Recruiting Youth

Freechild Project youth and adult workshop participants

“Young people need to come!”
“We can’t do this without them—how do we get them here?!?”

It can feel hard to recruit youth! So many programs, activities and organizations seem to be competing for some young peoples’ attention, while so few seem to be paying attention to other young people.

For more than 20 years, Freechild has been supporting youth-serving organizations around the world as they work to support youth programs of all kinds. Here are some of the things we’ve learned about recruiting youth.

Takeaways

  • Think about your recruitment criteria.
  • Recruit new youth members in ways that will attract a diverse group of young people, including youth who have never been involved before.
  • Use your recruitment process to educate adults throughout the community about the activities youth are involved in, as well as the importance of youth involvement.
  • If recruiting for an all-adult group, make sure at least half of the group is made up of youth.

Basics of Youth Recruiting

Youth are everywhere! According to the United Nations, children and youth account for nearly 40 percent of the world’s population. More than ever, these young people want be part of the solution: They are working to create a sustainable world for themselves, their families, their communities and for the world.

But youth involvement doesn’t happen overnight.

Everyone benefits from the valuable perspectives, energy and knowledge of young people. Young people become more effective learners and change agents; organizations meet their goals of successfully engaging the people they serve; and our planet develops a powerful pathway for ensuring ongoing awareness and action in a variety of issues.

Organizations—including nonprofits, clubs, associations, government agencies and others—can do a lot to involve young people.

  • Developing an enthusiastic team of recruiters is a great way to ensure a successful recruitment campaign.
  • Getting a small group of young people on board as recruiters is often a really effective way to engage other young people.
  • Provide training to young people and build their knowledge about the issues affecting the community you are recruiting in.
  • Provide recruiters with a strong picture of what they are recruiting for, whether a project, an organization or a way of living.
  • Give youth recruiters control over how they will recruit new members.
  • Once new members are interested, have more resources available for them to learn about your issue and your organization or project.
  • Distribute detailed job descriptions with timelines, duties, expectations and contract information for the project leader.
  • Since young people are usually more comfortable getting involved with friends and other young people, make sure you invite several youth to be involved in your activity.
  • Recruit nontraditional youth leaders to become involved, including those who look, act, think and live differently than you.
  • Recruit members from different classes, neighborhoods, activities and schools, as well as races, gender, ages, etc.
  • Talk with new members about their interests and find out what they want to be involved with.
  • Remember that recruiting is about presenting a win-win situation for the members and the organization. Young people need to see that, too.
  • Sell your program like a product, and make youth know you want their time, attention and energy like businesses do.
  • Describe the benefits of being involved, including great leadership experiences, strong resume builder, meeting new friends, earning respect and recognition, and/or self-fulfillment.
  • Most importantly, remember to create a positive, upbeat atmosphere for young members that embraces their excitement, passion, power and sense of fun!

Questions to Ask

  • WHY do I want to involve young people?
  • HOW MANY youth do I want to recruit?
  • WHO should be the focus of recruitment?
  • WHEN is the best time to recruit new members?
  • WHICH recruitment strategies are we going to use?

What, Why, Who, Where, When and How

WHAT? You want to recruit youth to be in your program, activity, organization or issue. Lots of people make good recruiters, including adults with good connections to youth; youth workers and teachers interested in your issue; people who work with young people all the time including counselors, social workers, juvenile probation officers, and parents, as well as coaches, tutors, and mentors can make good youth recruiters too. So can you!

Want a really successful recruitment program? Bring in youth as recruiters.

WHY? Research consistently shows that young people are most effective at recruiting other youth. Involving youth recruiters is logical, because hey know how to talk to their peers, how to relate the issue to them, and where to reach them.

WHO? Diverse young people of all ages and backgrounds can make good recruiters. So can traditionally involved youth, e.g. student government, service learning programs, other school and community programs; and interested young people who come to you to get involved.

  • Young people relate to their peers better and can share the issues more effectively than adults.
  • Youth feel more comfortable challenging traditional systems that are failing to sustain our planet, our communities and our lives that aren’t working.
  • Youth can learn to quickly translate jargon for their peers and adults who don’t understand the sophisticated language sometimes associated with different issues.

WHERE? Meet youth where they are instead of demanding them to come to where you want them to be. Be appropriate and respect their boundaries, and go online, visit their schools, and be in the physical and virtual spaces they spend time at.

  • Schools: Different grade levels, academic performance groups, after-school clubs, environmental education classes
  • Community centers and youth centers: Sports teams, afterschool programs, cultural activities, enrichment clubs
  • On the streets
  • Faith communities: Mosques, temples, churches and congregations
  • Youth organizations: Boys and Girls Clubs, local Parks and Recreation Department activiites, 4-H, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Girls, Inc., local organizations
  • Foster and homeless youth programs: Jobs, service activities, youth voice, and socializing
  • Court involved youth programs: Juvenile diversion programs, correctional facilities, court settings, probation offices

WHEN? Recruitment should not be a once-yearly activity. Instead, it should be seen as an ongoing activity that ensures success in a variety of issues. Retaining young members is an important strategy to for this.

