In any organization, working with young volunteers has its own unique rewards and challenges. Many younger volunteers seek short-term, temporary or weekend opportunities, often to fulfill certain obligations. Here are tips designed to help your organization overcome potential challenges in working with young volunteers, allowing you – and your volunteers – to get the most out of the experience.
Engagement: The Foundation of the Volunteer Experience
Many volunteer managers indicate that training and organizing volunteers – particularly younger ones who may only work with a group for a short period of time – is simply not worth the effort. But it can be. The key to maximizing return on investment in training, according to a prominent volunteer management consultant, is engagement.
Management consultant and author Tom McKee of www.volunteerpower.com suggests starting every work day with a group “huddle” or a brief team meeting. This gives you an opportunity to talk about your organization’s cause and mission, including how you and your volunteers directly help others in the community. One of your more experienced volunteers, or you, may wish to put together a short testimonial video with one of your clients to share at group huddles. This technique builds engagement by giving young volunteers motivation and a great introduction to what you do and what your organization stands for.
Flexibility in Schedules and Volunteer Teams
Young volunteers may show up with little or no notice, and often are overscheduled in their lives with school and family obligations. To make the relationship with your volunteers run smoothly, flexibility in scheduling is a must. As a volunteer manager, you should be ready for late arrivals in the mornings and early departures in the afternoons. One technique you may wish to incorporate is to offer an end-of-day reward such as ice cream or a small prize to retain your young volunteers later in the day.
Flexibility in forming and managing volunteer teams also pays dividends. Remember that for your younger helpers, the experience is just as much a social event as it is an opportunity to deliver services to others. Some volunteers will naturally work better with certain individuals, and may bond more closely with those they develop friendships with. Allow your young volunteers to form their own teams, and if possible, let each team choose their own leader.
Prepare Projects in Advance for Volunteer Work
When your organization works with young volunteers, you may be surprised how quickly these groups complete their tasks. Many organizations have run out of small projects to tackle, leaving managers scrambling to find tasks for their energetic volunteer teams. To ensure you have enough for your volunteers to do, create a list of needed maintenance or service projects. Plan how those projects can be completed with smaller or larger groups of volunteers and what equipment or supplies they will need.
Focus on Volunteer Safety
A growing number of young volunteers are approaching organizations in their communities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Potential volunteers may be motivated by a wish to serve their communities, or are simply looking for something to do outside of the home. Not only during concerns about the pandemic but at all other times, volunteer safety is paramount. When you work with volunteers organizers, such as school or youth program managers, make your safety requirements clear and concise. With COVID-19, these requirements may mandate the wearing of protective masks and gloves at all times. A review of safety requirements and procedures with volunteers when they report for duty is always a valuable training tool. If you don’t share your safety requirements with stakeholders, your volunteers are likely to show up wearing inappropriate clothing or footwear and lacking the protective equipment they need.
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