Take the Break: Recruiting College Students for Spring Recess Volunteering

There was a time when that annual rite of passage known as spring break meant one thing for nearly every college student: the chance to let loose—usually in a warm climate—and party down. Indeed, a spring break sojourn was, and is, a de rigueur part of the university experience as much as dorm rooms, lecture halls and frat parties.


However, as the United States economy continues to evolve, certain sector are contracting quite a bit, and hence jobs are either more difficult to find and land or require more experience and aptitude beyond just a four-year degree. It’s no surprise, therefore, that many of today’s college kids are foregoing the spring break experience and instead concentrating on a resume-building endeavor, something that can and will jump out at a prospective employer when the time comes.

Non-profits, of course, have long known the value of leveraging the impact of college volunteerism. But knowing the power of this volunteer source and successfully tapping into it are two different beasts: how does a non-profit make a two-week volunteer stint sound attractive to students, especially considering that the alternative for said students may be two weeks in Cancun?

If your non-profit is looking to make a push for college volunteers or expanding on the opportunities already offered, consider these five tips.

Build a Structure Program
Everyone likes to see positive outcomes from their efforts, so consider building a time-specific project that a student volunteer can tackle from beginning to end. Perhaps it’s a community service effort such as doing rehab on a neglected park or establishing the internal logistics for a new meal kitchen. No matter the project, be sure that, when it comes to an end, everyone can point to some obvious and tangible results. This fosters good feelings and a sense of accomplishment for the student, who may choose to repeat their effort next year and suggest to others the volunteer opportunities your organization offers.

Advertise Early and Often
College students may procrastinate on a good many things, but planning their spring break isn’t one of them. So rather than wait to after the holidays (post-January 1st) to advertise spring volunteer program, start your push in the autumn. And when you’re considering where to publicize, remember your audience: construct a dedicated web link that you can blitz over social media, and have a permanent banner on your home page advertising volunteer opportunities for those visitors who don’t arrive via a link from another source.

Plan for the Group
Remember that you’re trying to tout a volunteer stint over a couple weeks of surf and sand with their friends. So make concessions and appeals that allow the students to volunteer in groups. This is a benefit to both students and nonprofits alike on so many levels: they learn the value of working with and problem solving in a group dynamic (and earning gold stars for resume building) while still getting to spend time with their friends; you get a group of volunteers—rather than just a single individual— that are already integrated (they signed up together after all) and are accustomed to being around each other. And with a group you can create more complex programs that require more bodies to complete in the time allotted, which is also a plus for everyone involved.

Speak to their Interests
Gone are the days when it was okay for a student to put off declaring a major until junior or senior year: if they plan on landing a job after graduation, they should be working towards a specific degree from day one. Therefore, as a nonprofit you can advertise spring break volunteer opportunities based around desired skills sets. A volunteer gig could involve redesigning your website, perfect for someone studying graphic design. A marketing student may revel in revamping your social media strategy for the millennial generation. And an accounting major could be of serious value if put to work researching ways to cut costs and increase monetary donation by setting up new avenues for giving (living wills, trusts etc.) In short, having a student lick envelopes for two weeks is a sure way to discourage them from volunteering ever again.

Say Thank You, Again and Again
These students took the high road when they could have been living it up. So plan on doing something special for them when their spring break comes to end. It could be taking them to lunch or giving them a small gift of appreciation. But not matter how you choose to say thank you, doing so will go a long way towards a repeat volunteer performance. And remember that, beyond any altruistic desires, this is something that will look good on their resume, so if they did a good job consider sending them back to school with a glowing letter of recommendation.

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