HOW? Make sure youth recruiters have all the information about your program you can give them, including information about your issue, your program or organization, and the expectations and outcomes of activity. Every recruiter should be able to tell young people why they should get involved, who else is going to participate, whether there is going to be food, and how many people will be coming.

Treating young people as equal members includes providing youth to lead and grow through your activities. That includes engaging young people in program research and planning, administrative leadership, facilitating and training other young people, evaluating activities and organizational governance. Make open communication and intergenerational transparency the norm in all of your activities. Young people can feel the investment your organization is making in them when they receive quality training and support throughout your activities, and when they have meaningful opportunities for reflection and evaluation.

Practice recruiting before doing it. That includes going over the approach, the message and the wrap-up.

WHY YOUTH JOIN YOUTH PROGRAMS

  • They are concerned about your issue
  • They want to learn more about your issue
  • Their friends are involved
  • They want to get more skills in leadership
  • They want to spend free time more productively
  • They want to change their community
  • They want to meet other young people
  • They have seen other family members get involved
  • They want to succeed in life
  • They want to prepare for a future career
  • They want status among their peers
  • They know they can make a difference

REASONS YOUTH DON’T JOIN PROGRAMS

  • No one asked them
  • They don’t know how to become involved
  • They lack of time
  • They feel they can’t make a commitment
  • They have a family commitment or job commitment
  • They don’t know about your issue
  • They don’t care about your issue
  • They don’t know what they will gain
  • They don’t feel needed
  • They lack transportation or other support
  • They don’t think it’s cool

Key Questions to Ask

Here are some key questions to think about when you’re recruiting youth.

  • Which specific youth do you want to recruit?
  • What should they bring or have before they begin?
  • What decisions will they make?
  • What is the task at hand?
  • Why do you specifically want youth to join?
  • What time of day are the activities? Does the timing conflict with other schedules, including school, work or sports?
  • Where will the activities take place?
  • How will youth get there?
  • Will transportation or bus vouchers be provided?
  • Is the location convenient for as many youth as possible?
  • Do the transportation options are necessary?
  • How will activities be structured?
  • How long will activities be?
  • How will individual youth contribute?
  • What will individual youth receive in return for their participation?

10 Tips for Recruiting Youth

  1. Commit to the belief that educating for your issue, organization or community requires youth, and then act that way every single day.
  2. Create awareness about your issue, organization or community with young people and give them real opportunities to get involved.
  3. Make fun and laughter the norm.
  4. Respect youth rights.
  5. Share the opportunities young people will have through your activity to be powerful, and identify your organization’s commitment to being effective.
  6. Make communication personal (one-to-one) as often as possible.
  7. Use the knowledge, ideas, talents, and actions of young people.
  8. Build the understanding, broaden the interest and expand the skills young people possess.
  9. Sell youth on the opportunities in numbers 6 and 7 as well as emphasizing the tangible outcomes of the activity.
  10. Provide opportunities for young people to socialize.

Do’s and Don’ts for Adults Recruiting Youth

  • DO interact with young people in appropriate, healthy, safe and fair ways.
  • DON’T be creepy by observing youth or treating them as less-than-adults just because of their ages.
  • DO engage youth as equal members with FULL membership, rights and responsibilities in your activities.
  • DON’T hide things from youth or take away opportunities after you’ve introduced them.
  • DO be as transparent and honest as possible and strive to be equitable with youth whenever possible.
  • DON’T forget to involve young people in the recruitment process.
  • DO clarify roles and responsibilities for young members.
  • DON’T forget to make the message about your issues the most important point.
  • DO account for scheduling, transportation, and acknowledgement during activity planning.

Do’s and Don’ts for Everyone

  • DO be creative! Recruit members who are dedicated, responsible and fun!
  • DON’T rush the process – your issues take time.
  • DO provide training for new youth.
  • DON’T create unrealistic expectations.
  • DO use the resources you already have.
  • DON’T forget to communicate with parents.
  • DO create partnerships with teachers, counselors and other school staff.
  • DON’T separate youth from adults unnecessarily.
  • DO create spaces, places and times for youth to hang out with each other and adults in informal ways.

Action Steps for Recruiting Youth

  1. Identify your activity, including its goals, process, resources and numbers of youth you want.
  2. Decide how young people will be involved in your activity, including their roles, responsibilities, time commitments, transportation, and acknowledgements. Do you need a high, medium or low commitment from young people?
  3. Involve young people in recruiting young people. Which young people do you want to recruit?
  4. Sell your program by identifying what media you will use for recruitment, and convey a clear message to young members, including the activity, the benefits and the outcomes.
  5. Appeal to diverse young people from different communities, schools, youth organizations, churches, etc.
  6. Show enthusiasm, creativity and passion for your activity.
  7. Respect the rights and needs of young people, including time constraints, food, fun, etc.
  8. Train and support young members before and during your activity.
  9. Reflect on what young members are learning throughout and after your activity.
  10. Celebrate the contributions of young people and the activity.

