Youth Volunteering

Having young people volunteer with you can help them build the skills they need and bring a lot of energy to your organisation! 

In 2014, nearly half of all young people aged 11-18 in Scottish state schools volunteered.  Most volunteered regularly(once a month or more). In 2014, 28% of young people in Scotland aged 16-24 had volunteered at least once in the last year (Scottish Household Survey, 2014).

Many organisations therefore already have volunteering opportunities for young people, but other organisations may be unsure about how to involve young volunteers, particularly those under the age of 16.

With the right support and supervision in place, young people of any age can participate in your existing volunteer programme. For the majority of roles, there’s no reason why young people can’t take on similar roles to older volunteers. There are clear benefits for both the individual and the organisation; young people have a wide variety of skills and experience to bring to a volunteering role, they’re often very willing to learn new skills to help with their own next steps, and they’ll bring a valuable new perspective to the work that you’re doing.

If you’re involving under 16’s in volunteering, you’ll need to have a few extras in place such as specific risk assessments and practicalities to protect individuals, and you’ll need to take into account each child’s age and abilities in order to set appropriate tasks and activities. If you have very young children involved, you might want to think about family volunteering to provide opportunities for older family members to volunteer with their children.

The following information will focus on volunteering programmes that are set up specifically for young people. Some youth programmes are set up as a result of the lack of volunteering opportunities available for young people and others are tailored to meet the motivations of young people such as the desire to gain new skills or be involved in short-term projects.

These pages will tell you all you need to know about how to set up youth volunteering for your organisation – and if you’re already involving young people, we’d love to hear from you to find out what you’re doing and to learn from your experience so far.

Thinking about youth volunteering

As with all volunteering roles, before starting your youth volunteering programme it’s important to carefully consider all aspects of volunteer management. This includes the resources/budget needed, who will be responsible for which tasks related to recruiting and supporting volunteers, and the timeframe for the set-up and delivery of the programme.

You should also think about how youth volunteering can support your organisation’s mission, wider strategy and objectives.

The Scouts, for example, have a section aimed at those aged 14-18 called Explorer Scouts. They provide the opportunity for young people to take on greater responsibility as Young Leaders for other sections, supporting younger members of the Scouts, and anyone can become an Adult Volunteer from the age of 18. This not only grows the capacity of the local troop but also develops the leadership skills of the young people, a key objective of the organisation.

As you identify goals for the overall programme, think about the tasks that you’ll need volunteers to complete. Are these tasks well suited to young people? Can they be completed outside school or work hours, or on an ad-hoc basis? Can young people take part in groups or with their friends? This is a key motivation for young people and can attract more volunteers to your organisation. You might need to remain flexible to adapt activities to suit individuals, within the remit of the programme, once you start recruiting volunteers.

You could potentially develop a variety of roles suitable for different people, as Volunteer Midlothian have done. They have developed Supported Befriending, Gardening and Activity Buddy roles. All of these roles are flexible and are done with other young volunteers making it fun as well as helping to make a difference. 

One outcome for youth volunteering can be that young people learn new skills or gain knowledge about a particular field of work. Think about how you can encourage this, either by engaging experienced volunteers alongside young people to share learning or by offering formal learning opportunities as well as practical volunteering tasks.

Training might be essential for your volunteering programme, for example first aid training or food hygiene certification, but consider offering training in other key skills. YoungScot includes free project management training, for example, as part of one volunteering opportunity. Developing skills is another key motivation for young people, so offering training will help make your roles more attractive.

An important area of work to consider is how to keep your volunteers safe; this is true for all volunteers, but particularly anyone who might be more vulnerable such as young people. If you’re involving under 16’s you’ll need clear safeguarding procedures (see below), but even if everyone is 16 and over there are additional things you can do to ensure volunteers remain safe. For example, make sure you have the budget to cover travel and meal expenses (if appropriate) as young people might be more likely to claim these if they haven’t yet started paid work.

