The Change Makers of the Future: Engaging Young Volunteers Like Noah

Noah McNair

Noah McNair, avid volunteer

Noah first experienced volunteering at the age of 7, when he helped with the soccer program at his summer camp. “I realized I could make a difference, even as a kid,” says Noah. Within a few years, he began coaching preschool soccer.

He’s also served as an ambassador at his church, and he’s assisted kids with their art projects at summer camp. He’s been part of a group that beautified schools and parks with painting and landscaping. The most impressive part? He did all this before he even turned 14. And by that time, he was already hooked.

When asked his favorite part of volunteering, Noah responds, “I love the smiles, hugs and thank yous.”

Since age 14, Noah has taken on a magnitude of other volunteer projects.

Read Noah’s full story.

Should you seek out youth volunteers?

Volunteers such as Noah are filled with enthusiasm and passion. Yet, many organizations are hesitant to bring on young volunteers. When young volunteers are turned away due to their age, you risk squelching a passion for change that is just emerging. As Susan Ragsdale wrote in a recent guest post for this blog:

“We can’t afford to wait until young people are grown up before they understand or learn about society’s problems, find their voice, take action, and have an impact. We need to harness their energies, perspectives, gifts, and understandings today as actors in finding solutions for today’s challenges. We need them and they need us. Take a chance and start seeking young people out as volunteers.”

But remember, there are both pros and cons to engaging youth volunteers. Each organization must consider their unique situation to determine if engaging youth volunteers will be worthwhile or even plausible.

Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.43.14 AMAre you ready to start involving youth volunteers, but aren’t sure where to start? Check out these 6 Tips for Hosting Youth Volunteers. And when posting your volunteer opportunity on, don’t forget to check the boxes that say the opportunity can accommodate kids and/or teens. This will help your post be found by the change makers of the future. Or, if we let them be, the change makers of the present.

6 Tips for Hosting Youth Volunteers

Kids VolunteeringGuest post by Lacey Helmig

Youth volunteers can be a great way to boost the energy of an organization — and get a lot done.

Youth can provide enthusiasm and excitement while contributing in a large way to the organization’s mission. The youth also benefit by learning new skills, meeting new people, and of course earning those all-important volunteer hours that are now essential for college or job applications.

Has your organization been hesitant to offer youth volunteer opportunities? It can be a win-win situation for both you and the volunteers if you keep these six tips in mind:

  1. First Impression

It’s very likely that this experience may be the first time that a young person volunteers. Keep that in mind when selecting a project and relating to the volunteer. Nothing is worse than a poor initial exposure to volunteerism for a youth volunteer.

  1. Meaningful Work

A meaningful task is the most important aspect of a youth volunteer project. Limit clerical or fundraising projects to a minimum, and try to focus on projects where volunteers can truly see the impact of their work. The most popular projects usually include client-based work since youth appreciate being able to get to know the people or animals they’re helping.

  1. Explain the Purpose

Make sure youth understand the purpose of the activity. Sometimes the most urgent volunteer need can be a mundane task (i.e. preparing litter boxes at an animal shelter). This can be a meaningful activity if you explain well the importance of the task. For example, explain how many litter boxes the shelter uses in a day and how many cats that helps. This helps the youth see that it’s an important task, even if it isn’t the most exciting.

  1. Offer Structure

Make sure to organize youth projects with a lot of structure. Bored youth volunteers can lead to problems for everyone. Many organizations underestimate the amount of work a group of dedicated youth can accomplish. Setting high expectations and making a detailed schedule with plenty of extra tasks can solve this problem.

  1. Think Ahead

Be prepared with materials and space. Unlike adult volunteers who may be happy to go home early from a project if the job is done or weather interrupts an outdoor project, youth often need to tell their parents or guardians exactly when they will be done so they can be picked up. Try to have a back-up idea in case anything in your plan changes or goes wrong so that these youth have something to do until the official project end.

