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Three tips for promoting youth and volunteer engagement

By Nancy Hegland

This year’s University of Minnesota employee engagement survey is out. As a program leader I care very much about this subject. So what exactly is employee engagement, you ask?

The University's Office of Human Resources defines it as the extent to which individuals devote time, energy and effort at work. The highest levels of engagement come from facing meaningful challenges while having the support, resources and confidence to address them. Engaged employees are focused, energetic, mentally resilient, committed and involved. They say positive things about their workplace and recommend it to others.

I think the research related to employees applies equally to youth and volunteers involved in youth development organizations. We certainly want young people to be focused, energetic, mentally resilient and stay committed and involved in their youth programs. We want them to speak well of their experience.

What steps can a youth development organization take to enhance engagement? There are many good choices. Here are some tips:

Start on day one

Does your organization send a welcome letter to new members? Do they have opportunities to hear from leadership about the program? We know that membership starts with effective recruitment and orientation into programs. How are new members orientated in your organization? Develop a plan that will welcome, orientate and support new members and volunteers.

Develop two-way communication

Clear and consistent communication is critical to have engaged young people and volunteers. The best methods of communication may vary depending on the audience, so use a variety of tools that will work for the audiences. It is also important to listen to their input and ideas; it may help you discover a new opportunity.

Make opportunities for growth

Young people want to grow, learn and develop skills they will need as adults. What is your organization doing to challenge them and help them to grow?

Volunteers also want to develop their skills by taking on challenges. I had an opportunity as a volunteer to take on a task that was beyond my comfort zone. I decided to do it, as I knew that I needed to improve my skills in that area. Four years later, I’m comfortable with this role and helping others learn to do it.

Engagement is a key factor to satisfaction in the work place, as well as in youth development organizations. It’s important to foster and develop strong relationships that make people feel valued and connected to others in the organization. Engaged youth, volunteers and employees will be highly involved, positive and enthusiastic about their roles, which can expand the possibilities for them and your organization.

-- Nancy Hegland, Extension program leader

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