Special to Philanthropy Journal
Engaging and involving young people is a great way to energize any nonprofit organization. If you and your board are concerned with sustainability, organizational vitality, and the long-term success of your goals, you should invite young people to join your projects.
The value of youth in nonprofit organizations is clear: you will be inspiring future activists, gaining new ideas and strategies, and really starting a conversation between the generations that benefits everyone.
Not every nonprofit organization understands how to reach out to youth. Because of this, there can be a danger of tokenism or of not taking young people’s concerns seriously. For any project or organization to move forward, youth must not only be involved, but their involvement must also be meaningful.
Your organization can benefit from having a representative of your youth constituencies on your board of directors. Why not create a Youth Chair or Youth Advisor to give input to the organization’s governance and future goals?
Success stories abound. At the International AIDS Society’s biennial conferences, young people have organized and reached out to each other to create a global network of young activists and leaders who number in the hundreds of thousands. This Youth Force has brought the needs and skills of young people straight to the ears of some of the most powerful leaders in politics and business. At the same time, the young participants have learned valuable leadership skills and brought educational and social opportunities
back to their home communities.
How to Find and Develop Relationships With Youth
The most effective ways to engage with youth can vary greatly, depending on your organization. First, think about how and why young people might be interested in your projects. What are the issues that your organization touches upon that have the most impact on youth’s lives or futures?
Then, decide what you want from your young volunteers: Outreach to their peers? Technical skills? Input on how programs are run? Engaging in conversations between generations? Once you’ve decided what you need, it’s time to get out there and find your youth.
Where to Find Great Young People? Online!
In this economy, young people are always on the lookout for great opportunities with a nonprofit organization. They gain professional skills while you gain bright and hardworking volunteers and workers.
Websites that advertise nonprofit jobs online are the perfect place to find highly qualified individuals. Sites like Idealist, CharityVillage and Indeed.com all cater to the kind of people you want. Of course your organization’s own Facebook page can be a great recruiting tool, too. But don’t forget about young people from other backgrounds and with other skills who might not have regular access to social media. Advertise at YMCAs, boys and girls clubs, after school programs, universities, ethnocultural and sexual minority groups, and with homeless outreach. Diversity is key to a successful youth board.
One of the best ways for young people to step up and feel a sense of belonging in an organization is for them to build a relationship with one of your employees. Mentoring can be as involved or sporadic as you want, but it will include someone taking time to teach and learn from a young person. The mentor should guide their young participant through the issues and actions of the organization. The “mentee” should give input and work toward achieving the organization’s goals.
Creating a Youth Council
To spread the word and raise the profile of your organization, create a youth council or board of young people who commit to publicizing your successes. Young people will be able to reach their peers through social media, innovative web content like videos or photo sharing, and sustained interaction with your target populations. Why not have a youth voice section of your organization’s website? A photo contest? Social nights organized by youth to spread your message?
Engaging youth can create powerful connections, both for your organization and for society in general. You’ll be helping the next generation gain important skills in social responsibility and civic participation. For the health and long term vitality of your organization, youth engagement is the key.
For more resources, check out the following links:
- Youth-Adult Partnerships in Public Action: Principles, Organizational Culture & Outcomes
- CANFIT: Youth Engagement
- At The Table: Youth Engagement As A Means, Not An End
Sumac provides nonprofit software for volunteer management, donor management and fundraising services.