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Maine VolunteerFare

What Young People Want from Volunteering

Published October 31, 2006

Volunteers: the Next Generation

Excerpt from Merrill Associates

Volunteers have changing expectations of what they want from volunteer service.

We have a younger generation that is more entrepreneurial and less likely to be attracted to a bureaucratic structure. They want the freedom to try new things in new ways. They are technologically literate and prefer to use technology. Unlike their parents, they do not see technology as impersonal or cold. Indeed, they see technology as a means of connecting to a global world in new ways.

They are comfortable searching for answers and information on the web. They are comfortable working alone or in virtual teams. They do not like to spend time in meetings hearing everyone’s opinion and endlessly debating the issues. They are not inclined to seek leadership positions that require additional amounts of personal and professional time. They are more comfortable with leadership that changes from project to project. They like having the opportunity to work with a variety of leadership styles.

This is in stark contract to an older generation that likes coming together to solve problems. Baby boomers like working in teams to explore alternatives and identify strategies. They believe there is value in the face-to-face meetings that support interpersonal relationships. They are comfortable making commitments and assuming leadership roles. They often like things the way they are and are reluctant to implement change. An even older generation prefers conformity, uniformity and order. They are not always comfortable with technology and may view it as highly impersonal.

Each generation has differing expectations. The challenge is to bring these diverse generations together through multiple options and opportunities. We must understanding the unique needs and styles of the each generation, volunteers and constituents, and create way for each to receive personal satisfaction and reward.

Leadership is often viewed by the older generations as synonymous with commitment, dedication, skills, knowledge and experience. These preconceived ideas of what it is to be in a leadership role create subtle messages for new, younger volunteers about long-term commitment and dedication. Younger volunteers do not always see themselves as experienced, skilled, or capable of leadership. They do not readily see what’s in it for them.

Attracting and cultivating new leadership and new volunteers requires new approaches to how we do the work as well as new messages about the value of the work and the personal growth and development that comes from volunteer and leadership service. Many volunteers are less interested in making a difference and more interested in the personal return on their investment. Today’s younger volunteers are attracted to the opportunities for skills building, career enhancement, networking and professional/leadership development that come from board and committee work.

Volunteering should be a safe place to learn new skills. These young volunteers are self-developers - they have the ability to learn quickly and on their own. They like access to resources so that they can self educate. This generation may prefer a self-study CD Rom.

Keep orientation and meeting materials brief and scannable. Engage Generation X volunteers quickly and make them feel like insiders. Give them meaningful assignments, listen for their preferences and concerns, respect their skills and opinions, recognize their contributions and remember that they are very good at multitasking.

Volunteering should be pleasurable, even fun. Build in socializing and celebrations. Provide lunch at noontime meetings; provide snacks for after work meetings. Be mindful of the time and keep meetings on schedule and brief. Run tight, efficient meetings that respect the contributions of personal time. Have copies of all materials available. Make it easy for people to participate. Recognize individual contributions.

Attracting volunteers in today’s world is hard work. There are no simple, standard answers for recruiting and retaining volunteers. Each volunteer organization must look carefully at the factors affecting their ability to attract and keep volunteers.

Today we are called to find new, diverse ways of increasing communication, providing education, attracting younger volunteers, utilizing technology and respecting people’s limited time. We are the pioneers seeking innovative forms of engagement and new ways of doing business so that each generation finds personal satisfaction through volunteer service.

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