Involving Young People in Your Community Organisation

Community groups at any level are often keen to make sure they are representative of their own communities and membership base but often overlook one of the  great recruiting grounds for volunteers and community-conscious people who are prepared to work hard to bring about change - our youth.

You only have to look at the recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures to see that one of the booming areas of volunteering is in the younger age groups where youth are converting their commitment to a cause into action. While some community leaders appear dubious about bringing young people into the leadership loop, the benefits of attracting young people are many.
As well as energy, enthusiasm, creativity and time, young people generally are often better able to adapt and embrace change. They also know how your group can be more relevant to people in their own age group. Engaging the services and support of young people can go a long way to ensuring the future of your organisation. If you are not recruiting the next generation of leaders and interested persons, then it is very likely that your cause/organisation will end when its current members move on.

It is also about helping to prepare the next generation of leaders; although anyone that has worked closely with young people who are prepared to stand up and get involved in local community groups find the learning is definitely a two-way street. Often young people will challenge traditional ways of operating – and often with good reason – if the methods of operation haven’t evolved while the local circumstances and the conditions of the marketplace have.

It is important in engaging younger people in your group that they are treated with respect and as equals among adults. There is no point inviting young people to sit on your board or committee, only to dismiss their views or refuse to treat them with the same weight as those of more experienced committee members. Young people should have an equal say and an equal vote on community issues.

And, if you are planning something for young people or your organisation services young people, then it is absolutely imperative that they are represented at the top level and are involved in the planning process and have input in determining the most relevant policies and solutions and being involved in their implementation. As many organisations have discovered, the best solutions are to be found when all stakeholders have some ownership of the issue, the solution and the method in which the solution is applied. 

On most occasions, the best people to ask about what interests, attracts and motivates other young people is young people themselves.

Why should you involve young people in community?

Apart from anything else, you want to interest the next generation of concerned citizens about your organisation and its relevance to the local community. You have to make it relevant and part of that is recruiting youth volunteers but doing so in a meaningful way.

The advantages for having young people on board include:
  • An injection of energy that can help re-invigorate a group.
  • The addition of fresh and creative ideas and a different perspective on most issues - and how to communicate that to a new audience.
  • Creating a diversity of experience and skills and the ability to use new technologies to spread your message and work.
  • A greater level of flexibility and adaptability to make the most of new technologies and trends.
  • A greater level of inclusion to ensure your group is truly representative of various community interest groups at both a  formal and informal level.
  • A bridge to the next generation of communtiy leaders that helps ensure the future of your group.
  • Expertise on issues and challenges facing youth and the things that matter to them.
  • Access to new networks and circle of friends, which in turn may mean your organisation will grow and gain increased community support.

What do you need to be aware of?

Involving young people in a community group brings with it certain responsibilities. An organisation has a duty of care to its younger members to ensure the environment is a safe one.

When enlisting the help of young people you also need to consider your organisational procedures to accommodate youth involvement. You might need to incorporate more flexible working conditions to suit their needs, or modify your training programs so they do not feel like they are stuck in a school-type environment.

A community group also needs to qualify why they need more young people and how they can best utilise their skills. Young people need to feel like their contribution is worthwhile otherwise there is little point in them being there. If you are asking them to take on a position of responsbility, then give them the responsibility - don't make it a pseudo-position.

Some tips when recruiting young people:
  • Appoint a youth coordinator to coordinate and take responsibility of the young members.
  • Set up a mentoring program within the organisation, so all members have the opportunity to work with older/younger people and swap knowledge and skills
  • Identify the areas where youth involvement would be best utilised.
  • Set clear goals and guidelines so the young person understands their duties and where they fit within the organisation
  • Adapt the organisation's procedures where necessary to accommodate younger people. Ask them what they want to do. Offer flexible jobs. Give their ideas a go and allow them to act on their suggestions.
  • Conduct an orientation and screening process so the needs of both the young person and the organisation can be met.
  • Make sure there is sufficient feedback and encouragement to maintain enthusiasm.
  • Ensure all younger members are aware of relevant health and safety laws
  • Where necessary, ensure there is parental/guardian consent
  • Make sure they are aware of all your reporting structures and any emergency plans, risk management plans, and who their supervisor is so they can speak to them if they have any suggestions/complaints/problems.
  • Appoint appropriate tasks to young people and don't place them in a dangerous or difficult situation.
  • Budget for any organisational change - training, time, catering, etc.
  • Sell the benefits of recruiting young people to all your members. People brought into an unhappy environment are unlikely to stick around.

How do you attract younger volunteers?

Once the decision has been made to recruit younger people and your Board/committee is committed to making your organisation - and leadership roles - more accessible to younger people, start from your own organisation and work out in wider circles. Start with people who know about your group and your work and explain why you need them - and why working with you would help to achieve their own community goals and needs.

Ask yourself: Why would a young person want to be involved in our group? You might need to:
  • Review your recruitment strategies. How have you found support in the past? Can it be directed towards youth?
  • Review your marketing and communications. Does your marketing speak to youth? Would they know your organisation even exists?
  • Review your advertising. Make sure you put information in places where a young person might read it. Target youth publications like the street presses, music magazines, etc.
  • Tell the people who are most interested. Let your established membership and supporter base know that you are seeking youth involvement - exercise the 'word-of-mouth' option. Your members might know some young people who would be keen to get involved.
  • Talk to schools, universities and other youth groups in the area.

How do you keep young people involved?

To maintain youth involvement, there must be support for both getting more young people involved with your group and in getting them involved in leadership positions. Your community group might need to look at both structural change along with a cultural one but for most groups, keeping young people keen, enthusiastic, involved and dedicated to your organisation is little different than maintaining a strong volunteer program.

Most people leave groups or become disenchanted when there is poor organisation, poor supervision and feedback or where they feel they are left to do unsatisfying or unsuitable jobs.

And like any other volunteers, young people need to be confident that their contribution is not a token one and that it is recognised and appreciated. To ensure this occurs groups can:
  • Assess programs regularly and ensure you seek feedback from younger members/volunteers/leaders.
  • Consult widely if you plan to make changes.
  • Ensure younger people are represented throughout the organisation and that there are opportunities for them to develop within the organisation.
  • Provide training or mentoring for younger people to keep improving their skills and to show they are valued.
  • Ensure that younger people are afforded the same respect as others. Don't talk 'at' or 'down' to younger people.
  • Make sure they are aware of how their help is contributing to the community group.
  • Ensure there is open communication and that young people have access to all decision makers and that there is a process for their suggestions to be heard.
  • Value all your members
* FOR MORE information on Leadership, view some of the other Free Help Sheets in the Community Leadership Centre, proudly supported by the Federal Department of Family and Community Services Can Do Community program.

* FOR MORE information on other aspects of managing a community group view the free Help Sheets at the Community Management Centre.