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Building a younger volunteer base
Gen Y volunteers attracted by specific jobs
Volunteers are an important part of any hospice program and efforts to build the number of volunteers is an ongoing effort.
One group that is often overlooked as potential volunteers is Generation Y, people ages 16 through 31, but they can be an important and energetic source of volunteers if you approach them the right way, according to Suzette Barta, PhD, Payne County Extension Educator for Community and Economic Development in Stillwater, OK.
"This generation is a good source of volunteers," says Barta. "Although they are often perceived as self-centered, in reality, they care about causes," she says. Gen Ys are affected by stories about children starving or disaster victims, she says. "Their heartstrings are tugged by stories about members of their own community needing help."
One thing that all Gen Ys have in common is a need to take action, points out Barta. "This desire to 'do something' comes from their impatience and need for speed in their lives," she explains. For this reason, this is not a group from whom you will recruit board members initially, she laughs. "They do not want to sit in long planning meetings, they need to be active." Because board member or committee member positions don't fit their needs, they don't see them as status symbols the same way Baby Boomers do, she points out.
Personal contact with members of Gen Y is best for recruitment, suggests Barta. Not only should you be specific with your initial request, but also be sure not to overwhelm the volunteer, she says. "Think of volunteer recruitment as dating," she says. "You wouldn't propose marriage to someone on the first date, so don't ask someone to take on a major responsibility with their first assignment," she recommends.
Find jobs that appeal to the potential volunteer's interests and skills, says Barta. "Gen Y members are very technologically savvy, so asking them to handle your web site, set up a blog, or manage your Facebook page, is ideal," she points out. Involve them in events that enable them to actively participate in set-up, implementation, and follow-up, she says. "Give them activities that have real results they can see."
Recognition for Gen Ys also differs from recognition normally given to other volunteers, points out Barta. "Baby Boomers are happy with an annual banquet and Gen Xers like personally written note cards, but Gen Ys want immediate, frequent feedback," she says. "Remember, these people are always texting and using social media as a way to stay in touch, so you need to be prepared to recognize them in the same manner," she says.
Although it might be hard to imagine, the best way to encourage a Gen Y who is helping at an event is to text him or her during the event and say "You're doing great. I'm glad you're here today," says Barta. Don't forget Facebook, either, she says. "Take photographs at the event, post them on the hospice Facebook, and tag your volunteers so their picture shows up in their news feed," she says. "By including a note about how much they helped, you are giving the public, immediate feedback they need."
Where do you find Gen Y volunteers? Barta suggests starting with your board members and other volunteers to identify people they know in the community. "Being personally asked to help out is appealing to Gen Ys," she says. Other places include church youth and young adult groups, school community service organizations, and fraternities and sororities at local colleges.
Another key volunteer management tip for Gen Ys is not to micromanage them, warns Barta. "They want responsibility and they want to do their job but they don't want a lot of supervision," she says. "It is best to evaluate their skills and match them to a job that you think they can handle well," she says. If you do see that they need direction, the best approach is to "get in the trenches with them," she says. "They respect someone who joins them to show them how to do something rather than just tell them," she explains.
While Gen Ys will listen to suggestions or direction on a better way to perform a job, approach them informally with your input, Barta suggests. "Don't call them into your office for a discussion, instead catch them in a hallway and say "can we add this to the project?" she says. The informal approach is less threatening and more collaborative, which appeals to Gen Ys.
Remember that this is not a group that wants to sit in meetings, says Barta. "This trait does make orientation a challenge so hospices need to make sure their orientation program has breaks, includes activities not just speeches and videos, and even offers an on-line component," she says.
Although recruitment and retention of Gen Ys may require a few changes in a hospice volunteer program's typical approach, the results are worth the effort, says Barta. "Gen Ys are good at multi-tasking, they are energetic, and they are passionate about their interests."
For more information about recruiting GenYs, contact:
Suzette Barta, PhD, Payne County Extension Educator for Community and Economic Development at Oklahoma State University, University Cooperative Extension Service, 315 W. Sixth, Suite 103, Stillwater, OK 74074. Tel: (405) 747-8320; fax: (405) 747-8323.