How Engaging Millennial Volunteers Will Improve Your Whole Organization

Young volunteers from Google give back.
Young volunteers from Google give back.

As a Millennial, I don’t usually understand the controversy surrounding my generation. Often we’re depicted as the Godzillas of the modern age, trampling everything that was good and right about the past in our wake, and forcing the world to adopt scary new practices that warp our minds and decay our bodies.

I’m pretty sure this isn’t true.

In fact, as the youngest of the Millennials finish up college, we’re becoming a force for good in the nonprofit and for-profit realms. We’re urging companies who want to hire us to focus more on social responsibility and helping organizations all over the world discover the potential of new technologies for raising funds and creating impact.

That’s why engaging Millennial volunteers is critical for any nonprofit. We are “digital natives,” meaning we’ve grown up using social media and smartphones, and can help provide clarity and strategy for organizations still struggling to adopt them. We actively seek out lives of purpose, whether that’s volunteering in unprecedented numbers in our free time, or demanding new levels of corporate social responsibility from the companies for which we work.

Then there’s leadership. The Millennial volunteers you engage today will without a doubt become the Directors of Development, Executive Directors and Board Chairs of tomorrow. And tomorrow always comes faster than you think it will.

To help you figure out the best way to engage Millennial volunteers, the recently released 2012 Millennial Impact Report is a great resource. Produced by Achieve and Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates, this year’s report is the third such annual examination of Millennials (defined here as ages 20-35).

The report gives us great insight into this particular population and how to engage them, but in truth it also provides some great best practices and advice for optimizing and amplifying nonprofit outreach in general.

Here are some great nuggets about volunteering from the report:

Millennial Behavior

  • 63% of Millennials volunteered for a nonprofit in 2011.
  • 90% of survey respondents said they expect to volunteer as much or more in 2012 than in 2011.
  • By a margin of more than two-to-one, Millennials who volunteer for nonprofits are more likely to make donations.
  • 77% own a smartphone.
  • 23% have signed up to volunteer via their smartphone.
  • 61% would share volunteer opportunities via Facebook.
  • More than 70% said they’ve raised money on behalf of a nonprofit – a generation of volunteer fundraisers!

Reaching Millennials

How Millennials prefer to hear about volunteer opportunities.

  • 41% say volunteer opportunities are the first thing they look for when they visit a nonprofit’s website.

Millennials' preferred volunteer time commitment.

  • 47% want volunteer opportunities included in the e-newsletters they receive from nonprofits.

Types of volunteer opportunities Millennials prefer.

  • Top reasons Millennials don’t volunteer:
    • Lack of time
    • Never been asked

So What?

These are some interesting statistics, and it certainly does seem like Millennials are interested in becoming involved with nonprofits. So how do we take all this and apply it to our communications and outreach practices to better engage Millennials? Here are some tips:

Provide varied volunteer opportunities.

Millennials are interested in a wide array of volunteering types and time commitments, from microvolunteering opportunities, to one-time volunteer events, to family and group volunteering, to leadership commitments. Millennials want to use their backgrounds and skills to help nonprofits, and they’re ready to harness the impressive power of their online and offline networks to do so. You just need to give them the opportunity. Millennials are especially interested in leadership positions, such as board appointments, where they can contribute significant value.

Cast a wide volunteer net.

Publicize your volunteer needs across multiple platforms and in multiple ways. Make sure volunteer opportunities are easily found on your website, on external sites like, using social media tools like #VolunTweet, and in your emails and e-newsletters. Since most Millennials use smartphones, make sure your website and blog are mobile-compatible, and use responsive design to ensure the most important information for potential volunteers is displayed in the mobile versions of your site.

Show them the impact.

Millennials are looking for authentic, deep connections with organizations. So it’s imperative to show them the difference they can make for your nonprofit and for the world by volunteering. Short videos showing actual work being done are a great way to do this. So are testimonials from other volunteers. For some quicker outreach, you can tweet statistics about your impact, and tag photos of your volunteers at work on Facebook, Pinterest and Flickr.

Finally, never forget to let your volunteers know in person the impact they’ve made, and to say thank you.

Millennials can be highly engaged volunteers, but they also have high expectations. They want genuine, authentic relationships with the organizations they serve. By taking a cue from these younger folks, we can learn to engage and serve our entire community better. And isn’t that the point, after all?

Check out the 2012 Millennial Impact Report and let us know how you engage Millennial volunteers!