As much as nonprofits are always grateful to receive any type of help for their organizations, sometimes they feel apprehensive when dealing with youth volunteers. To nonprofits, youth volunteers pose a complex situation that conjures up questions like: What types of projects can we give youth volunteers? Are there safety concerns and liability issues that we should be aware of? Will youth volunteers actually make a lasting impact on our organization?
Even though there is a growing demand among youth to volunteer, there simply are not enough opportunities available because many nonprofits are not willing to accommodate them. Julie Hudash, Founder and CEO of Team Kids—a local nonprofit that implements innovative school-based and community-wide service-learning programs specifically for children-- says that nonprofits need to be proactive in finding or creating ways to accommodate youth who want to engage in service. Youth volunteers are energetic, enthusiastic and eager to make a difference in our communities, and nonprofits should not deprive them of the opportunities just because of their age.
“It’s up to nonprofits to create meaningful service opportunities to empower our county’s next generation of compassionate leaders,” says Hudash.
Indeed, successfully engaging youth in service takes effort on the nonprofit side. Through our Family Service Team Program, OneOC works with many local nonprofits to engage families and their children in volunteer projects throughout the year, and we’ve experienced what works—and doesn’t work—when planning for youth volunteers.
When crafting youth-specific volunteer projects for your organization, remember that structure is key. Create specific, short-term projects with clear and concise instructions. Youth need motivation and encouragement, so remember to regularly show them the impact of their work to help boost their self-esteem and continue to inspire them. If the situation permits, open up leadership opportunities to those you feel qualified-- You’d be surprised at the capacity and initiative of some young folks.
As nonprofits, we get caught up in trying to make the world a better place for posterity. And yet we forget that we have a way, right now, to directly influence our youth and lead them down the path to become better citizens, all through engaging them in volunteering. After all, volunteering builds youths’ confidence, leadership skills, compassion and awareness of their surrounding environments. (An added benefit: Studies show that people who volunteer as youth are twice as likely to carry on their charitable traits into adulthood.)
Youth volunteers won’t have the same impact on an organization compared to a professional skills-based volunteer consultant, but that’s okay. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” Instead of regarding youth volunteers in terms of their impact, we need to start understanding that we have a responsibility, not a right, to engage younger generations in charitable work.