This could either be an adult or an older, long term teen volunteer. The point is to give them someone other than the volunteer coordinator or executive director to connect to. Then they don’t have to feel like they are reaching out to the highest authority every time they have a question.
3. Provide Advancement.
It doesn’t need to be official titles or roles, but give them a chance to graduate up into more important roles within the organization. For example, if they do well running a snow cone stand at a local festival, maybe give them a chance to be part of a larger stand or even running their own. It gives them a goal to work towards and a clear path to get there.
4. Listen to all that they say.
Teenagers are very vocal about their thoughts and sometimes they are good. Other times they have really terrible ideas. Always listen to them and give constructive feedback. That doesn’t mean that you have to implement any of them, but by listening and providing a response, you engage them in the mission and make them feel like they are valued. Plus, when you encourage them to keep thinking about what could be done better, they can come up with very creative ideas. Our teenagers now make special snacks that they sell to patrons, and they are a hit.
5. Give them time to hang out outside of volunteering.
Volunteering is not meant to be a place to hangout, but encourage the teens to do things together outside of their specific volunteer duties. Have them go grab dinner together on their breaks, or go on a walk. I’ve seen teenagers establish a monthly movie night, where they go over to each other’s houses and just watch a movie together. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but helping them build those relationships will make the volunteer experience more enjoyable and will keep them connected.
When you let teenagers volunteer, you are providing them a space to grow. Yes, there are pains involved, and you have to devote time to them, but I have never seen a more dedicated workforce.
So give them a chance. Let them be involved and guide them. You are building your future volunteers and there will never be a more loyal group.