One of the many myths about volunteering is that most volunteers are older people—generally people think of retirees volunteering at the local op-shop!
Of course that isn’t the whole picture. The highest rates of volunteering are to be found in the 45-54 age bracket, but that doesn’t mean that younger people don’t, or don’t want to, volunteer.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that of all the people who volunteered in 2010, 9.4% were between 18 and 24. As almost 6.1 million people volunteered in that year, that means well over half a million young people volunteered. Overall, more than 27% of young people volunteered in 2010.
Young people do indeed want to volunteer, and are an important cohort. As might be expected, volunteering for groups related to sport and recreation was the most popular choice, with over 183,000 volunteering. But they aren’t the only group to prefer those kinds of events—all volunteers up to the age of 65 show a preference for sport and recreation.
Young people also volunteered strongly for religious groups, and almost half volunteered at least once a week. Most also stuck to one organisation. This points to an important point about youth volunteers—one of the reasons they volunteer is to be with friends, which means they are often influenced to volunteer by their peer groups.
So how do groups encourage young people to volunteer? Recent research by Volunteering Tasmania found that young people value skill development and like to feel they are genuinely making a contribution, but that there were some important practical factors that helped them engage.
Young people needed roles that reflected their lifestyles, which generally could not accommodate regular commitments, and they often found transport a problem. The research also found that most groups didn’t use social media platforms like Facebook enough—the younger generation looks first and foremost at the web to gain information and communicate, and any organisation serious about attracting young volunteers needs to connect with them there.
Offline, young people are very engaged with their peers, so having young volunteer ambassadors and making personal approaches through peer networks, schools and families was also essential—backed by a strong web presence, a short and easy application process and a personal point of contact within the organisation.
Once engaged in volunteering, the research also found that young people overwhelmingly felt that they would continue to volunteer in later years, so engaging volunteers positively while they are young paves the way for an ongoing ‘volunteering habit’.
Perhaps the question is not whether young people want to volunteer, but whether organisations are doing the right things to facilitate young people’s volunteering.