Millennials' attitudes to volunteering, uncovered
Society relies on a massive volunteer workforce but is the younger generation up to the task? 

Younger volunteers are well and truly pulling their weight and they plan on continuing, despite a common misconception that charities and other not-for-profits are forced to rely on older workers, research by SEEK Volunteer has found.

The SEEK Volunteer survey found roughly equal numbers of volunteers in all age groups, representing a total of about one-third of all adults.

A total of 32% of those aged 18 to 34, the so-called ‘millennials’, have volunteered in the past year and 30% intended to volunteer in the next 12 months.

What are millennials' motivations for volunteering?

The top five causes that millennials volunteered for in the last 12 months were:

  • Community service (35%).
  • Animal welfare (28%).
  • Sport-related causes (24%).
  • Youth-related causes (24%).
  • Education (23%).

It’s no surprise to Head of SEEK Volunteer, Amanda Robinson. “Millennials are very community-minded. They’re keen to engage with their communities and to have an opportunity to give back by contributing to projects and events, helping out locally or supporting causes that they’re passionate about.”

The challenge for volunteer organisations is the way they want to be engaged, notes Robinson.

Two-thirds of current volunteers donate their time regularly compared with the one-third that participate in one-off projects, the SEEK Volunteer survey found. But that’s set to change.

There’s now more interest in casual or one-off volunteering tasks. So called ‘episodic’ volunteering.

“What we’re hearing is that millennials not only want more flexibility, they’re also looking to do more online,” says Robinson. “It might be working on a website, developing a social media plan, something that means they don’t have to turn up to a particular location,” she says.

The survey also shows significantly increased demand for skilled volunteering.

That reflects the experience of National Australia Bank’s Rebecca Lund who runs the bank’s employee volunteering program.

Under the program, which has provided more than one million volunteering hours in the 18 years of its operation, NAB employees receive two days paid leave per year to volunteer.

More than 40% of the bank’s 30,000 employees participated in volunteering last financial year. Most younger workers prefer skilled volunteering, says Lund. “They tend more towards tasks aligned with their professional development. They take the opportunity to connect with community organisations and not-for-profits to use and transfer their skills in different ways and in new environments,” she says.

At Prahran Mission, a Victorian community service agency run by the Uniting Church, about 150 volunteers work for between 1500 and 1800 hours per month in a mix of regular jobs, such as staffing the op shop and various one-off projects.

Volunteer co-ordinator Christopher Vogt says Prahran Mission had relied on retirees for many years but the volunteer workforce is now getting younger. That’s partly due to an influx of unemployed people looking to fill in their time, gain more skills or broaden their networks but it’s also as a result of a deliberate strategy to target university students. “They’re the volunteers of the future,” he says.

“It’s not as hard as you might think. We’re finding that young people know about volunteering and want to do community work.”

In Vogt’s experience, though, the volunteering isn’t necessarily linked to their studies or career ambitions. “When they get to university perhaps they’ve done some travelling and been to third world countries and realise when they return home that there are ways to contribute.”

The jobs are small but the challenges are big

Managing a volunteer workforce interested in one-off tasks is a big undertaking for not-for-profits where resources are already stretched and the volunteer co-ordinators may be volunteers themselves, says Robinson.

“The NFPs are still learning how to adapt to episodic or short-term volunteering. They’re having to think about the sorts of roles, projects and opportunities they may have and frame them up in that context. That’s a different way of thinking about roles within their organisations.

“For example, you might have one role you could offer over the course of a year, now you may have to divide that into three-month projects, so that’s four volunteers you need to fill that one role,” she says.

Not to mention the additional costs associated: the working with children and police checks, training and everything it takes to get that volunteer on board.

“While the volunteer organisations see that’s the way the future is going, we’re a little way off yet really seeing some meaningful change in terms of the number of short-term and flexible opportunities,” Robinson says.

Prahran Mission have been using volunteers for short-term projects but Vogt says to date most have come from the existing volunteer workforce.

“We’ve been lucky enough to have people in our volunteering mix who also have professional skills and I’ve just gone direct to them. I have not promoted the opportunities using the term episodic-volunteering, it’s just, ‘Here’s the project, let’s get it done’,” Vogt says.

SEEK Volunteer is free for eligible volunteer-involving organisations. Register your organisation and start finding volunteers SEEK Volunteer.