Just last month, the 2011 version of the Volunteering in America study was released. This research is based on 2010 data and gives us some insight into volunteering trends. The report dices up information according to various geo-demographical categories. The information is very interesting, and it’s also very useful. As such, we’ve explored ways the research can be used in marketing campaigns for volunteer recruitment based on generational cohorts. In this article, we’ll explore some tips for three of these age groups.

Baby Boomers

Since Baby Boomers are the largest demographic in terms of pure numbers, and since the oldest are entering retirement age, we will start with this group first. Historically, “boomers” have had a very good track record of volunteering, hovering around a 30-percent volunteer rate each year. This is a great group to target when you need a stable, mature volunteer. They also may bring some experience to the table that can benefit your organization. Some things to keep in mind when targeting these folks for recruitment:

1) The eldest are just now coming up on retirement. However, remember this group doesn’t see themselves slowing down as they age. Many will be just as active as before, but they will be looking to replace their old jobs with a cause they are passionate about. This is great news for the volunteer coordinator. When recruiting, keep in mind that many of these individuals are now leaders in their professional lives. Be very careful not to assume menial work will be satisfying. Some will look forward to getting “back to the basics,” while others will get frustrated if you aren’t using their expertise to its fullest.

2) According to the study, boomers tend to volunteer through religious entities. If your organization is affiliated with a church, then you are in good shape for attracting boomers. If not, and there is no sort of conflict, then it may be time to reach out to churches and leverage their influence on this demographic. In 2010, almost 40 percent of baby boomer volunteerism was religiously affiliated.

Generation X

Generation X VolunteersBack in the 1990s, this group caught a lot of flak for being whiny and apathetic. However, the data from this study now shows the exact opposite. In 2010, those born between 1965 and 1981 had the highest volunteerism rate at 29.2 percent. The oldest of this group haven’t reached 50 yet, so they still see themselves as relatively young. At this age, most are starting to climb the corporate ranks but also work very hard to balance work and life, as they are likely to have children still at home. Some things of note:

1) It’s clear that X-ers care most about helping out in educational settings. In fact, education makes up almost 39 percent of this group’s volunteer work. This is likely due to the fact that many have school-age children. Gen-X parents see this as a way to be involved in their children’s education while helping out a good cause. If your organization is focused on children, you probably have a good chance of attracting this cohort. If possible, use the school system as a way to get the word out about opportunities. It may also be a good idea to have events at school facilities and/or perhaps even organize events aimed at volunteering as a family.

2) Generation X is know as the “latch-key” generation, due to the fact that they often took care of themselves after school while their parents worked long hours. Thus, the group as a whole is known to be very independent. Remember this when recruiting and assigning duties. These folks are likely to be resistant to micro-management. In your recruiting materials, highlight how Gen-X volunteers can help your cause in their own “hassle-free” way.


Tween Teen VolunteersThe study identifies “millennials” as those born after 1982. Although this group doesn’t volunteer as much as baby boomers or members of Generation X, their rate of 21 percent is respectable. This is especially true when you consider the fact that the oldest of this generation haven’t even reached 30 years of age yet. Simply put, this group is just now making its way through the world as adults. When they do volunteer, their efforts are almost split between educational/youth and religiously-affiliated causes. A couple of points about millennials:

1) Although many baby boomers and almost all Gen-xers are computer savvy, millennials are the first cohort to be born with technology as a part of their every day lives. As such, when recruiting these individuals make sure you emphasize any tech strengths your agency has. For instance, if your organization has invested in a top-notch volunteer management software system, use it as a recruiting tool and assure this group that you won’t be relying on old-fashioned communication techniques.

2) Despite the fact that they often communicate in the form of texts and tweets, millennials are surprisingly pack-oriented. If you have group volunteer activities, highlight them in your marketing literature. Even better, create opportunities for millennials to bring their own group. You’ll get multiple volunteers, and they will be comfortable in their setting.

We’ve mentioned just a few easy suggestions for reaching out to all of these groups. However, one more thing to consider is buying a direct mail list. Reputable providers can give you detailed household demographic information on which you can focus.

One key to recruitment is to identify your target audience, along with the best way to market your volunteer opportunities to that group. We hope this article has helped you pinpoint the type of volunteers that may best fit your organization — and how to reach out to them.

For Further Reading

Click here to visit the Volunteering In America website.

Interested in learning more about specific volunteering trends in your state or area? Try Volunteering in America’s “Download the Data” page.


Shawn Kendrick holds an MBA from Ohio Dominican University and writes for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based software for nonprofits that specializes in online volunteer management.