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How to Engage Teens with Your Volunteer Program

In a previous post, we discussed some of the countless benefits of teen volunteerism. So you may be wondering how to recruit teenagers and engage them with your organization. We spoke with Lucy Schaich, Interim Director at City of Bloomington Volunteer Network who works with young volunteers regularly; her site even includes a Teen-Friendly Opportunities Initiative to help match teens with engaging opportunities. Schaich shared some of the ways she gets them involved:

Communicate via text

Schaich found that her teen volunteers generally didn’t respond to emails, so she had to think like a teen and reach out in other ways. Texting was the easiest and most reliable way to communicate important logistical information. Fortunately, your Connect software allows you to send text messages to groups directly through your site!

Market to parents, too

Parents and guardians play an important role in encouraging their children to volunteer. Therefore, you’ll want to target your opportunities to teens and their parents. Schaich marketed her “Teen-Friendly” opportunities to parents using media that they were more likely to check out, such as email and newspapers. Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter are great for directing your efforts toward teens, too. In general, you may want to diversify your communication efforts so adults and teens alike can stay informed.  

Think about the future

Remind teens that volunteering accomplishments can help them prepare for (and even get into) college. For example, teens who participated in Bloomington Volunteer Network’s Summer of Service Initiative received a letter from the mayor to thank them for their service. Formal acknowledgment, certificates of participation, and letters of recommendation serve as compelling supplements to college or employment applications. Additionally, your Connect software’s volunteer resume feature is a big draw for high-school aged participants. They can see their hours accrue, and gain a real sense of the difference they’re making.

Inspire a bit of (healthy) competition

Teens respond well to competition and swag. Bloomington’s Volunteer Network gave teen initiative participants “prizes” after reaching participation benchmarks. Reusable water bottles, coffee shop gift cards, or a letter from the mayor are just enough to encourage teens to log their hours and keep up the good work. With Connect software, you can set hours benchmarks for volunteer hours, so that teens have concrete goals to work toward. If your youth volunteers participated in a particularly special event day, give them a t-shirt to mark the occasion; they’ll feel like part of a team and will enjoy the small reminder later on.

Make it social

Teens are more likely to volunteer if their friends are volunteering too. Encourage teens to invite their friends and sign up for opportunities as a team. You’ll accomplish more and they’ll get excited about taking on tasks with others their age. And a positive experience ensures they’ll volunteer again!

Bring food!

Never underestimate the power of pizza and ice cream! Teens are hungry, so inform them before the event that you will provide free food; it’s a great source of motivation (and energy), and you’ll be amazed at the attendance rates! It’s also a nice way to show appreciation for all their hard work.

Open your doors

Low-income youth benefit profoundly from volunteering. Above all, make sure your organization’s opportunities are accessible to all socioeconomic populations. Remember that some teens may need rides to events, or internet access to register for opportunities. Consider working with schools in your community to establish volunteer programs located at the schools themselves, just one way to welcome all students.   

Integrate with academics

Schools are increasingly looking to incorporate service into their curriculum. Work with schools in your area (start with those you already serve) to develop a regular service-learning program to support education beyond the classroom. Work with teachers to integrate classroom learning with real-world application. Allow students to identify issues that are important to them, develop a plan of action, and carry out the work themselves. Provide the opportunity for verbal or written reflection at the end of each session to aid learning retention. Students are more likely to demonstrate a deeper commitment to your cause when they are involved from start to finish. Meanwhile, they’ll exercise critical habits like problem-solving and teamwork in the process.  

Need more ideas for service projects to engage teens? Check out YMCA's Ideas page!

In conclusion

Mounting evidence suggests teen volunteerism contributes to the wellbeing of youth and to the betterment our communities altogether. Nonprofits like yours have the change to improve our communities from the ground up, starting with today’s rising generation.

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