In January, when all the local schools were going back to class following the winter break, we started receiving requests from individual teens, school groups, and parent-youth groups – all looking for volunteer opportunities for MLK Day and beyond.
Lucky for Activate Good, we were already working on just that.
See, while everyone was binging on their Christmas ham and eggnog, lighting menorahs for Hanukkah, preparing their traditions for New Year’s Eve, hitting the slopes, or all those other wonderful winter break festivities – we were planning big plans. For me, as the new Youth Programs Coordinator, it was all about teens and families.
Where are youth volunteers needed – and accepted? What do the volunteers need – and want? How can we help everyone find great ways to get involved, or support the creation of ways to involve others? How can we create a welcoming, impactful, and educational volunteer environment from our end, as well as those of our more than 380 nonprofit partners in the Greater Triangle?
On February 6, 7, and 8, we hosted teen focus groups to answer some of those questions and begin moving forward in all of our ambitious youth programming hopes and dreams for 2017.
Teens chatted a lot about past experiences – what they liked or didn’t like, and why. But they also spoke about what they want (and what they feel their peers want) out of their future volunteer opportunities and interactions with their nonprofits hosts. They shed light on some really key points that I think a lot of nonprofits know, but often forget as they are swept into the constant hustle and bustle of this sector. To all our supporters and nonprofits out there, let’s get better:
- Teens want to know they have the opportunity. Teens are always looking for volunteer opportunities, but to some, it almost seems like the opportunities just aren’t there for them – or they really need to dig to find them (almost too much). Of course, Activate Good’s whole concept is based on the idea that we want to connect volunteers to the causes that need them, because many people don’t volunteer simply due to not knowing where to start. So if nonprofits already know that getting their volunteer needs out there and filled is an obstacle sometimes, then why aren’t we appropriately tapping into this goldmine of a demographic? If you can welcome teens – let it be known – and let us help you get the word out.
Teens want to know the answers. For example, if they’re making décor for an event, why does it matter; what is the butterfly effect resulting from their assembly of party favors? These are answers we have, but many teens in our focus groups didn’t feel they had easy access to them. A lack of information like this may be all it takes to break a relationship – or stop one in its tracks before it ever really begins. Transparency equals trust; a volunteer relationship is founded on that concept just like any other relationship in life, and the life of each cause depends on it.
- Teens want to know us. Let’s be honest – there’s a wrong and right way to approach this; no one wants someone forcing conversation on them. But there are ways to get to know these great teen volunteers, and to let them get to know you and your organization, in a tactful manner. Find what works for you, and each individual volunteer. Ask some questions, let them ask theirs. Exchange answers as best as possible. Let them know they are appreciated people – not just worker bees. Engagement doesn’t end when volunteers get through the door!
- Teens want to know why. Volunteer hour requirements are all over the place, ranging from extracurriculars to high school graduation to college admission. But what happens when you require volunteer hours, but don’t explain why? You end up with volunteers just doing what they’re told, and not fully understanding what they’ve been asked to do and enjoying it. What we think may be obvious, may not really be so obvious; assumptions are not productive, and the last thing we want to do is make volunteering a chore. Mentors, parents, teachers, advisors, nonprofit representatives and more – everyone is missing out on a great opportunity to educate future change-makers when the assumption is made that all teens must already know why volunteering is important. Tell them how it helps build character, support health, and provide perspective on a world larger than their own. Tell them about the skills they can learn, the passions they can explore, and the networks they can build. Tell them.
These are demands, but not really. In reality, these are things we should all already be doing for our teens – and they all focus on knowledge. If we meet these “demands,” we’d likely have a much better turnout to meet our own demands, society’s demands.
Teens have so much potential to supply change, the drive we need to continue to evolve and thrive for those we serve. Since February, I’ve met many teens: Presidents of National Honor Society groups, organizers of events, fundraisers, and club founders; students in homeschool, early college, STEM and arts programs; students from all over the Triangle and all walks of life, and with varying skills and interests. No matter their differences, they all genuinely wanted to get involved with local nonprofits A.S.A.P. Some of them even touched on some great service ideas they had bouncing around in their heads, just waiting for an opportunity to be set loose.
Our focus group teens helped get the word out about our annual Teen Days of Service (April 21 & 22) and National Volunteer Week campaign (April 23-29). Soon, Activate Good began receiving a lot of requests to match teen groups from around the Triangle with suitable projects benefitting their communities and local nonprofits. With more than 380 nonprofit partners and growing, we hit the ground running!
We matched 15 local teen groups to 15 different nonprofits, and opened up 6 more opportunities to individual teen volunteers for a total of 21 opportunities welcoming teens this year. Overall, we connected 558 volunteers from a variety of teen and family groups to local nonprofits and causes, amounting to 985 volunteer hours. (Note: These numbers do not fully reflect the reach of this year’s campaign; many more adult-only groups volunteered too!) Teens from our focus groups also hosted their own projects with great success, including an in-school book drive that accumulated 1,500 books for Wake Up & Read, and the Wake County Public Library System.
These outcomes are more than double what we welcomed in past years, and only the base of all the possibility teen volunteering in the Triangle presents. Let’s keep this trend going, supplying the opportunity teens need to really be the change we want.
Many thanks to all of our nonprofit partners that welcomed teens to volunteer with them this April! If you can accept teen volunteers, are the adviser of a teen group, or are a teen volunteer looking for opportunities – please reach out! Email firstname.lastname@example.org!
Want more photos from Teen Days of Service & National Volunteer Week 2017? Visit us here!
Activate Schools is an Activate Good initiative to empower the next generation of young volunteers and community leaders. What does this look like? Educational offerings for teens and families, opportunities for discussion and youth leadership, annual days of service, volunteer projects with Activate Good and our nonprofit partners, and more!
Activate Good believes we can help make volunteerism part of the local lifestyle by integrating volunteerism into everyday institutions like schools and workplaces. Learn more about Activate Good and join our mailing list for monthly volunteer highlights and more.