The Next Generation

August 1, 2011       Samuel Fanburg      

When 10-year old Andrew Druart returned from a recent trip to Gettysburg, Pa., not only did he have a new-found interest in the sacrifices made during the Civil War, but became engaged with organizations seeking to preserve battlefields.

“I heard that civil war battlefields were being lost,” said Andrew, “and in 20 years we might not have enough fields for kids to learn the origins of war. When I learned about the Civil War Trust and the issues they addressed, it became my goal to raise $7,000.”

With a desire to help change the world, Andrew joins legions of young people involving themselves in nonprofits, by volunteering their time or through fundraising campaigns aimed at friends, families, classmates and in some cases, management. However, even with mobile and technology tools easing fundraising and event management, nonprofits still need to provide structure for the young crusaders.

Andrew’s interest in battlefields continued through a partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based Civil War Trust (CWT). Aimed at preserving battlefields throughout the nation, the organization welcomed his involvement, said Rob Shenk, director of CWT’s Internet strategy and development.

“It was really a powerful story,” said Shenk. “To have someone so young and be so passionate. I thought it would make a story of interest not only for students, but for our base donors as well.”

Following an initial meeting, Shenk and the Druarts decided to build a personal fundraising page featuring a letter from Andrew asking for help to reach the $7,000 goal. Accompanying the page are various photographs of Andrew at different locations on the Gettysburg battlefield.

Civil war re-enactors accompanied Andrew to school. Activities like this, according to Shenk, enhance the visibility of history for kids and can help them have a connection to causes.

“Taking students to a battlefield is much more powerful than learning about it in a dark room,” said Shenk. “We have positioned ourselves to the younger generation by having a Civil War poster contest, a photography contest for high school students and have a ‘traveling trunk’ of authentic Civil War gear.”

A little more than halfway to his goal, Andrew intends to continue helping the CWT, having not considered starting his own foundation or charity. “Right now I’m just trying to donate as much money as possible to the Civil War Trust,” said Andrew. “It might be a little hard at my age (to start an organization).”

Andrew hasn’t needed as much guidance or structure as compared to his peers, said Shenk. “What’s so great is that he has need very little encouragement,” said Shenk. “Andrew is authentic, the real deal.”

Nonprofit managers need to keep in mind that a younger volunteer often has just as much capacity as an older one, said Susan J. Ellis, president of Philadelphia, Pa.-based, Energize Inc., and a contributing editor to The NonProfit Times. “Volunteering allows people to rise to the level of their ability, not their resume,” said Ellis.

Ellis recommends never typecasting someone based on age. The biggest issue comes when addressing the literacy of a prospective youth volunteer. Nonprofits should engage the youth with a reading test to assess skills level.

Technology needs to be catered to a younger audience. Online tools are embraced by the younger generation and need to be engaged in this medium said Ellis. “One of the things that is very different is that young people are ‘cyber-natives,’ meaning they spend a lot of their lives online and do not mind being public with their thoughts,” she said. “Young people are used to working in teams in the classroom and online, so the culture of volunteering is much more natural. If everything has to be in written report, it’s not going to work, because young people just do not work that way.”

Reports could be transmitted digitally. If a team of young people are cleaning up a local park, while a full written report could be done, a similar goal could be accomplished by having them post a picture to the organization’s Facebook page.

Ellis also said nonprofit managers should reconfigure their role as an authority figure based on a young person’s comfort in a work place environment. At this point in their lives, contended Ellis, a young person’s only experience with adults has been through either teachers or parents.

“Volunteering gives young people a better sense of what the workplace is like,” said Ellis. “We realized that when a teacher gives an assignment a young person gives back the answers hoping for a good grade. In the real world, it’s the opposite. We care about results, not the process.”

With a national youth council assisting in the direction of youth programs around the country, March of Dimes (MoD) has had youth programs evolve from its 1938 inception to a full-flown department of the White Plains, N.Y. organization.

“Our youth volunteers have a lot of passion and have balanced energy to put those ideas into actions,” said Allison Hauser, MoD’s associate director of National Youth Leadership.

But, structure is needed to reign in aspiration to produce tangible results. To create uniformity among their youth volunteers, MoD, encourages young people to create their own teams, provides speaking points important to the organization and distributes a fundraising guide.

Hauser and the MoD has developed fall and spring fundraising activities based on the school year to help coordinate actions among groups across the country. Attention to specific, organization events helps get the most out of the relationship, said Hauser.

“We certainly have other groups getting engaged during other times, but these are the times we are really trying to get out message. By having a fall semester project and a spring one, we can really focus our young people’s initiative,” she said.

Webinars are also offered to youth volunteers. These are programs available year-round that invite volunteers to continue engagement with the MoD, leading these youth to know the tangible benefits of their work.

