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Volunteerism: How to attract the next generation of volunteers

July 14, 2021By
Young volunteers

Ah, volunteers. The unsung heroes of programming efforts and fundraising events, your best brand and mission ambassadors, and one of your most valuable resources—saving your organization an average of $24.14 per hour. Sadly, volunteer numbers have been steadily dropping in recent years, a statistic that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, with two-in-three volunteers having decreased or stopped contributing time due to the pandemic.

However, there is hope! According to a recent study, while the pandemic has certainly intensified the strain on nonprofits, it’s also inspired people to get more involved, with 82% of people agreeing that “we all must get involved to rebuild our communities and country”. And who’s leading the charge? Gen Z and Millennials of course!

So what can you do to make the most of the next generations’ eagerness to volunteer?

Volunteers through the generations

Just as each generation has their own fashion, music, and hairstyle preferences, they each have their own ways of giving back. Let’s take a quick look at some key characteristics of each generation:

Baby Boomer

Baby Boomers are your more traditional volunteers. Typically, you’ll find they’re spending their time lending a hand, getting involved in activities in a food kitchen or cleaning up litter. They’re also extremely loyal to their nonprofit of choice, more often than not only volunteering for one organization for years at a time.

Gen X

Gen X shares characteristics with both adjacent generations. They’ll lend a hand to support their favourite causes and also participate in fundraising activities. You’ll most likely see Gen X volunteer for organizations that work with children or teens.


Millennials are a generation that prioritizes giving back. They typically look for volunteer opportunities that allow them to get involved in unique ways, where they can use their skillset to support their favourite causes. Similar to Gen Z, Millennials are politically aware and active, and much more likely to participate in advocacy activities. Above all, they value impact and transparency.

Key learning: Obtaining support from this group in the future may hinge on creating meaningful volunteer opportunities to connect with an organization’s mission.

Gen Z

Even as the majority of Gen Z are only just coming of voting age, they’ve already proven themselves as the most civically engaged generation alive today. Their generation is most interested in helping people and creating positive change, especially when their personal impact can be seen and measured. Their social impact weapon of choice: social media.

Did you know: Almost 80% of Gen Z in the US has taken at least one action to address racial discrimination and inequality since May 2020.

Source: Points of Life
volunteerism stats
This younger demographic is really attracted to volunteerism where they can use their individual skills. They want to see the impact.
Source: Points of Life
volunteerism statistics

Three ways to attract the next generation of volunteers

1. Focus on volunteer experience

What kind of volunteer experience are you providing? Are you simply going through the motions, handing volunteers a name tag, trash bag, and thanking them with a handshake on the way out? Or are you using it as an opportunity to build a deeper connection with your volunteers, share your mission, and showcase the impact they’re having on the community?

Today, organizations need to transition from transactional models (“come do something for us”) to transformative experiences (“let’s build relationships and make a real difference”). You can do this by mapping out a volunteer journey that engages volunteers at each stage of the lifecycle.

Pro tip: Do you segment your volunteers into personas? Doing this will allow you to target volunteers with the journey they want. i.e The needs of your ongoing loyal Baby Boomer volunteers are very different from new Gen Z volunteers, who maybe just heard about your organization for the first time through an influencer on TikTok.

2. Acquisition vehicle to attracted younger demographic

Where are you most actively engaging with volunteers? If your answer is email, it may be time to rethink your channel strategy. While email certainly isn’t dead, (don’t worry email is still king for preferred communication channels) when it comes to engagement and collaboration, Gen Z is looking elsewhere. In fact, 72% of Gen Z agree that social media is an important way to learn about and get involved with issues they care about.

So, how are you showing up online? According to the American Heart Association (AHA), TikTok has become a great vehicle for attracting younger constituents. In February, AHA collaborated with influencer, J.T. Laybourne, who has 1.5 million followers on TikTok, to raise money for American Heart Month. By the end of the month, AHA had raised $725,000 and connected with more than 24,000 new donors.

3. Tell your impact story

Did you know 75% of millennials said they would volunteer more if they had a better understanding of the impact they were making? Gen Z and Millenials are a compassionate bunch. They want to know what your mission is, but more importantly, they want to know how they can impact your mission. You can do this by building a content strategy that showcases their impact, and sharing it across channels they’re most engaged with.

“You’ll best relate to the next generation of volunteers by focusing on your mission and highlighting their ability to make a difference for your cause.”— Rebeca Johnson, VP, Constituent Experience and Direct Response Marketing, American Heart Association

A great example of this is the American Heart Association (AHA) where, as Rebeca Johnson, VP, Constituent Experience and Direct Response Marketing explained, they’re “creating a volunteer experience that's more in line with what the younger generations want.” Beyond that, AHA is working to make their mission more generationally relevant. “Of course, people think heart attacks and strokes are only for older generations, but it’s really about taking care of yourself today.”

The tech to get you there

Managing volunteer data is critical to supporting personalized and meaningful experiences.

Salesforce provides a V4S tool to support many nonprofits with their volunteer management (as well as extensions on Philanthropy Cloud and Experience Cloud solutions). Traction on Demand has also helped many nonprofits expand the platform with third-party apps such as HandsOn Connect, Golden, Galaxy Digital and many more.

Get in touch with one of our nonprofit experts to discuss which option best meets your needs.

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