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Tapping the Potential of Student Volunteers

Julie Vreeland

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Tapping the Potential of Student Volunteers presentation at the Points of Light Conference in St. Paul.

I wanted to share some statistics and ideas I got from the presentation. Thanks to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Pew Research Center for providing this information to the conference.

Youth volunteering trends in the U.S.

Characteristics of Generation Y (born 1981-1996)

• 26.1% volunteer
• 274.6 million hours contributed
• Worth $11.4 billion
• Almost 100% spend time with family and friends

Highly involved in helping
• 1 in 3 do favors for neighbors
• 1 in 7 do something positive for neighborhood
• 1 in 5 participate in local groups or organization
• 1 in 5 donate $25 or more to charity

Types of service engaged in
• Service Learning
• Clubs and Groups
• Faith-Based
• Community/Mandated Service
• Awareness, service, advocacy, philanthropy

Things to consider when working with Gen Y volunteers in your organization
• Risk Management
• Appropriate Needs of volunteer and organization
• Organization or Volunteer Driven
• Reflection, Evaluation and Recognition
• Supervision
• Class, Groups or Individuals
• Time
• Supplies and Budget

Remember that flexibility is key when working with youth volunteers.

Advice from the field
MAVA members who responded to the 2018 Trends Survey shared tools and tactics they’ve used for successfully engaging student volunteers. Their recommendations fell into three primary areas: being creative with position design and requirements, developing effective partnerships to support recruitment, and using targeted communication strategies. Some of their ideas are:

Position design
• Design volunteer days around times that work for high-school students.
• Offer after school hours and weekend times; offer flexibility and ability to work in pairs.
• Provide short-term and flexible options with little upfront orientation/training so they can fit volunteering their complicated schedules.
• Create an 8-week youth volunteer program over the summer for teens who want experience.
• Start by talking with your staff about what works for them as parents of these students; if the position appeals to the parents, it is a good opportunity.
• Offer opportunities that are extremely fun and great for groups, so they meet a teen's needs, parents’ needs, and your needs.
• Appeal to college students by creating one-time opportunities that people can continue to participate in if they choose.
• Connect volunteer roles to coursework for credit.

Partnerships and recruitment
• Connect with communities of faith to reach out to their students about their skills being utilized.
• Work with youth groups and clubs, National Honor Society, Key Club and athletic groups, especially for one-shot type events/activities.
• Bring the supplies and volunteer activity to them so they can easily volunteer after school on their campus - no need to travel!
• Connect with high school civics classes to help them to complete community service hours.
• Collaborate with the English department to have students meet with and write life stories of nursing home residents.
• Incorporate Service Learning options.
• Go to college fairs and give students options to apply their major or interests to fit your organization’s needs.
• Use job descriptions to market volunteer positions to college recruiting offices and Work Study departments; include an impact statement and a section on what students can expect to learn from us through volunteering.

Communication
• Use happy student volunteers as the best recruiters; encourage them to post on their social media or challenge their friends to do it too.
• Share the impact of why the role matters.
• Rely more on social media to communicate and facilitate relationships with the student volunteers.
• On your website specifically say "under 18 welcome", or "flexible requirements for students".
• Talk to current student volunteers about what is and isn’t working for them; adapt where you can and ask them to help design positions for other students.
• Have a code of conduct agreement for high school volunteers to sign during orientation so the expectations on professionalism, boundaries, etc. are very clear.
• Make a learning agreement for interns to articulate what their goals of the internship are and revisit it throughout the semester.
• When speaking at schools, discuss how service can impact the students’ future success, i.e. college applications, resume and skill building; I also share practical stories from my own life experiences.

Do you have any student success strategies to share? Post them on MAVA Voice!