Although I graduated from college several months ago, I still get emails from those at my old school about volunteering — mainly, about volunteering during vacations. This makes me wonder: why don’t community organizations do more volunteer recruiting from college campuses during the school year?
The truth is, students can make volunteering a normal part of campus life and serve the local community. And you can make recruiting them a part of your nonprofit’s overall volunteer engagement strategy. Here are some good ways to get started:
Research your local universities’ volunteer programming.
Do the colleges and universities in your area have volunteering or public service programs that target students/alumni? Is there a “Day of Service” that they hold every year? If they do, it might be worth it to contact the staff there so they can add some volunteer opportunities from your organization to their database.
Also, be sure to contact the school far in advance — weeks, or even several months, particularly if you would like to recruit volunteers for a large event.
Use social media to target college students.
If you have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, direct some of your social media campaigning towards college students, as 71% of those with at least partial college education and at least 8 in 10 people aged 18-29 use social media.
Directly connect with student government or student clubs.
Send over an email to someone in student government and ask about the possibility of partnering for a volunteering weekend where students can both bond with fellow classmates as well as do some good in the world outside of their dorm rooms.
Reach out to student clubs and groups at your local universities. There are student clubs that serve very specific demographics, from ethnicity, to occupation, to various political causes. Offer to partner with like-minded organizations for service learning projects.
Fraternities and sororities often have philanthropy programs. Connect with them for potential fundraising and/or volunteer opportunities. According to NP Catalyst in a survey conducted with university Greek fraternities and sororities nationwide, 100% of respondents have raised money for nonprofits and 60% have directly partnered with local nonprofits.
Make sure to connect with these groups well in advance. Students are busy with schoolwork, athletics, and extracurriculars, and though they would like to volunteer, they need to find a way to fit it into their schedules.
Hold your opportunity outdoors and during a time when students are most likely to be free.
Oftentimes the only times students are free are on a weekend afternoon. Friday and Saturday afternoons are often the best time to schedule opportunities.
When I was in college, I spent most of my time switching between my bed, my desk, and occasionally leaving my room to go to class. Get your volunteers moving around outside and talking to others. Some ideas include mural painting, gardening or cooking.
If there is a student who is interested in volunteering with you long-term, follow up ASAP.
Things happen so quickly in college that there is a very narrow time window when you can catch someone’s attention for the long term. I’m someone who spent four years in college and I still have no idea where the time went — college seems to be this strange time vortex where it all just flies by. (Unless you’re in class, of course. Time stands still then.)
So if there’s a volunteer who is interested in working more long term with you, be sure to get their contact information from them and send them an email within the next few days while you’re fresh in their mind.
Provide food at the volunteer site.
College students like free food. A lot. Providing snacks while on the job is a good way to entice people to volunteer in the first place and keep volunteers energetic throughout the day.
Design virtual opportunities.
Students might want to volunteer, but might not have an afternoon free to leave campus. Some ideas for virtual volunteering include graphic design, web design, grant writing, copy editing or translating. You can find more ideas and resources for virtual volunteering here.
Emphasize volunteerism as a means for better mental health.
As a recent graduate, I can tell you — college is tough. Classes are hard, and we aren’t even guaranteed to have a job after all that hard work. This overwhelming pressure, as well as other factors have made mental health a big issue in colleges and universities.
Studies show volunteers live healthier emotional and physical lives. See if you can partner with a health and well being program at your local universities.
What are some ways that your organization has reached out to college students during the school year?
Cristopher Bautista is the Communications & Social Media Intern at VolunteerMatch. You can send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.