December 4, 2011

Youth Volunteering

Posted in Good news stories, Leading Volunteers, Youth Volunteering at 4:35 am by Sue Hine

“Get them while they’re young” is a line from the musical Evita,   interposed on a paean to ‘Santa Evita’ sung by a chorus of children.  It is also a line spun in a religious context and a strategy exploited by many a commercial and consumer enterprise.

So I should not be surprised to learn if you have not been exposed to volunteering by the time you are 15 you are not likely to get engaged as a volunteer either now or later.  That bit of hearsay gave me pause to think about my own history of volunteering and where it came from.

These days the evidence shows more and more young people are volunteering, in all sorts of spheres, and they are not always following the model of their parents as I did.

In Australia youth volunteering (aged 18-24) doubled in the ten years to 2006, to 32%.  A US report (2005) found the rate for ages 12-18 was 55%, more than one and a half times the adult rate of 29%.  In England only 24% of 16-24 year olds are engaged in formal volunteering, according to a 2009 review. The rate in New Zealand for the year ending March 2009 was just 27%, for the age group 15-24 years.

Statistics such as these offer bald information and clearly international comparisons on this data would be odious.  What needs to be noted is the increasing interest by youth in volunteering: in New Zealand this age group is anecdotally claimed to be the fastest rising volunteer demographic. Over the past six months Volunteer Wellington finds the number of volunteer seekers aged 14-29 have outnumbered other age groups more than 2:1, and 50% of these volunteers were students.

Alongside this burgeoning volunteer population there is a welter of related research, conferences, and reviews, national and international.  There are presentations from young people themselves on what they expect, where their interests lie and how they want to be engaged. There is also an ongoing blog written by young people for young volunteers.

They come with different strengths and expectations from older generations.  Being technologically-gifted they expect all information and communication to be available on-line.  Sometimes they prefer to work in groups or to be involved in time-limited, task-focused activities. They want opportunities to get work-related experience, something to put on their CVs.  Yet they can also have altruistic reasons for volunteering, and a sense of civic responsibility.

The volunteer work of young people can be as varied as programmes that engage older people. A study on student involvement showed nearly half worked as a mentor, coach, or counsellor with youth.  Sports and cultural activities attracted a significant proportion, and close behind were health and emergency services.

For the leader of volunteers and the manager of a volunteer programme here is another dynamic to add to the business of harnessing the skills and energies brought by volunteers to the organisation. Be warned, youth volunteers will not tolerate being patronised. There is much to admire in their enthusiasm and commitment, and in their achievements.  Organisations in New Zealand, like Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), CanTeen (supporting teenage cancer patients) and YouthLine, are obvious standouts, yet young people will be found volunteering in a whole lot of other places as well.

There is much to encourage and entice youth volunteers at Volunteering Otago, and a really great Wish List at Volunteering Hawkes Bay. What we want, they say, is: Flexibility, Experience, Incentives, Legitimacy and Variety; accessing volunteering needs to be Easy; like everyone else Appreciation and Support is important; and most of all we love to Laugh!  Go check out the details, and find how engaging young people as volunteers is pretty much the same as for other populations.

Get them while they are young, to open opportunities for learning skills and about self, about community, about service, and about the life-long gains that volunteering can bring.  Better still, get them to show you a thing or two about different ways of volunteering and new approaches to existing volunteer programmes.

[If you think I have tossed in too many hyperlinks here, it is simply an indication of the wealth of material and information available on engaging young people in your organisation.]

And have a great day celebrating the International Volunteers’ Day on December 5, whatever your age!


  1. Roger Tweedy said,

    The speech from the young woman from the ChCh Student Army last night at the IYV Govt reception was so relevant I believe. She talked of the need for young volunteers to appreciate and be supported by the older experience people and organisations. Is volunteering the much needed ‘third space’ where young and older NZers can come together learning and valuing each other from differing perspectives. We disperately need this to happy in all our communities as we deal with possible inter generational conflict around the perceived ‘ageing burben’


  2. Sue Hine said,

    Thanks Roger – sorry I missed the function, and hope you and other readers have caught up with – Sam Johnson is nominated for New Zealander of the Year. Let’s all give him a vote!


  3. Jodi Murphy said,

    “They come with different strengths and expectations from older generations.”

    It’s important to keep that in mind. Sometimes you will have to change the way you approach a particular problem to help younger volunteers understand. It’s not that the aren’t capable of doing something, they have just been taught to look at this differently than older generations.


    • Sue Hine said,

      Absolutely, Jodi. That’s what should be keeping leaders of volunteers on their toes: being flexible and adaptable to the needs of all volunteer generations.


  4. Arielle said,

    What is your source on this statistic?
    “if you have not been exposed to volunteering by the time you are 15 you are not likely to get engaged as a volunteer either now or later. ”
    Thank you!


    • Sue Hine said,

      This piece of information was reported more than ten years ago, but no source cited. I take it as an interested piece of ‘hearsay’.


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