A First-Hand Perspective about Students, Nonprofits and Volunteering

Guest post by Austin Hong.

A First-Hand Perspective about Students, Nonprofits and VolunteeringHello there!

My name is Austin Hong. I am 20 years old, born and raised in Los Angeles, Calif. I’m a rising junior at Boston College, studying finance and computer science, and I think I have some advice for you.

Since high school I’ve developed quite a resume of service activities. Between 2010 and now, I’ve had extensive involvement with nonprofit organizations, the most renowned being Operation Smile. I’ve served on two international service trips in Costa Rica and South Korea, individually spent over 400 hours serving an elementary school in East Boston, as well as served a number of other local organizations and events.

A significant portion of my past six years can be largely described by my passion to serve others, and it’s a passion and joy that many students and young adults my age should experience. The advice and plea I have for those of you involved in the nonprofit industry is to create an increased focus and higher emphasis on incorporating students and student chapters into achieving the goals of your organizations.

Why Student Chapters?

Students are passionate and filled with energy. I believe that high school is the starting point to several years of an individual’s path towards self-discovery. As mystical as that might sound, it is definitely something that will benefit your organization. A high school student will grip whatever interests them and drive forward with it, and for many in my generation, the interest that we have gripped has been our desire to give back to the local and global communities.

My first experience with any sort of nonprofit organization was through my older brother, who was the first to introduce me to Operation Smile. I was instantly compelled to get involved. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I revered him and wanted to mimic everything that he did, or that his personal testimony regarding his experience with the organization and its cause ignited in me a passion to also make a difference. Regardless of the reason, as soon as I was exposed to Operation Smile, I drove forward with it.

Students Need to Volunteer

Not only are your organizations in need of students, students are just as equally in need of your organizations. When a student connects with a nonprofit’s cause, it plants a seed in them that only grows over time. The seed grows in the student and creates values in him or her that are hard to come by anywhere else at that age of their life. The spread of activism and volunteerism are critical in creating a holistic person, and a set of morals. The earlier these morals are set, the longer they have to mature and become ingrained in the student.

Volunteerism will not just create a set of values in a student, but it will also give him or her a rare opportunity to be a leader. Leadership is not entirely impossible to come by within the academic setting; however the unique aspect of leadership within a student chapter is what makes it so attractive.

To put into perspective the effects of a single student and student chapters, the year after my discussion with my older brother, I founded an Operation Smile student chapter at my high school. The year after that, I decided to expand my efforts and rallied twelve existing student chapters in my local area to form what is now known as the Operation Smile Southern California Region. Each student chapter continued their efforts individually; however, as a region, we hosted large-scale awareness events and fundraisers to have a greater impact on our communities and the suffering men, women, and children for whom we served.

By my third year as the president of my student chapter and region, I had helped to provide over 6,000 volunteer hours, raised over $22,000, and created student chapters in six different high schools. I don’t want you to confuse these claims as an attempt to boost my ego, rather I wanted to show you the tangible results of a single driven student. To this day, my high school’s student chapter and the Southern California Region continue to thrive and expand, even without my involvement.

Students should not be pressured, that is to say that a nonprofit’s cause should not be forced down the throat of a high school freshman. Rather, by providing the proper resources and attention to allow a student to be exposed to an organization, and providing the support to continue their interests, engaging students can prove to be an extremely high-yielding investment for any nonprofit organization.

Austin Hong was raised in Los Angeles, California before attending Boston College, where he studies Finance. Currently he is working for a legal management consulting firm in the Beacon Hill area of Boston, Mass.

The Nonprofit Nerd Inside Each of Us

What brings out your inner nonprofit nerd?Eight years ago, I was twenty-two. I was a couple months away from graduating and heading off to start my PhD program in Neuroscience, then on to a life of research and labs. Boy, was I nerdy about the brain. And yet…

As graduation approached, I began having doubts. Did I really want to spend the next 40 years or so doing research in a lab? Why was I not more excited to get out of bed every morning?

Meanwhile, I was also heading up a small student-run nonprofit organization called Camp Kesem, a week-long summer camp for children whose parents have cancer or have passed away from cancer.

When did you realize you were meant for nonprofits?And I realized: I was more excited to get up and do the daily drudgery and admin work for Camp Kesem than I was to go into the lab. Lightbulb moment.

It was right then when I realized my future (as much as it could be figured out at that tender age,) did not lie with science, but with a whole other kind of geekiness: the social sector variety.

Almost a decade later, I am PhD-free and happily working at VolunteerMatch, engaging with people and helping them find their own passions and their own ways of making the world a better place using their time and the time and skills of others. I guess you could say I’m studying the brain in a whole different way.

The truth is, as nerdy as I was about the brain, it did not inspire me the way working at a nonprofit inspires me: for life. It took my experience running Camp Kesem in college to bring out my inner nonprofit nerd and set me on this path. And every day I get to do what I love here at VolunteerMatch, that nerd grows just a bit bigger, a bit stronger. At this point, she’s probably taller than I am (not a tough feat).

