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Factors Impacting Youth Providing Indirect Volunteering: Strengths and Challenges for Engagement

24 Jan

In my previous post about tracking outcomes of awareness raised, I alluded to my Masters research about youth engaged in indirect volunteering and the outcomes of their work. I am finally happy to share highlights of the results with my network of professionals who work with youth volunteers. A link to the presentation can be found here:

The purpose of my research was to investigate issues related to indirect volunteering of youth volunteers by identifying strengths, challenges, and exploring themes that have and themes that have not yet emerged in prior literature on youth volunteers before.

The following two definitions were explored in greatest detail in the thesis:


Non-front line, volunteer does not directly work with the client.

Awareness raising and fundraising are two common examples.


Role ambiguity is defined as the extent to which volunteers are “unclear about their responsibilities and the extent to which role-related information is unclear” (Fried et al., 2008, p. 307).

Role ambiguity negatively affects the retention of volunteers, but research supporting this finding has included adult participants only (Merrel, 2000; Ross, Greenfield, & Bennet, 1999).

To investigate all relevant topics for indirect volunteering of youth volunteers, three research questions were asked:


—What motivations, barriers to engagement, and opportunities for leadership affect youth volunteers who participate in indirect forms of service?

—How does role ambiguity impact indirect forms of service?

—What strengths and challenges affect youth volunteers who provide indirect forms of service?


—Six core themes emerged from the data analysis.

—Three themes reflected common topics from the literature review:  motivations to volunteer, leadership opportunities, and barriers to engagement.

—Role ambiguity emerged as a core theme for youth who are indirect volunteers.

—Two new themes emerged that are unique to this research: empowerment and power imbalances, and the meaning that youth ascribe to their volunteer roles.

These next images represent the core themes and sub themes that emerged from the literature. (Note: all diagrams can be enlarged by clicking on the image).

main n sub themes 1

main n sub themes 2

The following diagram illustrates that the work of indirect youth volunteers often has to go through many channels to impact the intended clients. The results of this work often takes a long time to become apparent.

Fig 1

To explain, youth volunteers impact the service agencies where they volunteer. At the same time the service agency may empower them by offering clear roles and responsibilities that are supported by access to resources, teamwork, and engaged stakeholders. Alternatively, agencies may disempower their volunteers by offering vague volunteer positions with no clear outcomes. Male youth, younger youth volunteers, and youth who do not speak English can also be disempowered.  Often the volunteer’s work must be channeled through governments and other NGOs. Finally, the channeled work of the volunteers may impact the actual service communities, which are sometimes within their own municipality, but also may be far away in another country.

The next diagram is a conceptualization of the interrelatedness of all themes that emerged from the data analysis. There are two problematic paths and one successful path for engaging youth volunteers and achieving meaningful outcomes with their work.

Fig 2

If an aspiring youth volunteer is faced with barriers to engagement, they cannot volunteer. If their motivations are fulfilled, they land a public education role. They are then either empowered or disempowered. If they face additional barriers to engagement when volunteering, they fail to see the outcomes of their work and may not accomplish outcomes at all. If they do get feedback and are clear about their work, the service outcomes are met and are clear to the volunteer.

It is also important that organizations have a clear understanding of the barriers that create role ambiguity, factors that improve clarity, and the outcomes of these actions. Factors that improve clarity can be accomplished by both staff and youth volunteers as this next diagram demonstrates.

Fig 3

One of the research sub questions asked what strengths and challenges youth face that are unique to indirect volunteering.  Out of the research I came up with strengths and challenges for youth who are indirect service volunteers.

Strengths & Challenges 1

Strengths & Challenges 2

These strengths and challenges should be used as a guide of methods to pursue and actions to avoid by organizations striving to better engage youth in indirect volunteering.

More information about the outcomes with the GTA organizations can be found in the full thesis here:


They Cracked It! Youth Who Track “Awareness-Raised” with Culturally Relevant Social Media Campaigns!

29 Jan

I wanted to share this example of a by-youth-for-youth organization online that uses the vampire phenomenon to raise funds and awareness for the environment. They have already raised over $16,000 for Gulf Relief and have garnered celebrity support. Check out my guest blog on about their work and look out for my comments on how they’re tracking awareness raised. What are your thoughts?

Special thanks to all who retweeted the post!