  1. Share Your Passion

Remember what a win-win situation it is to have youth volunteers at your agency! Not only do they bring energy and enthusiasm, but you could be creating a lifelong volunteer and ally for your organization.

Photo credit: hepingting

Lacey Helmig_webLacey Helmig is Communications and Media Coordinator for Youth Volunteer Corps, a youth service organization that creates and supports quality, team-based youth service opportunities throughout the U.S. and Canada.


Why I’m Thankful for My Nonprofit Internship

Guest post by Dylan Manderlink

How nonprofit internships can be valuable for young people.Over the course of my four years of college, I had the privilege to intern at five different nonprofit organizations, all of whom were dedicated to different causes. From my tour relations internship position at a human rights nonprofit in LA, to my marketing internship at a nonprofit’s national headquarters in Boston, I gained a depth of insight that has informed my career decisions in the nonprofit sector.

No matter how different my tasks have been at the internships I’ve held, with each one I have gained a meaningful perspective on nonprofit work and the impact the sector can have on our communities. Given my young age, in each internship I was given a considerable amount of responsibility and mobility within the organization. I felt valued, not just as an intern, but as a part of their staff and movement as a whole.

Now that I am a recent post-grad working my first “real world” job, I can step back and really appreciate the professional and personal growth I experienced while interning in various nonprofits. Here are a few ways my nonprofit internships prepared me for my post-grad life and first job:

1. Nonprofits understand that time is precious and deadlines are important to their organization and cause. Because of this, I learned how to optimize the time I had. In my previous internships, whether I was there for a half-day or the full 9-5, I knew I had no time to waste. Now, that’s not to say that I felt rushed or stressed out at all. Instead, I felt additionally motivated by the urgency and importance of our work.

2. Nonprofits were forgiving if I made mistakes. My employers would take time to coach me, and by doing so, fostered my personal growth. At each nonprofit I interned with, I felt valued, appreciated and empowered as an employee. I have had several friends who interned at large for-profit companies who felt dissatisfied with how they were treated as an intern. I remember them commenting on always having to run errands, do menial tasks, and not have opportunities to build relationships with the staff they worked alongside. On the contrary, in my nonprofit internships I felt like I was constantly given additional responsibilities. In fact, many of those responsibilities were outside my comfort zone or area of familiarity.

3. I always felt like my higher-ups and co-workers took time to get to know me, my interests and passions, and my life outside of work. I noticed how welcoming, supportive, and empowering the nonprofit work culture is. Now, in my first post-grad job, I take the initiative to relationship-build with my fellow co-workers because I know how important that is in a work environment. I also actively seek areas where I can foster personal growth. I value finding mentors, welcoming opportunities to learn from my mistakes, and asking my co-workers to evaluate my performance.

4. Nonprofits promote and embody the notion that ‘it takes a village.’ I think one of the main reasons why I felt constantly empowered as an intern was because the nonprofit culture understands that each person’s contribution and effort is invaluable. Each employee, no matter your status or job title, is vital in promoting the cause that your organization fights for. Together, we have the power to make a real difference – within the organization, our community, and society at large. In my current job, I try channeling the ‘it takes a village belief’ everyday. I do this by:

  • Asking for help from my co-workers.
  • Vocalizing my appreciation for my co-workers and the hard work they do everyday.
  • Thanking others for their contributions to our staff’s overall goal.

It’s important to remember that we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs effectively without each other. I definitely learned that notion of staff unity from the internship experiences I had in college.

5. Nonprofits value a young voice and recognize the potential and eagerness of 20-somethings. As a recent post-grad, I was nervous about being hired at such a young age, and if organizations would question me given the little experience I’ve had. Even when these job insecurities and worries were overwhelming, I remember how appreciative my nonprofit staffs were when they realized that I was still in college and had so much passion and dedication to social change and nonprofit work. They viewed my age and paired eagerness as a pro, rather than seeing my age as something that signified inexperience.

