When I was in middle school the thought of volunteering for any school activities where I could spend time with my best friends and twin sister made me want to jump up and down with joy. As I entered high school, those same feelings of excitement were still there – and encouraged by teachers and peers in grades older than me. Seeing upper-classmen volunteer in organizations both in school and around the community made volunteering the “cool” thing to do. I kept those same thoughts in mind as I attended college and joined several organizations at the University of Texas here in Austin, and I am today, at the age of 30, still active in several organizations around the community.
My love of volunteering doesn’t exactly fit into today’s model of the ideal volunteer method. There is a generational diversity gap stemming from years of a lack of communication within organizations. As demographics continue to shift and our population ages, it is imperative to shape volunteer opportunities for people of all ages.
According to the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration, Millennials are volunteering in record breaking numbers. Are you taking advantage of this trend and offering opportunities for all generations within your organization?
Keep the following 4 tips in mind when designing volunteer roles within your organization:
- Explore differences: Know that volunteer guidelines and rules you have set in place in the past may have worked for some, but as years go by a great rule of thumb to encourage younger members to sign up for volunteer opportunities is to incorporate their thoughts and ideas into your yearly plans.
- Train staff and volunteers: Remember change is good. Organizations today are molding into units with a variety of generations coming on board. Having staff members knowledgeable about the variety of learning styles and skills each generation can adapt to today will help in guiding volunteers to meet expectations set by the training staff.
- Recognition and support: Being actively engaged with volunteers and spending time with them as a support system will help the training staff understand why each volunteer is involved in your organization and see what motivates them to continue to stay engaged in the group. As each volunteer gives his or her time to your organization, be sure to recognize their efforts in ways that are preferred depending on their generation. Ask volunteers how they prefer to be recognized as everyone has a preference, and will appreciate praise accordingly in the long run.
- Manage and recruit: Recruiting new volunteers for organizations takes time and patience. Knowing that each generation picks up on information differently is the first place to start when soliciting new volunteers. Some may look for invitations first via email or through networking, whereas others prefer print media. As new volunteers come on board, the training staff should take lead on making all volunteers know they have an open forum for communication at all times. For any volunteer program to work and grow over time, leaders in each group need to provide direction, organization, and an ear for listening for everyone.
And sometimes, the best ways to develop new volunteer opportunities and programs across multiple generations is to exchange best practices between organizations. I invited you to share your volunteer program tips and success stories in the comments below. What has your organization seen in volunteer trends and how are you utilizing volunteer programs to engage all generations?