Lessons from The DoSomething.org Index on Young People and Volunteering

Guest post by Alison Richmond

They're not as scary as they look.

They’re not as scary as they look.

We all know that we have a lot more free time when we’re younger, so the question is why aren’t there more teenage volunteers? DoSomething.org recently looked at this issue by conducting a national survey on young people and volunteering.

The survey contained 62 questions that were designed by DoSomething.org’s in-house data scientists who carefully studied previous such research. In total, 4,363 valid responses were collected and here are their findings…

The Social Incentive

Having friends who volunteer regularly is the primary factor behind the volunteering habits of young people. Whether or not a young person’s friends volunteer regularly is nearly twice as important as having the ability to work on something they care deeply about. The social incentive notion is backed up by statistics: 75.9% of those whose friends volunteer on a regular basis also volunteer. However, only 41.7% of those whose friends do not volunteer regularly volunteer.

It’s clear that if your friends are doing something, then you are more likely to join in. In contrast, previous studies have tended to focus on the altruistic reasons behind teenagers volunteering.

By taking this into account, organizations can tackle the issue of volunteer engagement in a different manner. One of the suggestions provided by the study is to ask everyone who signs up for an event to bring a friend. As a further incentive, you can enter participants into a raffle for a free dinner for them and their friends. This is an excellent idea, which employs the social incentive twice and offers those who are interested the opportunity to socialize with their friends on two occasions (if they win).

Issues Young People Care About

  1. Animal Welfare
  2. Hunger
  3. Homelessness
  4. The Environment
  5. The Economy

The number one reason for why young people volunteer according to their answers in the study is to make a difference on an issue that they care about. However, the subsequent reasons for volunteering differ for guys and girls. For guys, they were quite practical in their thinking and mentioned getting into college and getting a job as additional reasons, whilst girls stated that they wanted to make a difference and that volunteering is its own reward.

The type of area also had an effect on what issues young people cared about. Those living in cities tend to care more about homelessness, in rural areas the number one issue is hunger, and in the suburbs it is animal welfare. This is likely to be related to the problems that they see on a regular basis, which will motivate them to try to take action to solve these issues.

This would clearly have relevance for those looking to recruit in certain areas, and depending on whether you are targeting guys or girls for volunteering tasks. Depending on your mode of communication, it’s important to remember what appeals to your target crowd.

Encouraging Young People to Volunteer

If you are looking to encourage young people to volunteer for your cause it is important to take on board the suggestions from this study:

1. Social

People are social creatures by nature and teenagers are no different. We all wish to spend time with the people we are fond of, which is why it is important to include a social element in any volunteering event that you organize. In addition, from the study DoSomething.org found that guys and girls both want to work with at least some volunteers from the opposite gender. They didn’t ask why but we can all probably guess.

2. Accessible

Most young people don’t have access to a car and even those who do would probably prefer not to travel too far, so the second point is to make the event close to your volunteers. The proximity to home was the 2nd most important attribute for young people when considering a volunteering event.

3. Brief/Singular

The biggest reason for not volunteering given by the young people in this study was the lack of time. Therefore, it’s important that you offer flexibility with your volunteering. Allow young people to participate for as much or as little as they wish, and ensure them that there is no expectation of them to appear every time.

4. Familiar

Those who engaged in an activity such as playing sports or playing music volunteer most often for a similar activity. As such, when designing a volunteering event, try to make it similar to the activities that young people enjoy and make it as fun as possible.

5. Beneficial For Volunteers, Too

As could be expected, volunteers in this study were worried about getting into a good college and being able to afford it. So if you can, make your volunteering activities good for resumes or steps towards a scholarship.

Young people crave social interaction, the feeling that they are making a difference and a little help with their future. Use this knowledge to engage them with your organization. However, if you are ever struggling to encourage young people to join your cause, remind them of the following statistic; those who volunteer score 24% higher on a life satisfaction scale!

Alison works in the fundraising industry and understands that volunteering is very important for the third sector. Alison particularly enjoys discovering new fundraising ideas for various causes and she currently works for easyfundraising.

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4 thoughts on “Lessons from The DoSomething.org Index on Young People and Volunteering

  1. Pingback: Young People and Volunteering | Sport Makers Durham

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