Best practices for engaging youth as volunteers (part two)

By Donna Lockhart
August 2, 2005
(as it appeared in Charity Village)

Four key practices under Be Organization Ready were outlined in Part One. These included: examining your past history; how youth-friendly your organization is; saying NO until you are ready; and having an advocate or champion for youth initiatives in your organization. Part two continues to explore some additional practices.

Be Organization Ready (continued)

  • Has the organization determined that engaging youth is a direction they wish to pursue? Has the staff tackled this first and worked through the benefits, challenges, and costs of developing a place for youth volunteers in the organization? Once this is in place, a report and recommendations should go to the Board of Directors for their endorsement. Building a youth component into the vision and mission of the organization goes a long way to demonstrate support and advocacy for youth.
    Best Practice: Involving many people in the development of youth initiatives, such as staff, volunteers, community members, youth, community partners, and board members goes a long way to increase success. Developing a formal youth strategy and then adding formal endorsement adds to the profile of support for youth.
  • Barbara Oates, BC Regional Co-coordinator/National Consultant on Youth in Philanthropy, Community Foundations of Canada, wrote in a recent article for Canadian Fundraiser that one of the primary factors for genuine youth engagement includes "real decision making responsibility." The development of Youth Advisory Committees has greatly enhanced the Community Foundation role. Young people want to know that they make a difference in the work they do. They want to have experiences where they use their existing skills but also grow and develop in new directions. This relates directly to the interconnection that youth see between volunteering and increased chances for employment, a factor cited by youth in the NSGVP 2000 report. Providing leadership roles does not always mean the establishment of youth committees, but may simply mean creating opportunities that are more self-directed, like specific projects designed, coordinated and implemented by youth. In this way, we give youth ownership and greater responsibility over their own work.
    Best Practice: Engaging youth in leadership and decision making roles may increase the chances for successful volunteering experiences.
  • So often we operate alone in developing opportunities for volunteers because they are organization specific. I think that working with youth as volunteers gives us the opportunity to develop partnerships with other organizations to work on projects, events or services. Other youth-specific places like schools, community centres, or youth recreation programs would be places not only to recruit youth but to partner on projects. These organizations may also have a greater understanding about youth and can help us with our own training. By combining forces we often increase the human resources to do the work and the financial ones as well. An example that comes to mind is the success of intergenerational programs, where long-term care facilities often work with a high school teacher and classroom of students to run monthly programs for the elderly.
    Best Practice: If it would be challenging for your organization to implement youth volunteers on your own, explore and consider working with other partners in the community.
  • We would all like to firmly believe that our community has a positive perception of the work we do and the people we engage. The challenge with 'perception' is just that - it is perception and it lies with each individual in our community. Right or wrong, people have ideas about us that they form from experience, from community media and events, or from gossip. I feel it is an important exercise to consider the following: Does the community see our organization as youth supportive or youth-friendly? Is our facility itself intimidating or open to youth? Answers to these questions can help to move us toward being more youth-friendly or reinforce that we already are. Other questions organizations can ask themselves: What does being 'youth-friendly' mean anyway? How would we identify a youth-friendly organization? and What changes could we make if we wanted to move in this direction?
    Best Practice: Consult with community members, key stakeholders, youth, and other organizations about their perception of your agency and its 'youth-friendliness'. Find ways to illustrate openness and supportiveness to youth.

Watch for Part Three on Best Practices. It will be the final section under Be Organization Ready. The next series of articles will focus on best practices as they relate to Youth Opportunities and Relationships. There are many pieces to put in place before involving youth. A sample of ideas has been presented for your consideration.


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