Youth volunteering guidelines

Guidelines to help the third sector, community groups and partners in the public and private sector offer practical and effective volunteering opportunities to young people.



Retaining Young Volunteers

Working with young volunteers is hugely rewarding for all involved and can be incredibly beneficial to your workplace. Creating a high-quality voluntary experience that encourages young people to want to remain with the organisation should be balanced with the right amount of flexibility and support to ensure the young volunteer feels connected and empowered.

A good volunteer experience is not just about doing something of value but also feeling recognised and rewarded for participation and doing something well. Aim to create a supportive network around your volunteers. These networks can prove vital in ensuring volunteers return when needing to take a break. For most people, sharing experiences with others for a common purpose is the key to good volunteer retention. This also means making those experiences as accessible and inclusive as possible with policies to protect volunteers and create a sense of structure and security in their role. Lastly, aim to make volunteering 'business as usual' by embedding it in your practice to avoid tokenistic participation.

Positive experiences = continued participation

Feeling valued, respected and contributing to the 'cause' builds purpose and meaning for young volunteers. The higher the feeling of purpose and meaning is, the more likely your young volunteer will flourish.

Recognising achievement

It's a generational requirement to receive positive feedback often and in as many creative ways as you can! Using young people focused programs like the Saltire awards alongside informal recognition and feedback is a superhighway to helping your young volunteer feel like they are making a difference.

Being Volunteer-ready

Have a main point of contact (or volunteer champion) for your young volunteers. Their role is to keep in touch with young volunteers regularly ensuring they are safe, well-supported and barriers to participation are identified and addressed. This can be a brilliant role for an experienced or former volunteer.

Communities of support

Team building activities, a robust induction, a 'buddy' or involving those who have already completed the experience can help to create a feeling of community and support that will encourage a sense of belonging and retainment. Mentoring programs (peer, staff or reverse) are hugely successful in helping young volunteers learn, grow and develop.

Positive experiences = continued participation

Having an enjoyable experience is understandably a top reason for people engaging in volunteering activities. Creating a welcoming, inclusive environment is high on the list of young people's needs as well as being able to improve their life chances through volunteering and being able to help others. Encouraging a sense of achievement through both formal and informal recognition and allowing young people to share their experiences creates a sense of community and shared values. Volunteering should encompass a double benefit; to the young people themselves and to the wider community. (#iwill 2019)

Where stigma towards volunteering remains, showcasing positive examples of how volunteering can be useful (to self and community) is helpful in attracting young people who may not have previously considered volunteering. Similarly, having a diverse team that is reflective of the communities you are working with may encourage participation from young people who would not usually access your provision.

Recognising achievement

Young volunteers surveyed stated that recognition is an important element to volunteering. This can take the form of certificates of achievement or 'staged' awards that recognise participation at given points. Staged awards can help volunteering opportunities feel more attainable for those who are new to volunteering or those who may have to fit their voluntary activities around other commitments.

Accreditation may be something to consider to make volunteering opportunities more attractive to participants and relevant to employers, colleges or universities. Youth VIP are keen to see better support for young people who are not in education employment or training in this respect. While taking part in volunteering, the young people could additionally sit SQA accredited qualifications or take part on the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme to give them a foundation when applying for work, training or education in the future. Rewards such as discounts or vouchers may also be appropriate in some instances.

Being Volunteer-ready

'Young volunteers can be a great asset...bringing new skills and perspectives to an organisation.' (Youth VIP)

Aim to embed volunteering within your workplace. Being 'volunteer-ready' is critical in retaining volunteers as it means you are better prepared to support sustained participation. Having a dedicated Volunteer Lead or Coordinator is good practice. This person will be the main point of contact for your volunteers and be responsible for keeping them safe and ensuring they are well-supported.

Your policies and procedures will need to reflect that you are working with young people under the age of 26. You may also be working with children aged under 12. Learn from the best practice of other organisations when creating your policies. These policies should be easy to understand and made available to your volunteers too.

Make your work with young volunteers part of your strategy with senior-level buy-in and an appropriate amount of allocated resource. Be proud of your volunteers and publicise their achievements internally and externally. Having young people involved in as many aspects of 'business as usual' can very quickly win hearts and minds and lead to a more positive experience for all.

Communities of support

54% of young people felt more connected to their community and had a better understanding of social issues after volunteering (Youth VIP).

Many young people take up volunteering as an opportunity to meet others with a similar interest. Where groups of volunteers are expected to work together creating a 'community of support' is worthwhile. Team building activities, a robust induction, a 'buddy' or involving those who have already completed the experience can help to create a sense of community and support that will encourage retainment. It may be worth considering more formal arrangements such as each young person having a peer mentor with whom they can share experiences, learn grow and develop. Peer mentors are a powerful source of information and insight of lived experience within your organisation that can be used to inform and drive change.

Likewise, there may be scope to introduce young volunteers to other external networks of volunteers in their local area. Volunteering conferences, local youth networks, regional and national youth organisations all hold regular opportunities for engagement in activities beyond your own organisation. Youth VIP have recommended that the Private and Voluntary Sector come together via a national forum to share best practice and support each other in enabling wider access to volunteering for young people.

Case Study

Matthew is a young man from Perth who volunteered for PUSH, in their eBay shop, which resulted in him being offered a paid role. During his placement, the manager of the store described Matthew as a 'great worker, a godsend'. It is, therefore, no surprise that upon interviewing for a Community Jobs Scotland role with PUSH as a PAT Tester & Warehouse Assistant, Matthew was successful.

Key to his retention and growth, Matthew was matched with a role that suited his interests and skills. With the support of PUSH, he was encouraged to grow and develop his personal and practical skills. This well-placed investment was mutually beneficial for Mathew and PUSH.



Back to top