It’s also important to do a risk assessment for each volunteer role and record additional hazards or action to take if young people are volunteering. You’ll also need to check whether your organisation’s insurance policies specify a lower age limit – if this is the case, make sure the policy is updated before the volunteering programme starts. You need to remember to communicate health and safety in an accessible way for your volunteers; young people in particular are likely to be turned off by talk of risk assessments!

Communicate to others in your organisation that you’re involving young people and share details of why and how you’re doing this. It’s important that your current volunteers know about the new youth volunteering programme as well as any members of the staff team that young volunteers might work with – not only to let people know what’s happening, but also to promote your volunteering opportunities. Take opportunities to talk through any concerns people have about new volunteer roles in advance of the programme starting.

Getting started with youth volunteering

Think about how you can make the opportunity attractive to a young audience. One of the best ways to do this is to involve young people in designing the role and any adverts or promotional material that will be needed. It’s also important to be clear about the age range you’re targeting so that young people know they’re needed and welcome – if you’re looking for volunteers aged 14-18 then say so!

Also think about how young people can build their CV, skills and experience through volunteering with you and make this clear in any promotional materials. The St Andrews First Aid youth site is a good example of how the benefits of volunteering can be promoted as a way to encourage young people to volunteer.

When you’re setting up a youth programme, you’ll need to consider whether there are any skills or experience that are really crucial to the role. Be prepared to recruit volunteers who are starting out and have not got any work or volunteering experience, but also remember some young volunteers have a variety of previous experiences or qualifications that prepare them well for taking on skilled tasks.

Next step is to decide where to promote your youth volunteering so that young people will become aware of the opportunity. Word of mouth is still the most effective method of recruiting volunteers, so consider how you might be able to spread the word. Do your current volunteers have young family members or neighbours? Are there particular social media links or hashtags you could use?

If you’re looking for full time volunteers, you can advertise your role with Project Scotland. Project Scotland matches people aged 16-30 with volunteering opportunities across Scotland, for periods of three months of approximately 30 hours a week.

You might benefit from partnerships with local schools or colleges to promote youth volunteering, either to work directly with groups from the college or as a way of attracting individual volunteers outside school hours. It’s also worth advertising through online portals such as vInspired so that any young people looking for volunteering opportunities in your area can find you. Our Recruiting Volunteers page provides you with a chance to promote your volunteering programme too, and you can specify a particular age range for potential volunteers so that your opportunity stands out in My Volunteer Account.

Matching the right volunteer to the right role is important for any type of volunteering. Think about how you can best chat to young volunteers, whether an informal chat is appropriate, perhaps a group recruitment session, or whether you can offer an opportunity for a formal interview to give people experience of this part of a recruitment process. Whichever approach you take, be clear to ask about the skills and experience that you are looking for and encourage people to articulate this clearly so that you know what they can bring to the volunteer role.

When you’re chatting with young volunteers, particularly under 16’s, offer them the chance to bring a friend or family member with them, especially for more formal interviews. This can make the experience less daunting and provides the young person with greater support.

To make sure recruitment is a two-way process, provide as much information as possible about the youth programme and what’s expected of volunteers and enable people to decide whether it’s the right role for them. Give people a chance to tell you whether or not they want to be involved as well as telling them whether or not they’re successful in their application. Be prepared to provide constructive feedback for anyone who is unsuccessful, to support them with future volunteering or job applications.

As with all volunteer roles, a good induction creates a strong foundation for volunteering. Think about the information you need to provide for young people, how to deliver this most effectively and what else people might need before they start volunteering. As with the recruitment process, chat to young people about what they would find useful when joining your organisation and also ask anyone (of any age) who already volunteers with you about what worked well in their induction and what could be improved.

Making a difference through youth volunteering

To support, engage and recognise volunteers effectively, you need to know what motivates each individual to volunteer. Get to know each young person and find out why they started volunteering and what they hope to get out of it for themselves. Think about what you can offer in return for their volunteering, such as support for Saltire Awards or the Duke of Edinburgh's Award as well as references for any volunteers doing college applications or seeking paid employment.

