Working with young people

Bringing young people into a volunteer program is great for the community, building young people's skills and confidence, and bringing new ideas into the organisation.

This page is for organisations that want to expand their volunteer program to include young people or organisations that want more guidance in working with young people.

Benefits of working with young people

Organisations working with young volunteers find them to be energetic, creative and enthusiastic to get their friends involved in something they feel proud about. Young people can make a significant contribution to your organisation.

Involving young people will help your organisation stay in touch with the issues and challenges they face, ensure the future of volunteering within your organisation and help you stay in touch with relevant future generations. You will also be able to hook into youth networks and recruit more young people. Young people will jump through hoops to support causes they feel passionate about.

What do young people get out of volunteering?

Everyone volunteers for different reasons and young people are no different. Some reasons young people volunteer are to:

  • Meet new people and make new friends
  • Expand networks
  • Feel like part of the community
  • Gain personal satisfaction
  • Learn new skills and gain work experience
  • Build confidence
  • Be involved in decision making
  • Gain a reference for their CV
  • Do something worthwhile
  • Help others in the community

As you can see, the list is not dissimilar to that of anyone else searching for volunteer opportunities! The main difference to be aware of is that young people are looking for opportunities where they can gain experience, learn new skills and meet people, which will aid their efforts to get employment. They may also need you to be flexible and accommodating around their other commitments and interests in ways that might not be necessary for older volunteers who are at a different stage of their life's journey.

Youth volunteering has broader benefits too. It encourages youth engagement in the community, gives a positive image of young people and leads to a more connected community.

Attracting and recruiting young people

Volunteering positions for young people can be long term or short term, a one off event or a continuing obligation; they could involve a daily/weekly/monthly or yearly commitment. The same applies for young volunteers as for anybody interested in volunteering.

There may be particular issues of availability for a student or someone working casual hours, for example you might find that a six-month position might slot into a uni student's life better than a continuous commitment. However, if the volunteer feels welcome and is passionate about your organisation and they have the ability to stay on, they probably will.

Make sure you check with your young volunteers about what works for them, rather than making broad assumptions. There's as much variety among younger volunteers as in volunteers of any age group!
Many young people become involved in volunteering because they know somebody already involved. Involve young volunteers in discussions about recruiting more young people and ask your volunteers to actively encourage their friends to join. Your younger volunteers will also know the best places to advertise new positions and how to design the role to appeal to their friends.

Young people could also become involved if it is part of their school program. See the section further down the page on Student volunteers for more information on student placements and work experience

Advertising

When looking for new youth positions, make sure you include in the advertisement that you are looking for young people and be clear about what skills are needed, how long the position/role is for and what benefits the young person will receive. View our page on Writing volunteer advertisements for more information.

Make sure it is easy for young people to express their interest in the position. On the advertisement or role position, include an email address and mobile number. Be ready to accept and respond to text messages.

Advertise the positions on your website and on your Facebook page if you have one. It may also be a good idea to put posters around universities. If your website allows people to share content by 'liking' it on Facebook, tweeting or using an 'email this page' button, make sure that functionality is enabled. Younger people will feel comfortable telling their peers about an opportunity using this kind of sharing technology.

Encourage your existing young volunteers to tell their friends about what they do for their organisation. An endorsement by word of mouth can be much more effective than other form of advertising.

Roles for young volunteers

When you're thinking about roles for young volunteers, it can be helpful to consider the level of responsibility required.  The kind of role you place your young volunteers into should align with their skills, experience and also with what they tell you about what they want to do. Some young volunteers may be ready for a big challenge that lets them take something on and work towards a goal. Others may want to start with easy tasks until they have the confidence and experience to move into something more challenging.

Tasks with a low level of responsibility can be essential to an organisation, but may require a very small amount of training and supervision. These tasks can include data entry, reception, or working on a fundraising or event team.

Medium level responsibility tasks are usually part of a bigger project. A volunteer might have responsibility for one aspect of a project; one piece in the jigsaw puzzle. These types of roles can be great for building confidence and an understanding of teamwork.

Tasks that require a high level of responsibility could be given to young volunteers who have already demonstrated a high level of creativity and the ability to work under their own direction. Remember that training and support are extremely valuable to any young volunteer and to the organisation they work for – even those young people who seem very self-sufficient will benefit from mentoring, supervision and feedback.

The best way to ensure a young volunteer is well-matched to a role is to create a position description and let the young volunteer read it and make a decision about whether it's right for them. A clear role description is good for the organisation and the volunteer.

