Tapping into the fountain of youth volunteers
Volunteering Auckland has an enviable problem: an excess of volunteer applications. Cheryll Martin, General Manager at Volunteering Auckland is proud that the next generation is eager to give back to their communities with the under 30 cohort comprising over 50% of registrations through their website. However, it seems that stereotypes are holding many NGOs back from fully engaging with this age group, in particular those under 18 years. In response, Volunteering Auckland is in the process of catapulting youth volunteering into the core of what they do through designing a Youth Volunteer Pilot (more information below).
What benefits do youth volunteers provide NGOs?
Crucially, they provide the pipeline of volunteers for the future. Cheryll describes how her daughter began volunteering at nine and has never stopped. UK research backs that up: 70% of teenage volunteers were likely to volunteer in the future. Volunteering Auckland wants to create and build a lifetime enthusiasm for volunteering in Aotearoa’s 652,000 10-19 year olds.
The digitally native generation are also often intuitively able to leverage technology such as social media to boost an NGO’s profile and streamline processes. As many of them will be in formal education, they are well-versed in learning how to learn and providing fresh perspectives.
It is also worth highlighting that the work of many NGOs is skewed towards focus on the young, whether that be through providing the essentials, education or sustaining the natural environment for their future use. No-one is better placed to best understand and empathise with youth initiatives than youth themselves.
Why many youth struggle to find volunteer opportunities?
There is no shortage of volunteering opportunities but rather an endangered number of organisations eager to take on youth. Volunteering Auckland research shows that their most common reasons to prefer older volunteers include:
- perception that youth have less availability/transport;
- age-related legislation/minimum age to interact with minors;
- perception that youth require more training;
- perception that youth are not mature enough to work with vulnerable community members.
Many of these organisations have blanket age minimums in place, regardless of the nature of the volunteering.
How can we turn this around?
Skills, reliability, and passion do not magically appear at 30. Above all, volunteer organisations need to fight stereotypes and assess an individual’s suitability on their own merits. What’s good for our youth volunteers is what’s good for all volunteers. Cheryll notes that “flexibility has got to be in there” for engaging volunteers today. Practical strategies for providing suitable youth opportunities could include:
- actively identifying opportunities that can be done remotely/flexibly;
- the use of youth ambassador programmes to provide feedback on volunteering opportunities to ensure they are suitable;
- sharing positive stories of younger volunteers to fight stereotypes;
- allowing younger volunteers greater participation in planning volunteer training for the next cohort;
- clearly articulating key role requirements so that candidates can be suitably matched.
How can Volunteering Auckland’s Youth Volunteer Pilot support NGOs?
Volunteering Auckland is very keen to pair the skills of youth volunteers with our NGO members. In March, we approached schools across Tāmaki Makaurau’s five major districts. Together we looked at how we could implement a Youth Volunteer Pilot similar to how Volunteering Auckland process corporate team projects. With overall volunteer numbers dropping, this will be extremely beneficial to all involved.
We acknowledge that for some organisations being unsure around health and safety procedures relating to youth can present a barrier to receiving youth volunteers. In response, Volunteering Auckland is creating a ‘Youth Volunteer’ Manual that will outline some of an organisation’s legal expectations and procedures to ensure the safety of youth volunteers as they venture into, hopefully, a lifetime of volunteering.