Last week, Student Volunteer Week (SVW) recognised the volunteering efforts of thousands of students across the country. Organised by Volunteering New Zealand, the campaign provides an opportunity to celebrate the many students, educational institutions and community organisations who are helping to grow the social capital of New Zealand through volunteering.
This year many organisations asked students to talk about their volunteering experiences in their own words, and posted these stories to Facebook and other social media. So, what did we learn from student volunteers over the Week?
- Students want to see the difference they’ve made
“I love how the time I’ve put aside to work with young people has made a tangible difference in their lives and I’ve been able to see them grow”, says student Lara, who has volunteered with Brownies for several years. When volunteering, students want to be able to visualise how their time and effort has resulted in a positive change in the long term. So, it’s a good idea to have students working on a project where they are making a tangible difference and can see the change they are making.
- Show students what they can gain
“Through volunteering I’ve learnt how to help people out – I’ve never really helped before”, says student Ryan, who helps disabled children in his community. Talk to any student and they’ll tell you how busy they are with university, work and a social life. So, it’s useful to show students what they can gain through volunteering. This can be through showing them the new skills that can be gained, or through recognition, for example on university transcripts or during award ceremonies.
- Students love that volunteering can enhance employment opportunities
For many students, the future is a mystery – who knows whether the job they end up in will be linked to their university studies? According to Jane Fletcher, the Assistant Manager of Careers and Employment at Victoria University of Wellington, volunteering helps students to “connect the dots between their experiences and their employability skills”. So, when attracting volunteer recruits, demonstrate to students how they can enhance their employment opportunities by linking volunteering activities to the knowledge or skills required in the workplace.
- Make it easy for students to love volunteering by engaging in best practice
To ensure that students enjoy volunteering, make the experience as straightforward as possible. Particularly for those volunteers that are highly motivated and interested in the culture of the organisation, make sure that you:
- suggest new ways your organisation can acknowledge the contribution of younger volunteers.
- be prepared to train the volunteer when aspects of the role are new. No one wants to be in a position where they are setup to fail.
- make it easy for people to volunteer by being creative and flexible when designing volunteering opportunities.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
Make sure that you communicate regularly with volunteers so they stay in touch and engaged with your organisation and the work that you do. Consider using a range of communication mediums, particularly those that students actively use, such as text message, Skype or social media. Designate a person within your organisation who is responsible for engaging with volunteers and ensure they are frequently releasing fresh information. Finally, encourage feedback from previous volunteers and consider how this can be used to improve current practices.
Julia Kennerley is a student at Victoria University of Wellington studying towards a Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Arts conjoint degree.