As nonprofit organizations look to grow in their endeavors and continue expanding their reach, they would be remiss to overlook the value that the next generation of leaders, visionaries, and trailblazers can provide.

Appropriately titled Zoomers or “Gen Z”, this group of young individuals born between 1997 and 2015 embody traits that are sure to shape our collective future. A deeper look into the correlations and trends that are present within Gen Z reveal key insights nonprofits can leverage to recruit, incorporate, and retain these individuals to cultivate a sustainable, loyal volunteer base. In other words, how you reach out to recruit volunteers from Gen Z may look different than your outreach for other generations.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Strategies for recruiting Gen Z volunteers

One of the most defining features of Gen Z is the explosion of social media use that has become extremely prevalent over the last decade. A study revealed that 85% of teenagers use YouTube, 72% use Instagram, and 69% use Snapchat. To reach this audience, nonprofit organizations should have a comprehensive understanding of various social media apps and platforms, and the ways in which people interact with them.

For example, sites such as Instagram and TikTok are heavily reliant on captivating graphic designs, unique videos, and heavily curated content. While people mainly see content from accounts they actively follow, there are also opportunities to utilize hashtags, geotags, and ads to promote your content to folks who may not be actively following your accounts.

Sites like LinkedIn and Facebook on the other hand are more conducive to promoting events and fundraisers.

For all social platforms, especially Twitter, staying up to date on trends like national days of service is a key way to boost engagement and strategize social campaigns. Using hashtags such as #earthday, #bethechange, and #internationalvolunteerday on national days dedicated towards those causes is an easy way to increase awareness and visibility. To learn more about best practices for nonprofits across social media sites, check out this blog!

Understanding the types of young people your organization is interested in recruiting is also vital before spending the time and resources it takes to seek out individuals. While setting up booths at large campus fairs and flyering in front of the main roads of colleges may be great ways to attract a diverse group of people, depending on what qualifications you are looking for in potential volunteers, it may not be the best tactic to recruit the young folks with the skills, specializations, and specific passions your organization needs. For example, a nonprofit specializing in environmental rights might want to instead speak at sustainability clubs or classes that are filled with students majoring in environmental science or urban planning and are oriented toward environmental justice.

Gen Z’s awareness of the social, political, and environmental justice issues has also grown tremendously over the past few years. The nature of Covid-19’s lockdown measures forced many to become more focused on the digital news cycle than they were previously as social injustices of all kinds became more prominent across the media landscape. As American consciousness shifted toward the ramifications of the pandemic and the infrastructure (or lack thereof) our country possessed to deal with such a catastrophic event, many were also becoming more aware of their own roles within society, especially in relation to marginalized communities. Statistics from Pew Research show that 54% of Gen Z believe that the earth is getting warmer due to human activity, 66% believe that black people are treated less fairly than white people, and only 14% believe that the United States is better than all countries, showing they are more critical of the US than previous generations.

Recruiting young people at protests, rallies, or online events dedicated to these social issues could prove to be a productive strategy for involving passionate individuals committed towards advancing rights and justice in your organization’s volunteer initiatives.

Ways to incorporate Gen Z into your programs

2021’s volunteering trends demonstrate that the vast majority of people believe that volunteering is more important after the pandemic, and will either maintain their current level of involvement or do more to become involved in their local communities and make a difference. Out of all generations, Gen Z is the most likely to become active in this area, and many are committed to making a positive impact within the social justice areas they care deeply about.

When onboarding volunteers, nonprofits first must understand exactly what it is they want out of the experience, as the process of volunteer matching is intended to be a mutually beneficial relationship for all parties involved. Many young people are more inclined to enjoy the social aspect of volunteering, whether it is hanging out with friends or meeting new people. For that reason providing lots of group opportunities that foster a collaborative environment and refrain from isolating volunteers with  individual work will be crucial for Gen Z volunteer engagement and retention. Others may want to gain new professional experiences, and use this time to develop important skills or understand their strengths and weaknesses. Allowing volunteers  to think critically and apply-problem solving skills is vital, and nonprofits can use these volunteers in their marketing efforts, digital media content creation, public speaking events, or other areas depending on interest or skill set.

Becoming more entrenched in local communities is yet another reason Gen Zers are more inspired than ever to volunteer. Specific activities, such as a mentor programs for 1-on-1 help, field trips, or group retreats that allow potential volunteers to learn more deeply about the impact your organization has and the specific issues your initiatives address can be useful if they are within your bandwidth. These events also offer an alternative way of creating and deepening personal bonds and connections, creating more unity and cohesion within the community or organization.

Overall, it will serve your volunteering program well to make sure your Gen Z recruits are interested and skill aligned with the operations and activities you are seeking help with. Focus on leveraging the skills and expertise they have that you may lack, and allow them to feel a sense of ownership over the projects they do take on.

How to utilize Gen Z to grow your nonprofits

Once you have a dedicated group of people that understand the mission and purpose of your nonprofit, the next step is to use them as a resource to bring more awareness through their personal contributions.

For Gen Z, one great strategy is offering campus ambassadorships at their high schools and  colleges. Though schools vary with club formation requirements, many will allow students to form clubs or programs as long as students show commitment and dedication to doing so. It is crucial to emphasize the importance of continuous volunteering and encouraging consistency. A key component of engaging young volunteers is making the process of volunteering on a regular basis accessible to incorporate into their busy lives that balance other commitments including class and extra-curriculars. Civic Champs’ digital volunteer management system easily allows nonprofits to track volunteering through a mobile app (Gen Z friendly) and  makes it easy to schedule out volunteer opportunities and keep a digital event calendar up to date. It also allows organizations to easily get feedback often, to know exactly what people liked or disliked about their experience, allowing volunteer managers to implement changes and tailor events based on immediate, trackable insights.

Another way to maximize awareness around your organization’s cause is to encourage young folks to share on social media, whether that be reposting stories from nonprofits directly, or sharing about the tasks or events they were actively involved in. Having a nonprofit hashtag, making sure people are tagging the organization in their posts, and making sure the crux of their content is aligned with your organization’s brand voice are also important to maintaining messaging cohesion. If you have the resources to put together social media marketing kits with collateral that young people can easily share, such as flyers or informational videos, you can streamline the brand visuals and tone for your nonprofit while building your digital footprint and presence. The construction of social media marketing kits would be an excellent starting volunteer project for a social media savvy Gen Z volunteer who is interested in gaining experience in communications and public relations.  

Finally, classified as the next generation of donors, encouraging Gen Z volunteers to donate is an untapped financial resource that may be overlooked given the fact that young people generally have less financial resources. But ignoring young people as a potential donor pool is a mistake. Around 35% of Gen Z donate their own money, a number that is especially prevalent amongst active volunteers. Organizations should not only encourage Zoomers  to donate, but also understand their capacity to do so. This blog post about the K-shaped recovery highlights the growing disparity between high-income and low-income folks post-pandemic. Since Gen Z is composed of young folks that are either likely in school or recently graduated, they naturally have less to give than more established donors. The Civic Champs app is tailored specifically towards making the right ask at the right time; encouraging microdonations that are within the threshold of donation capacity, microdonations not only help nonprofits by leveraging untapped donorship, but the concept also allows people to feel pride that they are contributing to a cause they care deeply about, which cultivates volunteer loyalty and promotes retention into the future.

About the Author:
Geng Wang

As CEO of Civic Champs, I lead our team of passionate change leaders to create technology solutions to create a seamless and rewarding volunteering experience for both volunteers and service organizations.