Student volunteers

Non-profit organisations can approach schools and universities about offering student placements. Most schools have a work experience program in year 10, and sometimes students are obliged to commit a certain number of hours to community service.

In some cases, these kinds of arrangement require that students are assessed during their time in the organisation. This means paperwork for you and the student. Hosting students involves a high level of supervision, contact with their teacher over the phone and email and possible site visits from teachers and parents.

For many students, a volunteer role or internship by a school or university placement will be their first exposure to a workplace and they will be enthusiastic and willing to learn. Ask the student what they want to achieve on placement and what new skills they want to learn. It's a good idea to have already prepared a rough guide of the activities you want the student to complete on placement, one which can be flexible. This will make it easier for both parties to complete the final report/evaluation. Remember if a student is not busy and feeling useful, they may soon lose enthusiasm for the placement.

University students

When thinking of involving student volunteers in your volunteer program, don't forget university students. Many courses require students to complete internships, which can range from 2–8 weeks. University students are more flexible and independent than high school students and many have specialised skills. Many university students gain employment from the organisation they completed their internship in.

Retaining young volunteers

Young people want to feel like they are useful, they're not going to give up their spare time to sit around and do nothing. And like anyone else, they're not going to stick around if they don't feel respected. Organisations need to reward and recognise young people's contribution and achievements. Below are some ideas to support young people, which will be positively received:

  • Recognise prior learning
  • Identify processes for recognising, rewarding and supporting volunteers
  • Shake things up to make it fun
  • Create certificates for young volunteers and student volunteers for their resumes
  • Offer to write a written reference
  • Provide assistance or opportunities for networking within the organisation
  • Mentor volunteers by offering guidance and support
  • View mistakes as learning opportunities

Young volunteers need clear job descriptions but you'll also find it more rewarding for everyone if you provide some flexibility for younger volunteers to do what they want and select what interests them.

It is also important to include young volunteers in the organisation's communication channels. Include young volunteers in e-newsletters and staff updates (if appropriate) even after they have left or finished their placement, so they feel connected with the organisation.

Be mindful of university and school holidays, exam periods and transport availability. You can't always rely on parents to transport their children and assume the family will want their child to be involved in a volunteer activity.

Youth friendly strategies

Do you think your organisation is 'youth friendly'? Is your organisation willing to give young people a voice and a say in how the organisation runs? It's one thing to want young people to help sell raffle tickets, and another to give young people the opportunity to be involved in decision-making. Youth friendly organisations welcome young people's contribution as well as their opinions and suggestions.

Given the chance, young people can bring creative new approaches, innovation and insight into new technology. Often young people want to learn new skills, take risks and exercise judgement, but to do so, they need a comfortable supportive environment where they are asked for their opinion, and one where making a mistake is not going to have serious consequences for the individual volunteer or the organisation. Preventing mistakes can be easily managed through supervision, sign off or approval procedures.

When involving young people in your organisation, be mindful of uni/school holidays, exam periods and transport availability. You can't always rely on parents to transport their children and assume the family will want their child to be involved in a volunteer activity.

Young volunteers and social media

Most young volunteers will probably be active on social media in their personal lives and they'll be quite comfortable with how it works and how to use it to communicate with social and professional networks. But the lines between personal life and professional life can be blurry for a young person starting out.

If your organisation uses social media, it's in the best interests of your organisation and of young volunteers if you can be very clear about what your organisation considers acceptable behaviour in this context.

Consider developing a social media policy

A social media policy would clearly state how your organisation's social medial profiles on Facebook, Twitter and other channels should be used. The terms of the policy would depend on the values of your organisation and its wider communication aims. For example it might be a good idea to clearly state that volunteers should not post personal information using the organisation's Facebook page or Twitter feed, without the approval of the person in charge of your organisation's communications.

Duty of care, safety and legal issues

Every organisation has a duty of care to its volunteers. When you are working with young people who have less exposure to the workforce your duty of care is greater. For example, if your volunteer doesn't have a driver's licence, think about where and when you hold volunteer activities and meetings. If a volunteer is helping at a late night event, will you provide a taxi voucher to ensure volunteers to get home safely, or be there to meet their parents at the door when they come to collect the volunteer?

If your volunteers are under 18, you may need to get their parents' guardian's permission before they can be involved. All paid staff and other volunteers will also be required to get Working with Children Checks. See our page on Attracting and recruiting for more information. You will also need adequate insurance – make sure that your insurance policy has no age restrictions.

Tools and resources