Are young people too busy to volunteer?

Read more on how to engage with young people to volunteer

Are young people too busy to volunteer?
Too busy to volunteer?

Spoiler: no! How to recruit young volunteers

It is a problem for almost all volunteer centres and non-profit organisations: the shortage of young volunteers. Research has shown that 'being too busy' is the main reason for young people not to volunteer. Nonsense, says the 10,000 HOURS Foundation - a Deedmob partner organisation. "If young people say they are too busy, they just don't find what you offer interesting enough."

Recently, research among 3000 students of Windesheim University of Applied Sciences showed that seven out of ten students experience performance pressure frequently to very frequently. Delayed studies have had financial consequences since the introduction of the loan system in 2015. The demands that employers place on graduates and young professionals have not lessened. And a bit of a 'fear of missing out', partly thanks to social media, means that many students and young professionals also have busy social lives. 

The Ministry of Education is going to carry out extensive research into psychological problems among students in the near future. The minister wants to know whether the mental pressure among them has indeed increased in recent years (young working people are unfortunately not being investigated).

No wonder that many young people say they are too busy to volunteer. But it is important to realise that the picture was no different almost ten years ago. In a BBC Radio 5 survey in the UK - we are talking 2010 - 60 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds said they were too busy to volunteer. Among the student age group, 18 to 24-year-olds, the figure was 29 per cent. 

Bear in mind that it has long been the case in the Netherlands that people between the ages of 35 and 45 - those years considered to be the busiest of life - volunteer the most: 60 percent of this age group volunteer. So being busy does not automatically mean that someone does not want to or cannot do voluntary work. It is up to volunteer organisations themselves to convince young people that volunteering should become more of a priority in their (busy) lives.

But how?

According to researchers at the University of Kent, one way to do this is to approach young people early, even before they reach the final year of secondary school. This is when the encouragement of voluntary work by the school has the strongest effect (this applies to all students, regardless of social class and migration background). When organisations come to the third, fourth and fifth grades to give information and to share vacancies - preferably in the company of young volunteers with whom students can identify - the likelihood of recruiting students is highest. Once the relationship between volunteer and organisation has been established, it is also more likely that a young person will continue to volunteer during his or her studies and working life.

And fortunately there are more ways for an organisation to win over young people. The 10,000 HOURS Foundation, based in Amsterdam, is a master at this. The organisation manages to get hundreds of young people to volunteer at major festivals. 

"We feel that young people are more willing than ever to volunteer. Young people stand up for what they find important and live more consciously than the generations above them," says programme manager Jeske Eekelaar. "If young people say they are too busy for voluntary work, then they just don't find what you offer interesting enough."

But how do you make volunteering as interesting as possible for students and young workers? 10,000 HOURS has some best practices: 

Target a specific community

For example, 10,000 HOURS organises its volunteer days around festivals. Fans and loyal visitors of those festivals are approached with a proposition they already relate to by definition: doing an activity with like-minded people in the atmosphere of the festival in question, including matching music. One example is The Projeqt, which is organised together with festival organiser Q-dance. Hardstyle and hardcore enthusiasts dedicate themselves that day at various locations in the Netherlands to refurbishing residential care homes for vulnerable young people. This year, no fewer than 500 young volunteers were present. Mini Mysteryland is another good example: lovers of that festival come to work at a care home for a day, and afterwards there is a silent disco.

Eekelaar: "Music is the connecting factor. We communicate with the target group via the festival organisers, so that the call for volunteers comes from a valued and well-known party. In advance, we look very carefully at what attracts visitors to a specific festival. We then bring those characteristics back on a volunteer day. Where Q-dance's fan base has a strong hands-on mentality, Mysteryland's supporters are more artistic and colourful. We respond to that in terms of activity."

Make volunteering incidental

In principle, all 10,000 HOURS projects take place once a year. Young people who are interested in volunteering, or whose interest may still have to grow a little, do not feel compelled to make an immediate structural commitment. "We make them feel good on a day like this. We throw a festival sauce on it, but in essence it is still real voluntary work. The Deedmob technology also helps us a great deal here. We offer our activities in an attractive environment and keep the registered participants warm with automatic notifications. In this way, we give them the chance to realise: 'how much fun is this?

Let young people contribute with their skills

Volunteering can mean a lot to building a good CV. Young people know that, but it is not enough to convince them. It only becomes really interesting for young people if they can use their own talents and skills and thus develop as professionals. "Let them contribute what they are good at. A beginning ICT student can build a website or help with programming, a communications science student can write a press release," says Eekelaar. "In this way, voluntary work becomes self-development and intrinsic motivation is created more quickly. Then they will come back more often than once a year."

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Hendrik-Jan Overmeer

Strategic Communications & Public Affairs, Founding Team Member

Hendrik-Jan is one of the founding team members and is responsible for Strategic Communications and Public Affairs.