In the day-to-day craziness of being nonprofit professionals, it’s easy to forget…ourselves. But we as people are just as important as those we’re trying to help, and those whom we’re engaging.

So let’s remember, every once in a while, to connect back to what originally inspired us. Because just as I discovered, we all have a nonprofit nerd inside us. What brings yours out?

Connect to Who Your Volunteers REALLY Are

A volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity Global Village mission trip.

A volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity Global Village mission trip.

How well do you know your volunteers? How well do you NEED to know them? After all, we’re very busy people working at nonprofits, and isn’t it more important to run our events without a hitch and come in under budget than to be buddy-buddy with volunteers?


Think about it this way: Your volunteers are the people who care so much about what you do, they have actively sought you out so they can spend their free time, skills and sweat to do work for you – for free. What can be more important than that?

How Does It Help?

Getting to know your volunteers on a deeper level can have a number of benefits for your volunteer program and organization as a whole: when you speak to aspects of your volunteers’ personality and their real lives, you’ll see an increase in engagement and excitement. People will stick around longer and be more willing to take on leadership roles.

Also, when you have a stronger relationship with your volunteers, that connection becomes more valuable and meaningful for YOU, as well, and for your staff members who join you. When your volunteers become special, individual people, you’ll have even more fun, and be even more passionate about supporting them.

When Does It Help?

Knowing more about what makes your volunteers tick will be useful in a whole bunch of situations, such as designing new opportunities to appeal to other great volunteers, or coming up with fun, affordable appreciation events and gifts that your volunteers will actually like.

When you have a real relationship with a volunteer, you’ll be able to determine the best path forward to move them into a leadership role, or to expand how they support the organization by asking them for donations of money and goods, in addition to time.
And the more you’re connected to your volunteers, the easier it is to get connected to their friends and family, thus expanding your community of supporters!

What Do You Do Now?

So if you’re convinced, how do you actually go about getting to know your volunteers on a deeper level? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Ask them to fill out a survey (keep it simple and not too invasive!)
  • Ask them for feedback after an event, whether over email or via VolunteerMatch’s reviews feature.
  • Spend time with them! Have actual conversations with them! Ask them questions about their lives! Smile at them!
  • Talk to your fellow staff members, and foster a culture in your organization of sharing experiences and notes about volunteers, so everyone can learn from each other how best to relate to your supporters.

How do you get to know your volunteers better? Share your ideas and strategies below!

VolunteerMatch Now Connects Nonprofits Directly to 300 Million Skilled Volunteers

As of this week, every skilled volunteer opportunity on VolunteerMatch.org gets automatically posted to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace.
VolunteerMatch and LinkedIn have partnered to build a technology bridge to the future of skilled volunteering.

Here’s some big news for your nonprofit: VolunteerMatch has created a game-changing partnership with LinkedIn to help you recruit the right skilled volunteers. Together, we’re changing the way people connect with your organization to volunteer their time and expertise.

A joint team of product managers and engineers worked together to build a “technology bridge,” so that all skilled volunteer opportunities posted to VolunteerMatch.org will now automatically be posted to LinkedIn, as well. And now it will be dramatically easier for your organization to successfully recruit skilled volunteers and board members.

So far, skilled opportunities also posted to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace have seen 2-3 times as many sign-ups from interested volunteers – and we expect this trend to continue growing!

Here’s What You Need to Know:

  • When you create a listing in VolunteerMatch and specify a skill, we will “auto-magically” share it on your Company page on LinkedIn. Simply enter your LinkedIn Company URL after you’ve posted your listing. (Don’t worry, if we don’t know your Company page or you don’t have one, your listing will display as part of VolunteerMatch on LinkedIn.)
  • Volunteers will still sign up for your listing on VolunteerMatch, so you’ll still find out about interested volunteers the same way you always have.

Want to learn more about engaging skilled volunteers? Join us for a free webinar about how best to integrate skilled volunteers into your existing program!

As always, please share your thoughts about how this opportunity can be helpful to you by emailing support@volunteermatch.org.

And now, head to VolunteerMatch.org, post your skilled volunteer opportunities, and get ready for some great skilled volunteers!

Summer + Teens + Volunteering = A Combination Not to Be Ignored

Teen volunteers with the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

Teen volunteers with the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

Summer is here! For many of us this means sun, smiles, and…teenagers with nothing to do. Fortunately, as nonprofit organizations, we’re always in need of more help!

And lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of buzz about how great it is to get teens involved in volunteering. So don’t miss this chance to engage teen volunteers! They are energetic, passionate about what they care about, and they also have a lot of time on their hands right now…

Here’s a round-up of some news articles about teens and volunteering:

Post teen-friendly opportunities on VolunteerMatch.org right now!