Although there are many more benefits of having nonprofit internship experience as an undergrad, the advantages and skills I have highlighted are ones that have greatly impacted me in my first job as a college graduate.

The multiplicity of skills and diverse knowledge of the workforce that I have gained through my five nonprofit internships have given me a unique but practical perspective on the nonprofit sector. Rather than experiencing a tidal wave of worries following my college graduation, I felt hopeful, motivated, and ready to enter my first job and start pursuing my desired career.

So, if you’re a nonprofit employee who is thinking about hiring on an intern, I would highly encourage and support your decision to do so. As a previous nonprofit intern, I am tremendously thankful for the personal and professional growth I experienced while interning. The nonprofit internships I held helped inform my post-grad career decisions, and are professional experiences I will always reflect on when looking to better myself as an employee and as a community member.

My charge to nonprofit professionals is to recognize college students’ idealism, passion and fire to spark change. Along with recognizing these things, make room for them to be an asset and part of your organization. The confidence that my nonprofit coworkers encouraged concerning my age, idealism and commitment to social justice, is just what I needed when entering the workforce. This similar notion is something nonprofit professionals can embody within their own staffs and use to inspire young people to get more involved in the nonprofit sector.

Does your organization work with young interns? Tell us about your experiences below!

Dylan Manderlink is a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, Mass., who with a self-designed major, Investigative Theatre for Social Change. She is now a Teach for America corps member, teaching high school in rural Arkansas. She is passionate about working in the nonprofit sector and providing educational opportunities for students to creatively inform themselves and others about social justice, community change and human rights.

5 Tips for Engaging Youth Volunteers

Guest post by Susan Ragsdale

5 Tips for Engaging Youth Volunteers

A young lady works on door decorations for Ronald McDonald House during service camp.

“[The world’s hope] is to rely on youth . . . not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” — U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy

When I was young, I watched the Wonder Twins on Saturday morning cartoons. These youth worked with superhero adults to make a difference in the world. They assessed situations, made decisions and took action to try to make things better.

Sometimes their plans worked; sometimes they didn’t. But, that didn’t stop them from using their minds, hearts, time and energy to do what they could.

Today, there are many youth who want to make that difference and yet are often overlooked as possible resources in the volunteer pool. Working with various youth groups over the past 22 years, I’ve seen youth dig in and happily do what they can to make things right, better and more just and come up with viable solutions.

In engaging youth as volunteers, I recommend these tips from my book Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth:

  1. First, recognize youth are resources in your own thinking. Acknowledge that they have a perspective you don’t but that you need.Young people’s brains are often unfettered by “no”. Adults have often been told too many times that there ideas won’t work; systems are too hard to change. But youth haven’t repeatedly heard that message, thus they often have more freedom to tackle problems with enthusiasm, courage and out-of-the-box thinking. Use that resource!

  3. Ask them to do good. Ask them to make the world better. Ask them what they think; ask them to get involved, to help, and to share their gifts.

  5. Look for and engage youth from their sparks (their interests and talents). When a youth is actively involved in his spark, he is following his innate purpose and will be fully engaged in what’s going on. Challenge them to tap into their powers and use them for good.

  7. Mix it up. Involve youth volunteers in a variety of opportunities. Expose them to different community needs and ways to contribute. Help them find their passion and voice.

  9. Let youth work side-by-side with adults. Working next to adults expands youths’ perspectives and feeds into their own sense of purpose as they hear why adults are giving of their time.

We can’t afford to wait until young people are grown up before they understand or learn about society’s problems, find their voice, take action, and have an impact. We need to harness their energies, perspectives, gifts, and understandings today as actors in finding solutions for today’s challenges. We need them and they need us. Take a chance and start seeking young people out as volunteers.

See how these youth are serving: then send me how you’re engaging youth. We’ll tell your story on our blog.

