Volunteers… the heartbeat of most non-profit organizations. Attracting and retaining volunteers comes with its own unique challenges and depends on your industry, time of year, project and even the volunteer executive team or paid staff.

Even though the generation of the volunteers you attract is only one component when it comes to recruiting and keeping them, it is an important consideration for the types of positions your organization offers as volunteer roles.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2013 volunteers ages 15 and over contributed 1.96 billion hours and the amount of hours given by each generation increases with their age, along with how choosy they are when it comes to the volunteer roles they are willing to take on.

We currently have five generations in the volunteer workforce. (To learn more about the generation categories read “How well do you know your generational icebergs?“). When creating your volunteer strategy (and yes, you should have one) consider the following questions:

  • What is the make-up of your volunteer staff?
  • What generations do you want to attract?
  • What challenges do you have in recruiting/retaining these generations?
  • What opportunities do you have to recruit/retain these generations?

To help answer these questions there are a few things you want to think about when it comes to what the different generations are looking for.

The “why” of volunteering is unique for each generation. The reason Baby Boomers volunteer is so they can leave a legacy and give back versus Millennials who are looking to save the world and build global connections. Gen X wants to develop skills and have a personal impact versus Gen Z who wants to gain experience and contribute to a cause they are passionate about. The roles you have or the type of industry your organization is in may lend itself to some generations over others, so think about how your cause or organization fits for the different generations.

The types of roles are important. Some Gen Xers are still building their careers and others are moving into sustaining their career. They are looking for roles with simple processes and the autonomy to put their own unique stamp on the project. This is different from Gen Z (the newest generation in the volunteer workforce) who are career wannabes and are looking for a chance to invent and create something and share what they have learned online. Make sure you clearly outline the roles and responsibilities for each position, communicate these expectations out, and understand the seniority level and competencies you are looking for in each position. The last thing Baby Boomers want is to be stuffing envelopes… unless there is wine and an opportunity to catch up with their other volunteer buddies of course.

Get on their radar. How you communicate and market – the hook that pulls the generations in – is going to change depending on who you want to attract to your organization. Knowing what drives them to be interested in volunteering will help you to get their attention. When planning your marketing and communications, think about what technologies they use, what communication messages will resonate with them (remember to think about why they volunteer and the types of roles they are interested in), where they hang out, what their time looks like and what tools work best to send them the message.

What’s important to remember is that all volunteers want to feel valued and make a difference. Give them opportunities to do this and invest time and energy into them and they will do the same for your organization.

Learn more about our Connecting Generations workshop and how we can customize it to meet your needs. Note: This workshop qualifies under the Canada Alberta Job Grant.