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Finding and binding young volunteers for the long term

Young volunteers are the future of volunteer work – and at the same time not so easy to reach. It often proves even more difficult to keep young volunteers in the organization. More and more social organizations have problems finding and retaining new members. In the worst case, they have to give up their important work altogether due to a lack of volunteers.

At the same time, the number of young volunteers has remained constant for years. According to the figures of the fifth Volunteer Survey of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) from 2019, 42% of the 14-29 year-olds are involved in volunteer work. That makes almost half of the people in this age group active volunteers. But how does this fit with the previously mentioned challenge of activating young volunteers and binding them to one’s own organization?

In this first part of our new blog series with many valuable tips for social organizations, we will get to the bottom of this question and share our experiences and practical tips for recruiting and retaining young volunteers with you. In the coming months, you can expect many more tips & tricks on the topic of “Volunteer Management 2.0” on our blog. You will be the first to hear about new exciting articles in our newsletter.

The most important basis: Know the target group and its needs

The world of volunteering is as diverse as the people who are involved in it. In this article, we take a closer look at the group of “young volunteers.” Who are they, what drives them, and what are their specific needs and desires? And how can you, as a nonprofit organization, develop an even deeper understanding of these individuals? Because this is the only way that organizations can sustainably recruit young volunteers for their work and retain them in the long term.

Das Foto zeigt eine Gruppe junger Menschen, die sich bei herbstlichem Licht in den Armen hält und lacht.

1. Who are the “young volunteers”?

Who exactly do we mean when we talk about “young volunteers”? To get a better idea, let’s take a look at the generation model and look at two generations in detail: Generation Y and Generation Z.

Generation Y describes all those born between 1981 and 1996. Characteristics for people of this age group are, among other things, a great interest in freedom and flexibility. They know how to use technical devices such as smartphones, laptops or tablets. They want an honorary position with meaning that is also fun for them.

People in Generation Z were born between 1996 and 2012. Gen Z wants more stability and security than their predecessors, but also tends to be somewhat less committed. They also have a very good understanding of technology and like to separate their private and working lives even more than the previous generation.

Of course, such generation models cannot describe a complex group consisting of many different individuals in detail. But they do help us to develop a rough understanding of the different age groups and their characteristics.

When we talk about “young volunteers,” we are referring primarily to 18 – 33 year olds.

2. What are the special wishes, motivations, and needs of young volunteers?

To better understand their needs and motivations with regard to volunteering, we conducted a nationwide volunteer survey in 2020 with over 1,000 participants between the ages of 18 and 33. The results helped us gain a better understanding of this group and their engagement behaviors. Among other things, we also asked participants about the main reasons and motivations behind their community involvement.

By far the most frequently cited reason was the desire to actively help shape society and contribute to solving a social or societal problem. When looking for and deciding on a volunteer position, young volunteers therefore pay attention to the vision of the social organization, the contribution it makes to society and how the work of volunteers in the organization contributes to this.

So it is important that nonprofit organizations clearly formulate their vision and goals and present them in their volunteering postings. For interested volunteers, it must be understandable and clear how their own involvement will advance this vision. In addition to clearly describing the areas of responsibility and the requirements needed, volunteer applications should also make it clear what benefit the commitment will have for the organization and for the achievement of its goals.

A good example of a clearly formulated vision, is the description of Start with a Friend e.V.:

Start with a Friend e.V. (SwaF) is a non-profit association with 27 locations in Germany. Our vision is a society that lives its diversity. All people feel comfortable and have an equal say in shaping it. To achieve this, we create personal encounters between people with and without an immigration history: through 1:1 tandem partnerships, encounters in clubs, activities in women’s communities, diverse community events and a joint commitment.

In the case of the #BIKEYGEES e.V. the social benefits of volunteering become very clear:

Every woman in the world should be able to ride a bike. And be allowed to! For us, cycling means being on the move in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way, enjoyment of movement, helping to explore one’s own surroundings, freedom and independence. Not every woman has the opportunity to learn how to ride a bike. That is why we exist. Our training creates immediately visible and sustainable changes for the reality of the participants’ lives. 

Young people are critical and want to create something significant and meaningful with their invested commitment time. It is also up to the organizations and their communication to convey this feeling to them.

3. Who do you want to reach? Get to know your target group

Before you jump into the “young target group”, it is first worth finding out who exactly you actually want to recruit for your organization and your area of volunteering. In order to target the “right” people from this large group of potential young volunteers, it is therefore crucial to know and understand your target group even better. One method that has proven to be extremely useful in determining the target group is the “persona method”.

The persona method is a strategy that aims to create clear and detailed profiles of “ideal” volunteers. These profiles are called “personas” and include information about demographic characteristics, interests, skills, motivations, and communication preferences. The goal is to develop a concrete idea of who the people are who should volunteer or support the organization.

Creating a persona takes research and time, but it creates a shared vision and better focus among the team.

In the erzähl davon podcast (German) Katrin explains the persona method in more detail and gives 5 helpful tips for working with it.

Insufficient knowledge about the target group and a lack of communication about one’s own goals and visions can make it difficult for associations and organizations to activate and retain young volunteers. So try to think about how you can implement the tips above and how to integrate them into your search for volunteers together as a team.

In the next part of our blog series, as a part of the #vostelacademy, we will focus on the question: What are the best channels to reach young volunteers? To do this, we will dive into the world of social media and talk about the right way to address the target group.

If you and your team want to learn even more about volunteer recruitment and management, you now have the opportunity to sign up for our “Volunteer Management 2.0.” workshop at 01.30. & 01.31.2024. In this multi-part, interactive course, you will delve even deeper into the topic, be able to share your experiences with other associations, and gain valuable knowledge on how to recruit young volunteers.

Your Team wishes
you all the success in recruiting
and retaining young volunteers!

Gruppenbild der vostel Mitarbeiter*innen auf dem Tempelhofer Feld

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