Written by Jared Baldwin, CNP
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When it comes to volunteerism, college-aged adults are often untapped resources. Non-profit leaders usually seem to need help with events, administration, set-up, tear-down, decorating, follow-up, social media, promotion, and other manpower. Leaders have their stable “go-to” volunteers and employees, yet there seems to be a mad scramble to find more volunteers. When non-profit leaders learn to energize young, college-aged adults, they experience short-term and long-range benefits.
Although it may seem obvious, it is always worthwhile to identify the “why” of any endeavor. Whether in college or not, the demographic of 18-25-year-olds is a great place to find a dedicated volunteer corps. First, this age group has energy. Second, they have great ideas. Even though they may not have the experience to put all of their notions into context, they offer a fresh perspective that all leaders need. Third, many want to make a meaningful impact. Fourth, and most importantly, they are literally the future of your non-profit. Tomorrow’s leaders have to begin somewhere. Engaging a young adult in your mission lights a spark in their heart that will burn throughout their lifetime.
Working with this age group does come with some expectations. You must be willing to explain what you are asking them to do. They often prefer a clear understanding of the goals, objectives, and systems versus being left alone with a blank slate. This is especially true if this is one of their first times volunteering with you. As the leader, you need to offer ongoing support. You might even need to plan for new volunteers to shadow or be mentored by seasoned volunteers. Finally, when it comes to your non-profit, first inspire and then inform. If you want someone to have your heartbeat, take time to share why you are passionate about your cause. Let them hear from others that resonate with the message. These few extra steps will convert someone from simply fulfilling their community service to buying in and becoming a disciple.
Here are some suggestions for bringing young, talented adults into your volunteer corps.
- Be okay with some differences and imperfections. They do not need to do everything exactly the way you would do it. Yet, if it requires perfection, then you probably should not delegate it.
- Do not misread or misjudge. Charity leaders are seasoned and sacrificial. When volunteers don’t immediately step up and show the same degree of commitment, the leader may misunderstand them as being lazy, non-committal, or dispassionate. Although those are all possibilities, withhold your judgment, bring young adults along with you, and watch them catch the vision.
- Show gratitude. We often get caught up in the busyness of the project or event and neglect to stop and praise the people sacrificing their time and energy to make it all happen.
- Do not be manipulative. Heavy-handed emotional appeals, insincere flattery, and shallow bribery are tempting tools the leader may use to get and keep volunteers. Don’t do it. If it is worthwhile, manipulation will only weaken your position.
Non-profit leaders always need help. Young adults are not only a fantastic resource but are also a long-term investment. Leaders that engage and energize college-aged adults as volunteers will reap the compounding benefits of their investment.
Program Chair, Organizational Leadership Program
Faith Baptist Bible College, Ankeny, Iowa
Jared has been involved in various non-profit organizations full-time since 2002, including faith-based, humanitarian, foster family, and community organizations.