Motivations change over time and this can be more apparent with young volunteers as they move on from school, to college, to training or employment and perhaps also leave home. Aim to talk to volunteers about what’s happening in their life outside volunteering and be ready to offer support such as taking a break, volunteering from a different location or from home (if possible) and offering new opportunities for people who are no longer available or interested in their current volunteering role.

As with support and recognition, think about how you can best communicate with young volunteers and be prepared to use different methods of communication such as text or social media if this is what suits the volunteers. Remember, however, that meeting with people in person will still be the most effective way of communicating certain messages, such as giving or receiving feedback. Aim to talk to all your volunteers on a regular basis and make sure they have your contact details so that they can reach you with questions or concerns if needed.

If you’re involving volunteers under the age of 16 there are a few more things to consider related to support and supervision for volunteers:

  • Make sure under 16’s are supported by two adults at all times, and that those two adults are aware that they have a responsibility to support the young person.
  • Don’t ask under 16’s to work alone or to complete tasks in parts of the building that are isolated such as a basement area.
  • Ask all under 16’s to get parental consent for their volunteering – having a standard consent form can make this easier – and make sure you’ve got contact details for a parent or carer available whenever they’re volunteering in case of emergency.
  • Keep parents or carers informed at all times if anything out of the ordinary happens while the young person is volunteering, but in particular if the volunteer is very late, doesn’t turn up or feels unwell and leaves early.
  • Be prepared to respond appropriately to any concerns about a child’s welfare or a disclosure of abuse. You can usually take part in child protection training with your local council if you’re unsure about this.
  • It is important to agree set times for under 16’s to volunteer in advance of the day so that this can be shared with parents or carers and so that you are able to follow up with the volunteer if they don’t arrive on time.
  • Make sure you have a clear policy on communicating with under 16’s within your organisation, for example it is usually best not to connect with under 16’s via social media or exchange personal mobile numbers.

If you put extra support measures in place when involving young volunteers, make sure you talk to young people about these so that they know what to expect and can let you know if anything is missing at any point.

Beyond these extra steps, the support you offer to young volunteers should reflect the way you support all volunteers in your team – get to know people as individuals, including their motivations, skills and abilities, so that they can have an excellent volunteer experience whilst making a great contribution to your organisation.

Building on the success of youth volunteering

Find out from the young people in your volunteering programme how they would like to celebrate the success they’ve had – would they like to host a social event, get local press coverage or write a regular column for your organisation’s newsletter? Also think about giving appropriate rewards; if people are building their CV, for example, certificates and awards might be a good way to recognise individuals or teams of volunteers. You can find out more about some national awards and qualifications on our Awards and Qualifications page.

You can also recognise the contribution young volunteers have made by sharing success stories within and outside your organisation. Police Scotland hold a celebratory event in recognition of their young volunteers and worked with partner organisations and the Scottish Government to share the success of youth volunteering across the country.

When sharing success stories, you’ll not only celebrate the contribution of your volunteers, but also highlight that young people are involved in your organisation and perhaps encourage others to offer similar opportunities. Think about how you can record and share your learning from delivering youth volunteering so that others can build upon this too.

Think about how you can monitor the success of youth volunteering. Are there targets that you are working towards or can you record any other data about the programme that would be of interest to key stakeholders both within and outside your organisation? By measuring and highlighting the impact that youth volunteering has you’ll be supporting your volunteers and also encouraging the development of other volunteering programmes for young people.

One of the benefits for your organisation of involving young volunteers is that you’ll get a new perspective on the work you’re doing. Listen to ideas and provide opportunities to get feedback from young people, both to ensure the youth volunteering programme offers an excellent volunteering experience, and to capture ideas for the development of other areas of work to make the organisation as effective as it can be.

Young people who take part in a youth volunteering programme might become supporters or your organisation for life, or they might take part for a short period before moving on to other things. Either way at some point they will no longer be ‘young’ and it’s therefore important to consider how people can continue to support you, including through personal development and new volunteer roles, to build on the success of the youth programme for the long term.