tephen Tutin has volunteered with various organisations since age 13. His first experience of volunteering was helping to run online groups, some of which included people who had difficulties such as autism, social isolation, or difficulties controlling anger. These problems made it hard for them to socialise face-to-face but socialising online helps them develop their social skills. Stephen is an #iwill ambassador and one of the most experienced members of the steering committee for the EDF Energy Young Professionals Network, which allows him to encourage others to volunteer.
Hi, I’m Stephen, I’m 22, and I’m an #iwill ambassador (see my profile here). As an #iwill ambassador I give up some of my free time to work with the #iwill campaign to promote youth social action. I also like data and chair the #iwill Data & Quality Assurance steering group. So, I was excited to look at the data from NCVO’s Time Well Spent research, compare that to some data from the National Youth Social Action Survey (NYSAS), consider my own personal experiences, and see what we could conclude.
Why do we want more young volunteers?
More volunteers, of all ages, are always welcome. In 2017, the NYSAS told us almost 60% of people aged between 10 and 20 did some form of social action. That’s a huge pool of potential volunteers to draw from.
Young people also have different perspectives due to the different life experiences they have had (primarily via the internet). So, they can provide meaningful input in many situations. Finally, the Time Well Spent research has made clear the health benefits of volunteering (by reducing feelings of isolation). The benefits were biggest for those aged 18-24. So not only is your organisation fulfilling its charitable purpose, but it’s helping the young volunteers too!
How do we get and retain more young volunteers?
Based on the data, my top 10 tips for getting more young volunteers are:
1. Start as young as possible
The younger your volunteers, the easier it is to develop a lifelong habit of volunteering. The #iwill campaign has volunteers as young as 10, and I’ve seen volunteers as young as seven!
2. Get their families involved
This is particularly effective for primary school-aged volunteers. This lets young people understand the benefits of volunteering while having someone they trust to guide them along the way.
3. Explain your social purpose clearly
Things that are clear when you’re older, are not necessarily as obvious when you’re younger. When you explain the purpose of your organisation, make sure you make it as clear as possible and provide plenty of examples. The Time Well Spent research showed that one of the main reasons people volunteer is altruistic and this is true across all ages.
4. Don’t underestimate young people
It’s very easy to underestimate young people, but that can often mean their talents are wasted. A 12-year-old can be very creative, or a 17-year-old might know something you don’t. Give opportunities for young people to genuinely contribute with their ideas, and not just follow orders.
5. Have young representatives (eg in steering groups, or as trustees)
This gives young people a voice. Avoid the situation where 10% of your board is ‘young’, and the other 90% ‘old’. It is better to include people aged over 18 and if you need an actual mix or the young person may feel intimidated or be misunderstood easily.
6. Build their confidence
Confidence is often a big issue with many young volunteers. Giving them clear opportunities to contribute, and working in small steps, helps develop their confidence and show them how volunteering really works.
7. Focus on career skills
From post-GCSEs onwards, many young people will start considering their careers. Make it clear what specific skills they will develop by volunteering, and how that will help them get jobs. The Time Well Spent research showed that younger volunteers want to develop new skills. So, the more meaningful you make the volunteer role, the easier it will be to attract young people.
8. Engage with schools and universities
The NYSAS shows this is the single best method to inform young people, across all social economic groups, about volunteering. Teachers are busy, so do the hard work for them and provide them with clear information to pass on.
9. Get their friends involved
Create opportunities where young people can work with their friends as a group to make volunteering more fun. 96% of people aged between 10-20 who did social action also know a friend or relative who does social action, which shows the importance of these connections.
10. Keep things fun and flexible
Keeping volunteering as informal and flexible as possible helps mitigate the pressures young people face during their studies, or at the start of their careers. Make it clear that volunteering doesn’t mean all your weekends become too busy or too boring!