Thursday, 8 December 2011

Are we alienating a generation of volunteers?

That's a question I'm starting to ask myself about young people.

Here is a generation that has had £millions spent on encouraging them to get volunteering.

Here is a generation who have been told that volunteering will help them get a job when they leave school, college or university.

Here is a generation who are leaving school, college and university (those that can afford to go to uni anyway) and are now facing levels of unemployment unparalleled in recent memory.

Here is a generation who are told that the solution to their joblessness is to volunteer, to become interns, in short to work damned hard for no pay in the scant hope someone will give them a job.

Here is a generation who are now being charged to take part in their so-called rite of passage to adulthood, National Citizens Service.

Here is a generation who we risk becoming very cynical and negative about volunteering.

Here is a generation who in 20, 30, 40, 50 years time we will expect to be the core volunteers organisations rely on.

Here is a generation who, if we are not careful, will tell us to go to hell when we ask them to volunteer.

What can we do now - right now, today - to make sure this generation of young people don't abandon volunteering in future, branding it as a cynical ploy to get them to work for free whilst others profit, and pass those same values to the generation that will follow them?

Answers on a postcard via the comments section below please.


  1. This issue is much wider than just volunteering. The way to get young people to buy in to their and our present and future is to devolve some power to them. Wherever young people are given it - eg young mayors, volunteer ledaers, youth councils, project based work - they demonstrate their ability to manage it. Since the turn of the 19th century we've listened more and more to the young people of the country, but now it's time to give them an active role in the future of the country. This means voting from 16, funding for youth projects that enable and allow them to lead, representation on school and college boards and more.

  2. Thanks, Rob, for asking TOUGH questions. Thank you for being provocative. We so need this kind of *push*.

    While I've made it clear on various places online that I'm happy to see people talking about volunteering beyond "It will make you feel good. It's a warm, fuzzy thing to do", and I am a big promoter of volunteering as a way to develop skills and contacts for paid work, I do think a lot of people are making promises to young about volunteering that aren't always - even usually - fulfilled. Young people are being turned away again and again from organizations where they want to volunteer - nonprofits, NGOs and charities claiming to need volunteers aren't getting back to them promptly (if at all), have volunteer orientations that are at times young people can't get to, and offer volunteering tasks that young people don't see the point of. Many teens are walking away with very negative feelings about charities and nonprofits, let alone volunteering.

    I'm talking to far more teens and 20 somethings who want to volunteer but *can't* versus people of that same age group who are trying to volunteer *and* ending up doing so.

    Volunteer *can* be a way to skill-development and contacts for jobs - but more often than not, that's not a result most volunteers get. It's time to sit down with the organizations being asked to involve these millions of teens and 20 somethings and see what it is they, the projects and organizations, really need in terms of volunteer engagement. If governments want more young people engaged in community service - and want such to be a path to skills development and employment - it's time to pony up the cash to pay for the organizational training to make that happen.