Students don’t care about the community — and other myths
Citizens Advice Witness Service celebrates Student Volunteering Week in Hampshire and IOW
With 2 million potential recruits, more organisations should recognise what student volunteers can add.
Students contribute almost 32 million hours of voluntary work a year, yet many charities and voluntary organisations don’t actively recruit them. With over 2 million students in the UK and only a third of them currently volunteering why don’t more organisations want to reach out to such a large group of potential recruits?
This week is Student Volunteering Week (19th-25th February 2018) so it’s a good opportunity to tackle some misconceptions and get more people thinking about how students could make a difference for their cause.
So — what’s the problem with student volunteers?
“Students aren’t in it for the long term.”
Accepting turnover is part and parcel of involving volunteers. While student contributions might be time limited, it’s worth thinking about why exactly this is a problem — after all, any volunteer is free to leave at any point. We place a high premium on longevity, but enthusiasm, insight and new ideas can be just as valuable.
“Recruiting students is too hard.”
It’s not so much that actively recruiting students is difficult, but that it might involve going outside of your usual methods. There are plenty of places to start like contacting the university careers office. If you look at students as a ready made reservoir of potential volunteers it’s really just a matter of knowing which is the right tap to turn to start the flow.
“Students aren’t committed to our cause.”
They may be more committed than you think. Research shows that altruism is the biggest motivator for student volunteers — 95% of students who volunteer are motivated by a desire to improve things or help people.
And even if their reasons for volunteering aren’t purely altruistic, who says that’s a bad thing? Just because someone is volunteering to get experience or to help their course or career doesn’t mean they won’t do just as good a job.
3 reasons to be open to recruiting student volunteers
So, having busted a few myths, what’s the case for actively engaging student volunteers?
- They’re an untapped resource. Students are a fresh source of volunteers, a ready-made group of people who are willing to give up their time. There are even infrastructures in place to encourage students into volunteering — careers departments, student volunteering workers, perhaps even student-led societies based around community action.
- They could help you improve your diversity. This is especially true if your demographic skews towards the upper age ranges. Some universities and courses are more diverse than others, but generally they offer access to a group of people from a spread of backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences.
- They bring something new. Not only do students bring a new perspective but they usually come with heaps of enthusiasm too. In most cases, they want to learn, put things into practice and get a sense of what a future
career might bring, especially if your cause relates to their course. But volunteering doesn’t have to just be career-focussed. Being a student is also a great time to do some self-exploration and find new interests — making a difference in the local community could easily be their new found passion.
Making it work
This isn’t to say recruiting students will always be easy — as with any potential volunteers sometimes it just won’t work out. The good news? There are things you can do to improve your chances of recruiting and keeping student volunteers:
Be clear about what you’re offering. Volunteer roles are focused on carrying out necessary tasks , and while they can offer great work experience they aren’t formal work placements. Make sure you’re clear about this from the start.
Know who to go to. Think about whether there are specific courses or interests that might fit with the opportunities you have to offer (such as law or social work students). If there are, do a little research to find relevant student societies or course leaders.
Involve your current volunteers. Keep your current volunteers in the loop with your plans, and explain what student volunteers have to offer. Current volunteers can be excellent ambassadors for you, and, importantly, they’ll play a key role in making student volunteers welcome. No one wants to feel like they’re gatecrashing!
Communication is key. Leaving students hanging during the recruitment process, or not giving them the opportunity to ask questions or suggest ideas, will quickly stifle any interest they might have in volunteering for you.
Of course, recruiting student volunteers isn’t going to be right for every organisation, but we should never limit ourselves to the ‘usual suspects’ in volunteering, just to avoid trying something new. So, next time you’re planning a recruitment drive, don’t forget — there may be a whole pool of untapped talent already on your doorstep.
Interested in finding out how you could make a difference as a Citizens Advice Volunteer? There are a range of volunteer roles on our website Search Citizens Advice
Or visit Citizens Advice Portsmouth