The volunteer experience individuals look for evolves as they move through the different stages of life. In Bridging the Gap, Volunteer Canada found differences between four cohorts: youth, families, employer-supported volunteers and baby boomers. These groups may have varying priorities and circumstances related to different demands, such as school, work and family. 

Volunteering is a two-way relationship, so it is important for a volunteer’s goals to be addressed while they are helping meet the organization’s needs.  

Let’s explore the key characteristics of each cohort and how to create meaningful volunteer engagement that gives everyone a positive experience. 

  1. Youth (15-24 years old)

Characteristics:Career-focused, enthusiastic, technologically savvy and affected by mandatory community service requirements in some provinces and territories

Volunteer engagement considerations

Youth respond to innovative online communications and recruitment techniques. Social media can be a great way to recruit and retain youth volunteers. Since many youth see volunteering as supporting their job search, consider offering them opportunities to build current skills or learn new ones. An effective recognition tool could be organizing networking activities or offering to serve as a job reference. 

  • Families (parents with school-aged children)

Characteristics:Busy schedules, generational differences, value quality time and perception of volunteering as a way to pass on values

Volunteer engagement considerations

Virtual and casual volunteer opportunities allow family volunteers to give their time around their conflicting schedules. It is important for the activities to incorporate child care and be family-friendly, particularly in relation to the age of the children. Activities that develop youth in terms of character and skills can help children and teens gain confidence and self-esteem.

  • Employer-supported volunteers

Characteristics:Results-oriented, flexible, skilled, efficient and affected by conflicting work schedules and personal/family commitments

Volunteer engagement considerations

Many employer-supported volunteers are looking for short-term, skills-based volunteering opportunities. While some want to volunteer the skills they use at work, others turn to volunteering as a chance to do something different. In either case, it is important to communicate their impact and let them know how their skills have made a difference. Given their scheduling restrictions, flexibility and virtual opportunities can go a long way. 

  • Baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1962)

Characteristics: Schedule availability, loyal, highly engaged, independent and desire for purpose and meaning in their volunteer activities

Volunteer engagement considerations

Baby-boomer volunteers seek activities that reinforce their sense of social commitment and let them see the impact they are marking. Although many baby-boomers are willing to make a long-term commitment, casual or short-term opportunities allow them to test the waters first. It is important to allow baby boomer volunteers to have a sense of ownership over their projects, which should give them the chance to act outside their daily work skillset. 

Although there are key differences between these four cohorts, the five following recommendations can help non-profits improve the volunteer experience as a whole:

  1. Build meaningful relationships 
  2. Develop integrated HR strategies and practices 
  3. Be flexible and accommodating 
  4. Be sensitive to gender, culture, language and age
  5. Provide greater online engagement