Why Youth choose volunteerism

This article from our Online Volunteers project and it doesn’t reflect the ideas of SCI movement, just the author's point of view.
by Akudo McGee

In recent years, the focus of volunteer organizations has been shifted to appeal better to young volunteers. According to the United Nation’s Youth and Volunteering report, young people (between the ages of 15-24) devote $35 billion annually in volunteer hours. Each year, over 6,500 people between the ages of 18 and 30 are catalyzed towards remote volunteer efforts online, representing 65% of all online volunteers.

Workcamp in Ter Dennen, Belgium, with refugee kids. August 2017. 

Young people increasingly feel that skills developed through volunteerism have become significant companions to formal education and career placement. Additionally, it allows them to feel empowered to transfigure the political, ethical and economic landscape of the world through volunteer efforts. The dosomething.org Index on Young People and Volunteering uses indirect questioning to expose young people’s feelings about volunteerism. In their report on American youth volunteering, they found that many young people volunteer because they have friends who volunteer. 75.9% of those whose friends volunteer regularly volunteer themselves. By comparison, only 41.7% of those whose friends do not volunteer regularly seek volunteer positions. Over half of the young people who volunteer do so at the invitation of friends or family, whereas, less than 20% volunteer unsolicited.

When asked what issues they consider when volunteering, young people rank animal welfare first, followed by: hunger, homelessness, the environment and the economy. Though animal welfare issues appeal most to young people, they often do not volunteer for that cause, stating that they are unsure how to help or unable to help in the capacity needed. They also said that “making a difference” was the #1 reason they volunteered. Other reasons were the impact of volunteering on college admissions or employment opportunities and volunteering requirements for school. 70.7% of those who strongly agree with the statement, “I believe I can make a difference in my community” volunteered in the past year, with less than 30% who strongly disagreed with that statement volunteered in the same timeframe.

Similar findings were presented in the report Understanding the Volunteer Market: The What, Where, Who and Why of Volunteering, produced about youth in the UK.  They cited 4 main reasons young people volunteered: wanting to give back, maintaining a service (like a recreation center) that is important to a member of their family, personal reasons (like making friends) and improving skills for career development. They are also more likely to volunteer if their friends are volunteering, if they are approached with a volunteer offer and if the goals of the organization are congruous with their personal beliefs.

I wanted to hear what some young people themselves had to say about it. I interviewed two young American women who volunteer regularly about the topic. The first is the 28-year-old engineer and master’s student at Ohio University, Renee Lueke. She says that she began volunteering in high school because it was a requirement for graduation. She later joined the Marilla Marching Band in New York because she wanted to play the trumpet again and “liked the feeling of participating in… [her] community and supporting the firemen who risked their lives.” Once she began volunteering in programs of her own choosing, her focus shifted to her personal passions of science and engineering. She says:

“I wanted kids to be excited about technical things and learning, and to learn about science careers and aim high. I didn't know engineering existed until I was a [senior] in high school… I didn't know Materials Science Engineering existed until I got to [the University of Pittsburgh]. I like contributing to society, and want to help kids have opportunities that they may not have otherwise known about, and get kids excited about math and science.”

The other woman interviewed was Zeba Ahmed, a 25-year-old working for a local community group. She spent almost 6 years volunteering with the group called Remembering Hiroshima, Imagining Peace. The group was established to raise awareness about the risk of nuclear weapons and to showcase the beauty of Japanese history and culture. She says:

“I care about peace and I like Japanese culture, and this offered a way to interact beyond the common themes of Japanese food or anime. The Fukushima disaster in 2011 strengthened my resolve because I saw the long-term consequences of nuclear energy gone wrong.”

So why do you volunteer? How do you think volunteer organizations can do better to appeal to young people? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

And stay tuned on SCI communication channels, a video on 'Why volunteering?' is arriving directly from one of our workcamp in Belgium!




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