At this point, most of you who are planning on having teen volunteers help you out with Summer Learning Program have probably already started working with your volunteers. It’s never too late or too early to start planning for next year. In this post, I’ll go through how we promoted our Summer Learning Program volunteer positions and how we handle applications.
We were hoping to attract 20 volunteers this summer. So far we have had about 40 applicants, and we are still fielding applications. It’s always hard to pinpoint causes of success when it comes to dealing with the public, so I can’t say that we received more applicants than we hoped for because of how we marketed the positions. Our marketing approach, however, doesn’t seem to have failed. The two approaches used were personal contact and flyer distribution.
Word of mouth is an effective way to promote any event. Quite a few of the teen volunteers we have this year are individuals whom I or other staff members personally recruited. These were teens who showed some of the traits we look for in volunteers (work ethic, passion for reading, interest in the library, looking for things to do), and seemed to be a good fit. We also reached out to teens who volunteered in previous years. We keep contact information for all of our volunteers on file. Then, when an event like Summer Reading is on the horizon, we reach out and invite them to return. This has the added benefit of padding a volunteer roster with experienced volunteers.
The library where I work is fortunate to have a talented and driven Marketing Department with employees adept at graphic design. They developed an attractive half-sheet flyer for us to distribute (I’ve included two different versions of the flyer; while it’s nice to have a Marketing Department, the important thing is to have clear, readable copy). Of course, we placed these around the library; however, we were able to reach a much larger audience by collaborating with our local school district. The school district posted the flyer on their Facebook page and shared it via Peachjar, a digital communication channel schools use to communicate with students and their families.
At the end of the day, make it exciting for the teens. Tell them how this can impact their future and help them get a job. Tell them how their service can also make a huge impact on people’s lives. Share success stories from previous volunteers.
All of our volunteers go through the same volunteer interview process: submitting an online or physical application, interviewing with the Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinator, and signing volunteer agreement forms. While we considered consolidating this process for the sake of saving time, we decided instead to give each teen the same individualized attention that we give all volunteers. It is essential to build rapport with teens early on in the volunteer process: showing them that they are valued communicates the value of the role they will be performing.
Since our timeline was tight this year – about two and a half weeks between when we started promoting the volunteer positions to when we hosted the first Volunteer Orientation – we accepted volunteers in the order in which they applied. Fortunately, we still wound up with an incredible group of teens. In the future, however, it would be ideal to be able to evaluate the pool of applicants on their merits as well as their availability before making decisions.
In addition to the standard forms, we also gave our teen volunteers two special forms to complete: an availability form and a questionnaire (like the flyers above, I did not create these forms). Although the current availability form asks for preferred shifts, I have since learned that it is better to ask teens to list times when they are NOT available. Believe it or not, many teens don’t want to work nights and weekends.
If you give your teens questionnaires or ask them other questions about who they are, be sure to take the time to read their answers. Mention elements from their answers when you talk to them, and read through the answers periodically to keep them fresh in your mind. It means a lot to them if you care to get to know them.
To learn more about recruiting and engaging teen volunteers, check out YALSA’s free Summer Teen Intern Toolkit.