Young people and volunteering: the driving forces behind their involvement

Audience le mag

Today, more than one in five young people freely give their time and skills to the voluntary sector. What are the reasons behind them becoming involved? What motivates them? Do corporations have a role to play in order to promote voluntary initiatives? To gain a clearer understanding of these driving forces, Médiamétrie's SolidaiMe team has conducted a study on young people between the ages of 15 and 34. Audience le Mag reflects on the results.


Solidarity and mutual assistance at the forefront

For 15- to 34-year-olds, volunteering makes them think of practical actions to support others. When asked about the ideas that came to mind, more than one in three (35%) of them spontaneously cited solidarity and mutual assistance. 18% of them cited altruism, generosity and sharing. When they are given accurate representations of volunteering, almost eight in 10 young people can see a way to support a cause or to help others. Over half of them also consider involvement as an opportunity to establish social connections and to be a good way to meet people with shared interests. One in three young people think that this is a way to give their life some meaning. It should be noted that a very small minority of young people (just over one in ten) consider becoming involved to be something of no use or a waste of time. 

Regarding the actual involvement itself, the study indicates that more than one in five (22%) young people volunteer for at least one association. This figure is rising, compared with a figure of 15% in the past.

Wanting to be useful and defend a cause: the driving forces of involvement

The study casts light on what motivates young people. There are two main reasons: primarily, a desire to be useful, which was cited by almost half of volunteers; and secondly, the field the association operates in, which was cited by over 45% of volunteers. The cause defended by the association is playing an increasing role in the take-up of volunteering. The associations that young volunteers belong to set out to achieve miscellaneous goals, many of which are in the fields of solidarity and mutual assistance. Almost 12% of young volunteers are active in associations that promote health, medical research or assistance for the sick. This percentage, which used to be 19.2%, is decreasing. Just behind, with a significant increase, are young people volunteering in the environmental, waste reduction and food waste fields. The percentage for this has risen from 9% in the past to 11.4% now. Next come support for young people experiencing difficulties (9.9%), combatting poverty (9.7%) and national and international solidarity (9.4%).

Young people: keeping them in the volunteering sector

The amount of time young people spend involved in an association is highly variable and generally relatively short: Almost one in two young people have been involved for one year or less; and only one in eight young volunteers have been involved for over five years. When young people who used to belong to an association were surveyed, almost three in 10 of them stated that they had been there for between six months and one year.

What are the factors behind young people stopping volunteering? Over three in five of them cited a lack of time and almost three in 10 (28%) a house move. Other less frequently cited reasons were, in particular, the practicalities of the volunteering and the way the association is organised.

Factors for involvement

In order to successfully get young people involved, the SolidaiMe study is interested in those who do not volunteer, especially since, when asked about whether they would like to become involved in an association, almost three in five of them said they would.
For them, a lack of time was the main obstacle, with almost three in four of them mentioning it. Over one in three of them said that the opportunity had not presented itself, while 16% said that they were not aware of any association near where they live.

Here are some pointers for associations: What motivates young people to get involved? Making themselves useful, the practicalities of the involvement, too much free time and the field the association operates in are the main factors for involvement for at least four in 10 young people. They most frequently envisage involvement outside or on-site, in order to make the most of their professional skills and to defend, in a practical way, the causes close to their hearts.
Over half of young people would like to become involved in an environmental cause. Almost one in three of them would opt to become involved in defending rights and causes, helping young people in difficulty and, finally, in health.

In terms of frequency of involvement, more than three in four young people prefer a regular commitment: once per month or more often.

The corporate world can facilitate and promote these initiatives: 71.3% of employed young people would be interested if their company offered a partnership with an association. Also, a trend was observed for companies becoming involved in this field, as evidenced by the fact that 17 major companies signed a skills-based volunteering policy statement in January 2019 (see the Les Echos article dated 20/01/2019). Similarly, the latest 2018 key figures from the Baromètre du Mécénat d’entreprise[corporate sponsorship barometer] by Admical [association for the development of industrial and commercial mentorship] highlight a significant increase in skills volunteering, which resonates strongly with the need for direction and involvement that is being expressed by more and more employees.

Since 2017, Médiamétrie's teams have been involved with six associations:  La Fédéeh, Le Chaînon Manquant, Les Petits Frères des Pauvres, Pik Pik, Proxité and Singa, in relation to a skills mentorship programme called SolidaiMe. Having carried out a barometer on the driving forces behind young people volunteering in three partner associations, the SolidaiMe team conducted this new study, at the end of 2018, on the involvement of young people aged between 15 and 34 years in the voluntary sector. This study involved colleagues from all of Médiamétrie's entities volunteering.

Morgane Souchaud, Sponsorship Manager at Proxité, fully intends to make use of the lessons learned from the barometer: "This study allows us to gauge young people's awareness of us. Thanks to the questions asked, we now have an idea about which discussions to hold and which approaches to highlight in our communication in order to connect with potential volunteers from this age group."


Three questions for David Chaillot, Study and Clientele Manager, and Juliette Carpentier, Study Manager at Médiamétrie, who are members of the SolidaiMe team

Why did you choose to survey young people?

Young people are a strategic category for two main reasons:

  • The young people of today are the adults of tomorrow, so understanding their expectations in terms of volunteering can help associations attract and retain them. The more established the voluntary sector is in young people's day-to-day lives, the higher the chances that it will always form an integral part of their life to some extent. They will also be able to become involved for longer periods of time and work on tasks that are more developmental in nature for associations.
  • Generally speaking, young people have more time than adults (because adults often work and have children), so their schedules are less busy and they have longer holidays. Thanks to their greater availability, they can get involved in more projects or in projects that are more time-consuming.

Moreover, almost 60% of young people who are not involved actually want to be involved. Their potential is therefore enormous!

How do you explain the increase in environmental actions?

Environmental actions intensify as more and more people become aware of the issues.

People are now universally aware of them worldwide. The increase is due to a number of social variables: the rising popularity of green parties in numerous countries, the involvement of celebrities in environmental causes, the many climate marches, dietary trends towards a 'greener' diet, etc. Plus, the fact that this subject is now omnipresent in the media and brings together more and more individuals who find themselves destitute following an ever-increasing number of ecological disasters.

Young people are often the driving force behind these actions. Their reason is that there is no planet B to fall back on, and young people are acutely aware of this. This year, a large number of secondary school students across the world have attended protests on Fridays, led by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, to highlight climate change issues. 15 March 2019 saw between 1.5 and 2 million of them protesting across 123 countries. The reasons for this unprecedented mobilisation are completely understandable. After all, it is their future that is at stake.

This raised awareness often goes hand-in-hand with a need to feel useful, and the voluntary sector offers a way to respond to this. Please note that our survey was conducted before these events took place, so it was not possible for them to affect the results.

Does this study identify the factors that make young people become involved?

In part, yes. The main objective was to gain a better understanding of the relationship that young people have with volunteering. In some ways, this has enabled us to identify why young people get involved: a desire to be useful, the practicalities of the involvement (outside, at home, etc.), the field the association operates in and the tasks available, in particular. There are so many elements that associations can build their volunteering actions around to attract young people.


Laure Osmanian Molinero

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