Changing the Face of Youth Leadership in 2011: Vampire Support

What do you get when you combine environmentally conscientious vampire craze fans with innovative grassroots web campaigns that support a partner organization founded by a celebrity role model? Vampire Support, a promising youth-led organization for 2011 with a mission to “raise awareness about causes by using the vampire phenomenon to start projects and encourage the world’s youth to speak up for what they believe in.”
Its founders Chloe Dawn and Amber Davis have led several campaigns already to support the launch of the Ian Somerhalder Foundation and help with Gulf of Mexico relief through theNational Wildlife Federation. Their new campaign requires youth to demonstrate their awareness of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to compete in a raffle for a basket of Twilight prizes. All proceeds will support the Ian Somerhalder Foundation. What better way to engage youth in taking action than by raising money for an organization supporting innovative partnership projects resulting in real outcomes for the environment.

What really give this campaign impact are not only the long-term environmental outcomes that will result thanks to funds raised for the IanSomerhalder Foundation, but also the results it will have for participants as well. The contest ballots will represent tangible evidence of participants’ “awareness raised” about the oil spill in the Gulf and the prize is truly enticing due to its pop culture relevance.
Want to participate in the contest but need to brush up on your knowledge of the oil spill first? Visit the official website of the Ian Somerhalder Foundation to do your research. Be sure to enter Vampire Support’s contest before January 22nd.
Follow Vampire Support on Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch with culturally-relevant grassroots youth leadership online.

My New Favourite Youth Action Ideas: Part 2

7 Jan

I took the discussion about youth engagement to the Volunteer Match LinkedIn Group in December and asked:

What are some examples out there of youth coming together around a common personal/social interest to support a common humanitarian interest?

The response was incredible, and I would like to continue the discussion about my favourite youth action ideas in part 2 of this blog.

1)      Party With a Purpose: This form of engagement is for older youth, in the 20+ crowd. A sample project is discussed here. It is a great way for older youth to raise funds and awareness for a cause that they care about with their friends.

2)       Showcasing to Youth Leadership: One of the best ways an organization can demonstrate their commitment to youth leadership is by designating an official website of the organization to the activities, resources and opportunities delivered by and available to their youth. Plenty of examples can be found on

3)       Social Interest Clubs – Know of a social interest club at a high school or post secondary institution with a high volume of engaged youth attracted to the club’s activities? Encourage them to host a fundraiser or campaign for a cause you think might be important to them where activities supporting both the social and humanitarian interest can be the theme. This encourages innovation and creativity in youth groups and helps them hold stock in their interests and skills while affecting real change in their communities.

My New Favourite Youth Action Ideas

12 Nov
As a professional working with youth volunteers in a number of arenas I recently found myself highly interested in a fresh perspective of innovative youth engagement. Thanks to the Twitterverse I’ve stumbled upon some incredible and unique ways youth are becoming engaged as activists, public educators, and fundraisers. These are just a few examples of activities that have harnessed incredible momentum motivating youth into action.
1) Engagement Through Social Media
This video shared with me by as part of their Digital U series champions social media as the tool of choice for youth to find innovative ways to do something about a cause they wish to support. Despite some concerns that social media is a more disconnected and less meaningful way for youth to get involved, the support harnessed through participation via social media is irrefutable. Unique stories of involvement with social media are highlighted. 
2) Empowering Youth Through the Arts
This GTA partnership among youth-for-youth action groups produced an innovative toolkit with creative ways youth have raised awareness about HIV/AIDS. A noteable favourite is Fashioning Change: A Youth Inspired Fashion Show (starting on pg 14).
3) Making Youth Famous for Doing Good
An explosive example of youth participation in the United States is Think MTV, connecting youth with unique volunteer projects supported by celebrities with a diverse host of the most well known, and some lesser known organizations. Recognizing that most youth have a desire to do something meaningful for the world yet so few are able to put their iseas into action, the pillars of this project are motivation – through multiple forms of meaninful and powerful support, recognition – by acknowledging youth who act as “rock stars,” and accessibility – by providing youth with the tools to act online. Whether connected to a major media hub like MTV or not, many organizations are successfully using social media tools today to recognize their youth volunteers as the rock stars that they are.   
4) Youth Doing Good for the Famous
Many celebrities have been positive role models for youth by encouraging them to support their own foundation or another organization supporting an issue that they are most passionate about. I give kudos to Ian Somerhalder (LOST, The Vampire Diaries) for engaging his fan base and fellow environment-minded Twitter community in the upcoming launch of the IS Foundation by placing a call out to bloggers for support. As assumed from his thank you message to those following him in the Twitterverse, the response rate from those willing to help was a huge success!
5) Celebrating Youth
In the spirit of recognizing youth engagement, the United Nations dedicated August 2010-2011 the UN International Year of Youth. The framework and examples of participation can be found on the website. Celebrating youth is one way to show commitment to young volunteers that is carried out by many organizations.