Susan Ragsdale is a nationally recognized trainer in positive youth development, service-learning, and play with purpose as well as the co-author of 7 books including her latest, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, (published in September 2014 by Search Institute Press). Learn more through her website and her blog, or reach her at or Twitter @TheAssetEdge.

How and Why to Make Volunteering a Family Affair

Guest post by Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler Group

A mother and daughter volunteer together with the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

A mother and daughter volunteer together with the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

Whether you represent a food pantry, youth program, senior center, theater, or other organization or agency, families are likely a key constituent of yours. They may be welcomed as members, program attendees, visitors, or clients. They may be cultivated as donors or participants. Rarely, however, do families easily and readily find ways to volunteer at these organizations – to volunteer together.

Meanwhile, families are as busy as they have ever been and finding time together is a priority. Parents are seeking to spend meaningful family time together, to live out the values they want to instill in their children, and to make a positive difference in their community. In response, many organizations are beginning to actively engage families as volunteers, whether for a one-time event or in an ongoing relationship. Many different factors have inspired that new commitment to engaging families.

Last year, our firm shared a case study about one family volunteering program at the Aquarium of the Pacific. That institution was inspired, in part, by the powerful connection between young visitors and young volunteers. Sean Devereaux, the Manager of Volunteer Services, described the interaction between an 8-year old volunteer and a visitor of similar age:

“The interaction was truly magical. The young visitor was able to get so much more depth of knowledge than if he had interacted with an adult because the kids spoke to each other in a common language. It was remarkable. I wasn’t the only one who was noticing that magic. The Aquarium as a whole recognized the value of peer-to-peer learning. So we began marketing family volunteering as a valuable and integral program for our volunteer corps.”

Organizations can harness the energy of families working together, and, as seen in the “magic” observed at that aquarium, the benefits add up to far more than just the hours contributed by the family volunteers. Everyone benefits – the volunteers, the organization, the visitors or clients, and even the community-at-large.

When organizational leaders are strategic and careful about the roles they create for family volunteers, they can expect tangible contributions from family members of all ages. Creating meaningful and appropriate roles takes time, but is possible. In their book, Doing Good Together, Jenny Friedman and Jolene Roehlkepartain share seven “keys” to a successful family service project. They are:

  1. Purpose; impact on a real need
  2. Simplicity
  3. Creativity
  4. Intergenerational appeal
  5. Relationship building
  6. Reflection
  7. A next step

This list is a great starting point to discuss what makes family volunteering effective for all involved. Discuss what each of those seven key elements means to you and your constituents and what they might “look like” at your organization.

There are meaningful roles for families at most organizations. The challenge is to surface them. Here are a few suggestions to get the ideas flowing:

Social Service Agencies: Families can organize food drives, unload and shelve donations to a pantry, raise funds by organizing family-friendly events, and host information sessions at their homes or schools to educate others about the pressing needs in their own communities.

Community Centers: Families can help with facilities projects like building or painting playground meals to seniors, tutor children, or brainstorm, plan, and run events to bring new members to the Center.

Farms and Community Supported Agriculture: Families can tend crops and harvest food to be donated to a local food pantry, thus helping the environment, learning new skills, learning about issues related to hunger, and feeding the hungry all at the same time.

Museums and Cultural Organizations: Families can serve as tour guides, interpreters, greeters, or program ushers.

These are just a few examples of successful family-friendly volunteer roles. What can families do for your organization?

To learn more about family volunteering, join guest blogger Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler Group President, for a free webinar at September 3. Click here to register!

Beth Steinhorn is a nationally recognized leader, writer, and innovator in volunteer engagement and nonprofit management. As President of JFFixler Group, she leads consultations, facilitates workshops, directs research, presents keynote addresses, and publishes blogs and articles. Throughout her 25+ year career with nonprofit organizations, Beth has worked to help organizations and their leadership to achieve their missions through strategic and innovative engagement.