10 Ways To Communicate With Youth

  1. Word-of-mouth, starting with youth-to-youth communication.
  2. Advertise in the local school newspaper or with a local youth media program.
  3. Post a video on YouTube about your issues and your activity, then share the link.
  4. Plan a “Youth Speak Out on [Your Issue]” event in your community.
  5. Create posters, flyers and handbills to handout and post throughout your community.
  6. Meet young people where they already are by presenting at classes, clubs, after school programs, sports, and other activities.
  7. Host a “Watch and Talk” session for young people to watch videos from YouTube, TikTok, or movies about your issues and then talk about them.
  8. Create a TikTok account or Instagram profile and ask interested youth to join – and then follow-up with them!
  9. Talk to parents, teachers, counselors and other supportive adults and ask them to share your activity.
  10. Host a pizza party to share the activity to engage new young people.

Things To Think About

  • Young people want to know specifically why they should participate. Why would a young person want to get involved in your program?
  • You should appeal to young people where they are rather than where you think they should be. What activities are young people already involved in?
  • Young people can be more effective at recruiting young people than adults are.
  • How can you involve youth in recruiting other young people?
  • Adults can be great allies in recruiting young people, too. What adults are involved in the lives of young people who could assist you?
  • Young people and adults oftentimes have a lot of pulls on their time. They want to know the win-win for participating in your activity. What new skills, knowledge and opportunities will young people gain through your activity?
  • Recruitment should happen throughout the life of your activity – not just at the beginning or the end of a school year. How is your recruitment effort going to be ongoing?
  • Young people read what’s lying around. What local media, including newspapers, newsletters, and local access TV stations, can you advertise through?
  • Young people often use technology to get information. How can you use technology, such as local websites, YouTube, MySpace, etc., to recruit youth?
  • In order to become invested in your issues young people need to learn about them.
  • What literature can you put in the hands of young members?
  • Some potential youth members might be more interested if your juxtapose meaningful involvement with common participation. Are there large community
  • events to recruit young people at, including fairs, town halls, etc.?
  • Immediate outcomes often show young people that your organization is serious about your issues. How can you focus on recruiting young people for one-time events that lead to longer-term involvement?
  • Sometimes young people who already attend youth programs are looking for other activities to become involved in. What local youth organizations, programs or school club meetings can your present at?
  • Graphics, handbills and flyers made by young people are popular for advertising. Where can young people make and post flyers and posters around your community?

Advanced Tips for Youth Recruiting

The following recommended are advanced tips that can help you recruit youth.

Find out what adults think about youth. Assess adult attitudes and beliefs about sharing power with young people in your organization or community. This should include staff, volunteers, executive leaders, and board directors. Create a safe space for them to share and address both hopes and concerns in a respectful manner.

Explore what youth think about adults. Assess young people’s attitudes about being engaged in your activity, organization, and community. Create a safe space to ensure that their hopes and concerns can be shared and addressed in ways that respect them.

Find out when we can talk. Create opportunities for young people and adults to share lessons learned together and address concerns about youth in your activity, organization, or community.

Talk about what we’re doing here. Clarify the purpose of youth engagement in your organization or community. Clarity of purpose makes it much easier to decide which youth and young adults should be engaged as well as when and how to partner with them.

Name how far you can bend. Be flexible. There is no one-size-fits-all way for youth to become involved in your community. Rather than stick with an approach that doesn’t work, make changes that meet your community’s needs. Consider including a wide diversity of young people throughout your organization and community in different ways and at varying levels of intensity.

Find out who we are. Ensure that the cultural makeup of the young people in focus is reflected in the governing body’s cultural composition. Avoid tokenism by making the experience meaningful and being clear about why each person or organization is involved.

Learn from each other. Identify ways to make mutual training and mentoring opportunities for youth and young adults more meaningful for them. Identify ways, based on their culture, to make the training and mentoring process more relevant to youth. For example, consider giving youth opportunities to be mentored by others who represent their cultural identities. Consider giving adults opportunities to be mentored by youth.

Name the reasons. Consider the cultures of young people when identifying incentives for youth participation. For instance, design incentives that youth say best meet their needs and hold their interests. These incentives can include interesting leadership opportunities with selected businesses, travel, or a creative partnering with local businesses that provide services that youth care about.

Critical Questions about Recruiting Youth

  1. Is the purpose of youth involvement clearly defined?
  2. Who identified that purpose? 
  3. Was their intention known to everyone involved?
  4. Why does youth involvement matter in your classroom? In your community? In your district?
  5. Who led the process of fostering youth involvement in your organization?
  • Youths requested it
  • Elected officials (mayor, city council members, etc.) initiated it 
  • Adults initiated it 
  • Executive Directors initiated it
  • District/state/federal policy directives 
  • Trying to respond to internal or external youth problems
  1. What are the expected or delivered outcomes?
  • For youth?
  • For all adults, including staff, parents, volunteers and board members?
  • For the community culture?
  • For the local government?
  • For the larger community?
  1. What is the positive and negative history of youth involvement in your community?
  2. Is youth involvement part of a larger strategy to improve communities?

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