Nonprofit 411: Engaging Young Volunteers

MollyYuskaHeadShot2How Thinking Small Can Impact Your Nonprofit In Big Ways

By Molly Yuska, Founder, Project Giving Kids

Have you ever been asked whether your nonprofit has volunteer opportunities for kids? Have you ever debated with your board or amongst your staff the logistical or liability considerations of having young volunteers? Chances are you answered “yes” to one or both of these questions. Chances are also fairly good the answer to whether you currently have volunteer opportunities for the smallest of the small is “no.” But perhaps this issue deserves another look.

Setting aside minor operational hurdles like not knowing where to put a gaggle of young children or figuring out what they could possibly do to help propel your mission forward, consider for a moment the potential benefits of such engagement:

  • A new pool of volunteers & prospective donors in the form of kids and their parents;
  • The ability to forge ongoing relationships that can support long-term organizational capacity;
  • The opportunity to expose the next generation to a new world of selfless giving in a way that benefits all of us, not just our organizations.

Most parents of young children expect to volunteer side-by-side with their kids, so you are essentially getting two volunteers for one (not to mention you can require such adult participation for any on-site volunteer opportunities pretty easily). Further, kids are powerful megaphones. If you’ve ever asked an eight-year-old what he did for his last birthday, you likely heard an earful. I can say from personal experience the times I’ve taken my boys to serve at Cradles to Crayons or collect spare change for Gotta Have Sole, the extent of the verbal exchange with both adults and other kids about those experiences has been quite extensive – now that is good, free and powerful marketing!

In addition, consider that many adults put both their volunteering and often their charitable donating on hold during the chaotic and busy years of early child rearing. By giving a young family a way to engage with both each other and your organization, you are capturing parents as they just begin to emerge from their volunteer slumber before they enter their prime donor years AND you are doing so through a powerful experience with their kids they won’t soon forget. Cultivating relationships with volunteers like that offers long-term capacity building potential to the nonprofits who figure out meaningful moments of service and make them accessible to busy, young families.

Keep in mind too that the youngest of volunteers are usually fairly easily impressed. Of course every nonprofit wants to and should give its all when engaging new volunteers. However, the service experiences provided do not have to be profound to be impactful when it comes to kids. It just needs to be clear. They need to understand how they are making a difference. They need to identify with the population being served. They need the steps to be outlined in a way that guarantees their success (in executing the project) so they can feel triumphant in their completion of the task at hand.

So perhaps at your next board meeting consider fully exploring all the ways young volunteers could serve your mission, if even from the comforts of their own home rather than your office. Doing so may just bring some new life to your organization both in the short and long terms, and may ignite a passion for service in the next generation that will impact us all in ways we can only imagine.

Molly Yuska is the founder of Project Giving Kids, a new nonprofit piloting in Boston whose mission is to cultivate empathy in young children by connecting them through a fun-to-use online experience to age-appropriate service opportunities at a critical time in their development and to strengthen the overall capacity of the nonprofit sector by uniting existing nonprofits with new volunteers/donors. To learn more about Project Giving Kids and how Boston area nonprofits can leverage this free new resource to their benefit, visit www.projectgivingkids.org.