“I would say to always first lead with the mission,” said Hauser. “We always lead with the mission and how what they do makes a difference. Because when they see you with a baby they can hold in their hands, it makes a world of difference. They already have the passion and mentors on the adult side, but need something to connect with.”

David Battey, president of Youth Volunteer Corps of America (YVC), believes that organizations need a lot of structure to get as much as they can from youth volunteers and fundraisers. “If youth volunteers are not organized,” said Battey, “studies show that service can do negative good. One of the hallmarks of our program is that it is a team-based service.”

Headquartered in Shawnee Mission, Kan., the YVC places young adult volunteers to assist organizations around the country. The YVC has utilized this “team model” since its 1987 inception, lending itself to develop efficient and effective young volunteers.

For YVC, a small group typically consists of four volunteers, whereas a larger group could reach upward of 75. For usual projects that last a couple of weeks, groups range from six to 12 volunteers. One of the benefits of placing young people in groups is the ability to place kids from different backgrounds together so they can engage with each other, Battey explained.

A team leader who is generally college age or older guides each team. They can be paid interns, but serve a critical function as a liaison between the young volunteers and the organization.

“Team leaders are the point of contact between the young people and the nonprofit group they are helping,” said Battey. “They interface to make sure that everyone is happy. It’s hard to have a young teenager go up to the leadership of the organization. It’s just better to have a trained supervisor.”

YVC has 53 programs around the country, all with area coordinators either seeking out nonprofits or being sought after by organizations. According to Battey, he mostly sees kids signing up as part of a team. He said it is something they see their friends doing and want to be part of something larger than themselves.

“For a nonprofit to come with something for one person to do, it takes just as much time to come up with a group activity,” said Battey. “The group nature can be powerful because people work together better when they are on a team. And for the agencies, they are getting a group of people and a supervisor, allowing them to think seriously about other projects.”

Colleen Callaghan, YVC project manager in Nashville, Tenn., echoed the sentiments regarding the group dynamic. “We love working together,” said Callaghan. “It’s definitely good to be an intermediary between the nonprofit and group of volunteers. I can guide the projects and encourage the nonprofit leader to hit on some educational points. That is really the best part of the program. Since it’s service learning, it really helps the kids understand what they are doing and reinforces volunteering in the future.”

Callaghan joined the YVC following graduation from college in May 2010 after being alerted to the federal AmeriCorps program. Callaghan leads a group of young people in projects such as cleaning up rivers and trails, to assisting the Mobile Loaves and Fishes food program and participating in wheel chair ramp projects.

Aside from guidance from the local Nashville office, Callaghan said the YVC conducts weekly webinars helping develop project ideas and marketing her team to other nonprofits.

“There are a variety of subjects covered in these webinars,” said Callaghan. “They are very open to having suggestions on what can be talked about during webinars. They are nationally conducted, by a national team of supervisors. We are in a unique situation by having a lot of resources already. But for those affiliates that don’t, it can be very helpful. It’s always nice to listen in and ask questions.”

As the youngest American to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar, which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, then 17-year-old Stewart Goossens used his moment of international acclaim to raise $20,000 for the Marine Mammal Center (MMC) in Sausalito, Calif.

“I was already familiar with them,” said Goossens, “as my mother had already volunteered there for a few years and I myself had been there to check it out.”

The MMC has been able to engage with young people through either volunteering at the wildlife center or fundraising on their behalf. Now with a community of 800 volunteers, the youth program has become super-competitive with applications coming from all across the country.

“One of the most challenging things about the program,” said Jim Oswald, MMC communications manager, “is reviewing the applications because there is such a limited amount of spaces. It’s impressive to see what they put on their resumes. We also provide them with grounding with different educational courses and then place them amongst a number of learning opportunities.”

Volunteer group supervisors take responsibility of these young people, placing in them correct groups while making sure they are performing tasks correctly.

Although Goossens had not applied for the program, he thought of using the swim as a fundraising event when a month into his training he spoke to his parents about fundraising, which they found to be a great idea.

“I really like the people over at the Marine Mammal Center,” said Goossens. “They were all very friendly and seemed to know what they were doing. When I heard they were starting an animal hospital and research center, I became very interested.”

Goossens and his family created a personal fundraising page, linked to the MMC, hoping that members would donate to Stewart’s swim. Donations ranged from $10 to $2,000. He received a $3,000 contribution from Union Bank, a bank in Northern California.

The MMC did not believe they needed to give Goossens much guidance in his fundraising. The organization did publish a press release detailing his effort. MMC also emailed its members but did not give him much structure in his fundraising activities.

“I would say the fundraising was my family and my idea,” said Goossens. “There was no real reason for them to become involved.”

Following the four hour and one minute swim, Goossens returned to the MMC with his donation and volunteered just as his mother had.

“It was nice to see and hang out with the volunteers and employees,” remembers Goossens, “It was also nice to hang out with the seals.” NPT