Targeting Recruitment Problems in Voluntary Organizations

Voluntary organizations are struggling to find volunteers to actively support their courses. Due to general pressure in the society — e.g. in the education system — participating in voluntary course is unfortunately a low priority for many young persons.

For many years, voluntary organizations around the globe help to achieve progress of society in many different areas like education, arts, civil protection or health care. Those non-profit organizations deeply rely on the engagement of their members and supporters. I, myself, had the privilege to work for a few non-profit organizations until now. As a 24-year old adult, I belong to an age group, that has one of the lowest engagement rates for voluntary courses. As displayed in the survey, only 40% of all men in my age as well as only 28% of all women in my age work on a voluntary basis.

Since 2015 I’m actively supporting DLRG, which is the largest non-profit lifesaving organization in the world. I started as a coach who teaches young children to swim properly and am currently member of the board in our district branch.

Young members of my DLRG district branch: DLRG is generally a young organization. A high percentage of members are younger than 30.

Although DLRG has a high percentage of young members, the organization’s management boards have — in my experience — an average age of 50 and above. When I discussed participating as member of the board of our local branch with some engaged 16–20-years old members, they responded mainly two reasons to decline:

  1. They don’t have any additional free time, since they’ve got a lot of pressure in their education or vocational apprenticeship.
  2. They think that their ideas won’t be taken seriously since they’re too young and the board members are too old.

That’s the problem in a nutshell.

Rejuvenating Cure for a Voluntary Organizations’ Management

Our local branch’s management board has an average age of well over 50 — almost 60. Our chairman is in office for over 30 years. For the next year, we’re going to perform a huge generation shift. As decided by the current board, all holders of key positions won’t candidate again for re-election. Instead, these key positions shall be filled with active members, younger than 30.

Our chairman informed me last year about this plan, knowing that I lead a non-profit organization before. He wanted to hear my ideas for increasing the number of young members in management positions.

I suggested to take this approach:

  • Let all key positions be carried by young holders
  • Quickly inform the entire local branch about the upcoming generation shift
  • Allow an open exchange on which member should hold which position
  • Encourage current members of the board to stay as advisors to the upcoming board

Now, after three quarters of a year, our local branch sees higher engagement rates by regular members, new and innovative ideas and thoughts from all age groups and — most important — an increased participation by 16 to 24-year olds.

Broader Tasks for our Society

While an inner-organizational generation shift is possible for an individual organization, the level of pressure laying on an individual young person can only be adjusted as broader task for our society.

Up to my year of graduation, pupils in my home state Baden-Württemberg spent nine years in high school. In 2003, this was reduced to eight years together with other German states. Quickly after the introduction, the negative effects of the reform were reported: pupils were to busy for family, encounter a high level of stress and cannot participate in sport clubs or other youth organizations.

It is currently being discussed whether or not German states shall return the regularly nine year schedule for high schools. While this may have negative effects on the economy — people will enter the labor force one year later — it certainly have positive effects on our society. But we have to go a few steps further:

  • We have to explain to children how important social engagement is for our society
  • We have to point out that engagement for a course is not uncool, but it can make fun and allows you to get to know with new persons of a common interest.
  • We have to give children time to unfold their whole personality.
  • We have to encourage young engaged persons to step in for their believes and take actions.

Our society lives from the sympathy and engagement we have in common. If we want our society not only to be obtained but to be developed, we have to recruit young people to join us and create the environment so they can.

I actively support DLRG since 2015. I’m proud of the work our organization does for our society.