Volunteers come in all stripes. As coordinator, it’s your role to empower them all to help achieve your organization’s goals. Students and community volunteers might have different motivations, schedules, communication styles and levels of experience that impact what they bring to the table. While volunteers from either group should certainly be seen as individuals, here are a few questions to ask:
Training: Come to you, or go to them?
When you’re working with community volunteers who may be connected as individuals, on-site trainings tend to be best. But if you’re working with a big corporate team, or a large group of students, it can be nice to reserve space on their campus for your volunteers’ convenience. Or, build in a little extra time into the beginning of a shift for “just-in-time” training on your site.
Skilled volunteers, or power in numbers?
Oftentimes, groups of students are used for low-skill, heavy lifting kinds of jobs, and seasoned professionals are recruited to fulfill more skilled roles. Especially with marketing tasks, it can be tough to recruit from a professional pool. Don’t overlook the potential in students, who might be eager to gain experience in everything from graphic design to writing press releases. Same goes for retirees. Some might not be up on the latest social media trend, but they could have project-related skills to contribute. If you have 500 T-shirts to fold, you might want to ask who has experience in retail.
Who gets copied in the email chain?
If you’re working with a group of student volunteers, it could be helpful to copy in a contact from the school – be that an advisor, coach or community engagement professional. Retention of student volunteers is strongest when there’s continuity in the contact, since students move in and out every few years. If you’re late in the game and still recruiting volunteers, ask your best community volunteers to forward your needs to others in their network – perhaps fellow Rotarians or Chamber members.
Here for the service hours, shirt or something more?
Recognition can definitely help with volunteer retention. An excellent student volunteer might benefit from a letter of recommendation for a scholarship. A community volunteer, rather, might be touched by a personal letter sent to their home.
Working with student and community volunteers isn’t very different. It all comes down to building relationships and playing to a volunteer’s strengths.