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"How do we retain student volunteers?"

Holly D Daniels | Published on 9/2/2022

Before our 8.24.22 Central MN District Council meeting, someone had posted this question to our Jamboard live agenda: "What are some new ways to retain high school and college student volunteers, to have them give more time instead of short hours?"

The question spawned a rich conversation, and I wanted to share some of the nuggets with you!

Work Toward Different Motivations

We know that for volunteers, their personal motivations are a big deal to them. And it’s no different for volunteers in high school and college. Can you ask your volunteers what motivates them and then work toward those motivations? Of course you can’t always cater to everyone, but as much as you can — people will be more engaged and stay longer.

Below, in bullets, you’ll find smart ideas from the volunteer engagement leaders at the meeting:

  • Students want to know the “why” behind the work they’re doing.

  • We have a program for students to volunteer for 3 hours after school and do a variety of tasks. They like to try new things! We have several college-age volunteers and over time, we’ve been able to integrate them with other volunteer opportunities.

  • For student volunteers, we offer a $500 scholarship. If you put in 150 hours your senior year of high school, you get a scholarship. It’s a goal to achieve and an incentive to keep coming.

  • In the hospital we have our junior volunteers work in the emergency room from 3-9 p.m. They answer the call lights. It’s great life experience, and useful for anyone who wants to go into the medical field — they can get a sense of what the career is, and if they want to pursue it.

Do you know what motivates your student volunteers?

Temptation Bundling

I just learned this term at a MAVA training (shout out to Becky Mares!). "Temptation bundling" is the concept (coined by behavior researcher Katy Milkman) of "bundling" a task that's not so glamorous, like cleaning restrooms, with something special like a well-designed  t-shirt given exclusively to the cleaning crew. Food and friends can also be great bundlers:

  • Sometimes we directly reach out to schools, to have them do a cleanup. “Grab some friends, do a cleanup, and join us at a picnic!”

What are small benefits, incentives, novelties, or fun titles you can use to tempt people to keep coming back?

Remove Barriers

We know that barriers exist for all volunteers. It’s just as true for our student volunteers. They may have many priorities to juggle, as well as limited resources.

  • We tell them, when you graduate, here are all the ways you can participate with us. We try to make it as easy as possible for them to stay engaged even as their circumstances shift.

  • We have home crafters in our area. They make things — like sleep masks for radiology patients and prayer shawls. We want to let young people know they can volunteer from home if they like to be creative and want to get involved.

What makes it hard for your student volunteers to stay involved? Can you ask them? 

Culture Awareness

Also, be aware of how your organizational culture responds to younger people. 

  • I started my career at an organization with older volunteers who grumbled all day about how lazy millennials were. I would say to them, “You get that you’re talking about me, right?” They always told me, “You’re different!” It’s a little unpleasant to think about, but try to be aware of the culture your volunteers are experiencing.

What can you do to check the vibes and ensure that volunteers of all ages are made to feel welcomed and wanted?