Spring break is upon us and, for many college students, that means time off to relax with friends or to visit with family. But it’s also a great time to pad their résumés and give back to their communities. Believe it or not, many students actually engage in “alternative spring breaks,” holidays spent volunteering and supporting causes that are important to them. Sometimes, this is an extended trip. Other times, it may simply be a few hours donated at a local food bank or animal shelter. However their alternative spring break looks, these students are ideal volunteers for nonprofits looking to add to their volunteer rosters.
Why Recruit Spring Breakers?
Some nonprofits have begun to offer alternative spring breaks to high school and college students. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity have extended trips where students help rebuild neighborhoods, and many colleges have organized group volunteer trips for their students. This practice offers a simple solution to shortages caused by the holiday week, especially when regular volunteers are parents or grandparents of younger children who need care during spring break. But it also offers a unique way to spread your organization’s message. How?
High school and college students are notoriously active on social media. On top of being useful volunteers, they’ll likely be sharing their day or experience on platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. This kind of social sharing can gain you new exposure to a previously untapped demographic. And, because people are more likely to trust an organization that someone they know has interacted with, you may be able to attract other volunteers, supporters, and donors from a volunteer’s post.
Let’s be honest: students know a lot more about technology than most older adults do. If your nonprofit is struggling to find tech tools that help you work more efficiently—or you just can’t figure out your printer—spring break recruits can be a huge help. And, as mentioned before, they’re great with social media, so you can even ask them to create profiles and post (approved) content.
Younger generations throughout history have gotten a lot of flack: for being lazy, for being entitled, for being poor problem solvers. But that’s usually not the case. Many Millennials and Gen Z’ers are actually working harder, longer, and with more focus on the greater good than generations before. They’re also very interested in giving back and making a difference. By recruiting and encouraging these student volunteers, you’re incorporating their enthusiasm, knowledge, and fresh perspectives into your organization.
With spring breakers, you get volunteers who are in their late teens to early 20s, which means you may have more manual labor behind your cause. Of course, not every volunteer will be able to lift 50 pounds or help with a day-long outdoor project, but some can. This is a great time to have those more labor-intensive projects lined up so that you can harness some of the energy that comes only with being young.
For all these reasons and more, spring breakers can make a powerful addition to your volunteer efforts. Of course, many nonprofits and volunteer coordinators worry that this type of recruitment will only provide short-term volunteers. If you approach it correctly, though, you may be able to convert them from temporary volunteers into long-term supporters. (And even they don’t join you for the long term, you might find that offering microvolunteering opportunities—short, infrequent volunteer stints—benefits your organization.)
How to Recruit Spring Break Volunteers
If you want to make the most of the upcoming spring break (or summer vacation, fall break, or holiday break), you’ll need to start recruiting high school and college students now. As with any volunteer recruitment effort, that means you’ll need to go where they are.
Places to look for spring break (or summer, or fall break) volunteers include:
Your local college or university. Many higher education institutions will have a community director or other staff member in charge of community operations who you can connect with. In some cases, you may even find a volunteer coordinator or resource center. Reach out to this person via email or phone to ask if there are students looking for spring break volunteer opportunities, or if the person would like to create a program just for their students. The better your relationship with the college, the more likely you can tap into a steady stream of volunteers (now and in the future).
College fairs and events. College campuses have pretty full calendars. Whether it’s a career event, a community fair, or a school spirit week, there may be a few opportunities to visit the campus and connect with students. Follow the proper channels to ensure you can be on campus, but bring a sign-up sheet and any materials that could help you recruit spring breakers. Also keep events on your calendar so that you can be a consistent presence on campus, which will build trust and volunteer interests.
Student government and clubs. Many students are involved in leadership roles or clubs. You may be able to ask for contact information for these students from the student office, but you may also need to attend an event in person to talk to the students. Follow the proper channels to make sure you can be on campus, and stay connected with these leaders and their members. This way, you’ll have a network of involved students who can share information about your organization’s needs.
Old-fashioned flyers. Believe it or not, bulletin boards are still used on college campuses across the world today. Tape up a flyer advertising your need for volunteers or your upcoming spring break event, complete with website, social media, and email (don’t expect students to call for details). Do this frequently, as flyers are added every day.
Neighborhood and school Facebook pages. Most neighborhoods and colleges have their own dedicated Facebook pages, which is a great way to share spring break events or volunteer needs. Leave a little bit about what your organization does, what you need volunteers for, and how they can get in contact with you to get started. This is a great place to ask them to “Like” your organization’s own Facebook page to boost followers. Also be on the lookout for posts that you could respond to, such as individuals seeking experience that is relevant to your needs.
Sororities and fraternities. Contrary to public perception, Greek houses spend a lot of time giving back to their communities and institutions of choice. To see if you can recruit a sorority or fraternity for its next spring break initiative, contact the president or house leader. Often, these Greek organizations will have their own Facebook pages as well. Stay in touch with these organizations and build relationships with the presidents; this communication can lead to future volunteer events and an ongoing relationship with the houses.
Once you’ve found places to spread the message, you can start your outreach. Of course, you don’t have to have a special spring break volunteer event—you can just fill your regular volunteer needs. If, however, you have a big project you need help with, or you are hoping to gather a lot of manpower, this is the time to schedule those events. Figure out how many volunteers you need for these larger events, so you can ensure you put enough resources into recruiting spring breakers.
Volunteers for Spring Break and Beyond
For many nonprofits, recruiting seasonal volunteers like spring breakers can raise concerns about volunteer retention, sunken resources, and few results. But when you frequently engage with the student community, encourage their social habits, harness their skills, and create opportunities that work with their schedules, you’ll likely be surprised by the number of student volunteers who return … and become supporters and donors later in life.
Latasha Doyle (@latashamdoyle) is a content writer who focuses on helping charities, as well as nonprofit software and services, find the right words. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading or playing with her six pets. She lives in Denver, Co., and can be found on the internet at www.latashadoylewrites.com.