Youth serving organizations turn to volunteers to make programs successful. From board members to event volunteers, our community members are an incredible resource. Organizations that effectively leverage volunteers can reach more youth with fewer staff, stretching their hard fought dollars. As a result, youth organizations compete for time and attention. Even in Seattle, the city with the fourth highest volunteering rates in the country, only 1 in 3 adults volunteer. What’s a non-profit to do? Instead of competing for the same super-volunteers, create your own volunteer corps, starting with college students.
I love working with students, from high school on up. But high school students can limited by laws and parental rules (they can’t supervise youth or drive after dark) and their own schedules (sports AND school AND applying for college AND trying to make some money…). In contrast, college students are legal adults, often with flexible schedules and the desire to put their book learning to work in the real world. They can be idealistic, which is refreshing if you spend your days with grizzled, burnt out non-profit employees. (Let’s be honest, folks. This is real.) That idealism and learning can lead to incredible creativity and a willingness to try anything. PERFECT.
That’s not to say it’s all roses. College students’ lives change quickly. One quarter the schedule is easy, the next they are slammed by senior seminars or service learning classes. They may not live in your city year round. Or, their interests might change as they learn more about themselves and who/what they want to be. But what some call “flakiness” I call the cost of doing business with talented, passionate, young people. Craft your program the right way, and you can maximize the impact and minimize the chaos of working with college students.
Leading up to National Volunteer Week (April 6-12) I’m going to share some best practices for designing a volunteer program that works for you and your college student volunteers. For those of you who like to read the table of contents, here’s a sneak peak:
Part 1 (March 19): Design a Great Project
Part 2 (March 26): Find Great Volunteers
Part 3 (April 2): Keep Them Coming Back
Part 4 (April 9): Guest Blogger—College Volunteers in the Field
Check back each Wednesday for ideas, tips, and tricks for building your college volunteer corps. Then celebrate Volunteer Week by pledging to engage more college students in your organization! You won’t regret it. 🙂