College age volunteers are energetic, excited to serve, and often have flexible schedules. If you successfully tap into the college student community, your organization will not only reach students directly but also build a base of student ambassadors that can share your enthusiasm and mission with other students. Though it might sound daunting to reach younger volunteers, we provide some of our best tips and tricks to help you recruit college age volunteers.
We originally wrote this article at the start of COVID-19 because agencies were experiencing new challenges with their existing volunteer base. Early on in the pandemic, public health officials cautioned older adults to stay home, mindful that their age puts them at higher risk. Seniors began isolating from family and friends and avoiding public spaces like supermarkets and pharmacies. As a result, loneliness due to social isolation became its own public health crisis.
On top of all this, senior service providers on the frontlines found their available volunteer pools unequipped to deal with the skyrocketing demand for essential and life-saving services, in part because many providers had relied on volunteers who were older adults themselves. Recruiting younger volunteers, especially college students, became a necessity.
Tips for recruiting college volunteers
Post on Handshake
Handshake boasts that they’re the “#1 way college students find jobs” and include “17 million students and alumni at over 1,00 colleges and universities.” Most colleges use Handshake in conjunction with their career center, so students can connect with volunteer opportunities with just a few clicks. Based on a student’s profile, Handshake also notifies students of potential recommended opportunities that may match their interests. Strategically posting your volunteer opportunities on Handshake will allow for you to connect with students and alumni who are passionate about your cause!
Here’s a link to Handshake’s guide on how to post job opportunities. If a school is not on Handshake, find their career services page on their website and request to post as an employer. Approval from a school can take upwards of a week, so make sure to plan ahead.
Reach student organizations
Find local universities and community colleges in your organization’s city or location. Usually a quick google search of [University Name] + “student organizations” will yield a comprehensive list. Additionally, most schools will have contact information for the clubs directly linked to the list. Some schools use OrgSync, or “campuslabs.com,” or you might have to search for the name of the club to find a relevant website or Facebook page in order to find the contact information!
Here are some departments or clubs to target: Social Work, Nursing, Health clubs, History/Social Sciences, Gerontology, Neuroscience, Pre-med associations, Poetry/art clubs, volunteer clubs, and affinity groups.
Most schools will have at least one volunteer club and some schools even have clubs targeted for college students to connect with seniors. Identifying clubs and organizations will help connect you with students that are passionate about your organization’s cause.
Partner with college departments
Getting connected with a department allows you to reach existing volunteer programs, or create a new partnership program! Departments such as Nursing, Social work, and Health may be particularly interested in forming a partnership with your organization.
Tactically, reach out to the department head(s) to schedule a call. Often, if a particular department is unable to assist, they may have contacts and recommendations of faculty or other student organizations to reach out to.
You can also do a quick search to see if the college has a center dedicated to community service or research related to your organization’s mission. For example, the Stanford Center on Longevity aims to “accelerate and implement scientific discoveries, technological advances, behavioral practices, and social norms so that century long lives are healthy and rewarding.” Reaching out to specific research departments may help you get connected with students passionate about intergenerational support.
Ask existing volunteers or hire students to help put up flyers on campus or in the city. Students will know which places have the best visibility (such as dining halls, outside stores, on busy sidewalks). Use bright colors as well as large fonts to attract attention, and be sure to include key details such as purpose, time commitment, location, contact information. Though this tip isn’t as effective during COVID-19 times, it is extremely effective when students are back on campus.
Social media campaign
Identify student leaders to help you in launching a social media campaign. Reach out to prominent students that can assist you with a social media campaign! Students that serve on volunteer or service organizations, as well as nursing or pre-health students, may be able to reach other students with similar interests! Be sure to provide the key details as well as marketing materials for the students to post on social media and share.
Tips when creating marketing materials
Create marketing assets that are easily shareable
It’s helpful if you create an engaging visual, as it makes it easier for college students to share with the opportunity their friends. Even if you have absolutely no experience with Photoshop or image editing, making a colorful flyer truly makes a difference in attracting students. It’ll show that you’re willing to make the extra effort to engage them, and if they’re drawn to your visual, chances are, they’ll be excited to learn more!
We recommend using a free website such as Canva, as it is extremely user friendly: there are pre-made templates available, or you can create your own! Be sure to include relevant details such as the purpose, location, and time commitment.
Write an engaging email
Keep the message clear and concise: college students get flooded with emails every day, and if your email is too long, it’ll quickly end up in the trash. Avoid long blocks of text, and use bullet points. Be sure to bold important words (What?, Why?, Where?, How?, Questions?) and highlight important reasons and benefits of volunteering. Include prominent links to the volunteer application throughout the email to make sure that it’s easy to find -- the last thing you want is for a potential college volunteer getting frustrated because they can’t find the application
Have a clear value proposition
In your emails, flyers, or other promotional media, be sure to emphasize and appeal to what matters most to students. For service organizations, make sure to label the opportunity as a way to serve the community and give back. For other club organizations, you can emphasize how the volunteer opportunity will provide relevant experience for grad school or future jobs.
Final tips and considerations
Since many students are taking classes online and staying home, you can also consider reaching out to colleges that are slightly further away. Unless you’re asking a volunteer to provide virtual support, our platform takes into consideration a client’s location as well as the volunteer’s location in order to notify only the volunteers closest to the client. Nobody wants to receive notifications of volunteer opportunities that are too far away for them; they’ll quickly lose interest! Using the Mon Ami platform will help solidify your recruitment efforts by only notifying volunteers about service opportunities that they’re actually able to support.
Read more tips on volunteer recruitment