College students are young, bright, idealistic, and filled with energy. When you manage these volunteers correctly they can be the best resource for spreading your message. But if organized incorrectly they become a black hole you pour your limited resources into.
Young adults are more connected than ever thanks to social media and their experience sharing their thoughts and concerns on blogs and online journals. Being so connected and socially aware, college students want to feel that what they’re doing is important. This is where your nonprofit comes in and gives them a cause to rally around.
Whether it’s saving the rainforest, helping feed children in third world countries, or fighting for political goals, here is always a student base for important issues. This guide will help you get the most out of your student volunteers.
Make Students Feel Important
When I was in college I started a Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter on my campus, which became my favorite pet project. I was made president since I founded the group myself. However, there would be no use to my group if I was the one and only member.
YAL encourages their presidents to build a leadership team, each with their own responsibilities and titles. This encouraged participation and made the students feel important to accomplishing larger chapter goals.
If your nonprofit is seeking to use students to push a new campaign, making the students feel important is a great way to retain volunteer help.
Even better, actually making them important will inspire more loyalty and hard work. General volunteers without specific roles and responsibilities don’t get excited about seeing your mission succeed. Titles like “Outreach Director” or “Social Media Manager,” with the accompanying responsibilities of that role give a students a specific job as well as a notion of importance. They think “without me, X job wouldn’t get done.”
If your students are and feel important, they are much more likely to work harder and longer for your cause.
Keep Consistent Contact With Students
College students may be young and full of energy, but the truth with inexperienced student volunteers is that nothing moves unless pushed. Since students can’t be expected to know what to do every step of a campaign, consistent contact is a necessity. Regular calls, emails, and the occasional in-person campus visit may be needed to keep your student volunteers on track.
Assigning different leaders within your nonprofit to different regions and schools can help diversify this task and make sure that certain schools get more personal attention and guidance. If the students know they always have someone to go to with their questions and ideas, they are more likely to stay engaged with your organization.
Not only will regular contact give your students a way to find the answers they need, but it will also keep the goal that you have fresh in their minds. With tests, reports, and studying to do, it can be easy for a college student to forget about your cause.
Dedicated volunteer management software can also help organize and automate the communication process. You can manage schedules, set up different groups for different schools, and send notification emails and SMS alerts as needed.
Just remember to know the difference between consistent contact and too much contact. A phone call or two a week should suffice and only more if absolutely necessary. “Too much of a good thing” certainly applies in this instance and you don’t want to be known as the overly attached nonprofit.
With the limited time that is afforded to college students, it may take a little coaxing to get them to show up for your cause. There is nothing wrong with a little motivation and, it turns out, not much is always needed.
Some students may be looking for opportunities to make friends at their new school, or seasoned upperclassmen may be looking for references and connections for after graduation. These students are attending college because they hope to build a better future for themselves and may be looking for that little boost to secure an after-graduation job.
If all else fails, it is amazing what you can get a college student to do as long as there is food involved. As it turns out, college students don’t have much money for food beyond Ramen noodles. Providing pizza and drinks at a student event is a great motivator and can even lead to friends of student volunteers showing up to help out.
In the end the effectiveness of student volunteers boils down to how many you can rally to your cause and how long you can retain those volunteers. If enticed and encouraged correctly, student volunteers can be an invaluable asset to spreading your message and rallying the public to your side.
How successful has your work with college students been? Have there been other ways you used to effectively organize a student force? Let us know in the comments below!