My oldest son began high school this fall. I can’t quite believe I’m old enough for this to be true, that he’s already at this milestone moment, taking a step into a much larger world.
But, alas, it IS true. And he, along with his friends and classmates, have BIG plans. Among other things, they’re going to “make a difference,” “be good citizens,” and “invest in their communities.”
The fact that these kinds of phrases are coming out of the mouths of 14 year olds is both shocking on one level and completely cool on another. But, when we step back and think about the group they are following, we shouldn’t be all that surprised. After all, the Millennial generation that’s right ahead of these kids is turning out in record numbers to volunteer. As the Millennial Impact Report from Achieve! and Johnson, Grossnickle & Associates tell us, Millennials may not give as much as other generations (yet), but they are certainly engaging in other important ways.
It’s not that other generations don’t give back, because they do. But think about it. Millennials grew up hearing from the president, their priests, their teachers AND their parents that volunteerism is important. They know celebrities who ask for gifts to charity instead of wedding presents (think Will and Kate), and they make buying decisions based on brand/charity alignment. The level, volume and reach of the philanthropic message being broadcast today is vast.
Given all this — and the fact that my son’s generation is right on the heels of the Millennials and is taking notes — it’s really important that nonprofits make it easy for volunteers to engage. Remember, this up-and-coming group doesn’t follow the same patterns as its parents and they may never pick up the phone to call or come to your office to see what you have to offer. You have to get to them where they already are. Some tips to help you out…
Make your opportunities public — First, make sure the volunteer opportunities you offer are posted publicly on your website. Make it easy for people to find opportunities, understand what you need, when you need it and how many people are required.
Allow them to use their skills — Sure, some people like to swing a hammer, plant flower beds or paint walls. There’s nothing wrong with that. But young professionals looking to make a difference believe in impact. They care about “driving change.” They want to do something meaningful. Think about how you can leverage the skills of volunteers, and craft opportunities that are meaningful. Help them build their resumes while supporting your cause.
Use the technology your volunteers use to connect — Don’t expect potential volunteers to jump through a lot of hoops to find information. Go to them. Adopt the tools they use, allowing them to sign up to volunteer using their smart phones and tablets, putting meetings on their electronic calendars, and providing updates via text.
Simply put, make it easy and use the technology every young person already has in his or her hands as a way to connect. Do it their way, or they won’t listen. They’ll take their passion for service and their growing skill sets elsewhere.