ANDERSON — Throughout the school year, Rob Spaulding watches as Anderson University students make their way from campus to the kitchen at the Christian Center.
They could just work in the background, chopping vegetables or washing dishes. But they eventually make their way into the dining room to talk to guests in need of a meal or play board games with residents.
“College kids want to do something that’s real and authentic,” said Spaulding, executive director of the Christian Center. “They want to engage people they serve… I think young people want that authenticity.”
Younger generations are changing the way — or how often — they volunteer, and while some local organizations are adapting, others are struggling to attract new helpers.
Millennials want to be involved and support causes they care about, and 63 percent surveyed said they volunteer for nonprofits, according to the 2012 Millennial Impact Report. The report is one of a series sponsored by the Case Foundation that examines millennial volunteer, charity and work habits.
According to the report, 48 percent of respondents said millennials want to utilize their education, background or professional expertise to help nonprofits build their capacity.
Forty percent also said they want a chance to serve on a board or advisory committee.
After volunteering for the Christian Center for four years, Ian Oechsle, 22, is in the process of joining the board of directors.
His involvement started with Friday night visits to the kitchen with other AU students and evolved into volunteering in different capacities whenever he has free time, building relationships, weightlifting with residents and even staying in the shelter for a week to learn more about their experiences.
“It’s been my goal over the past several years to know them and know their needs,” Oechsle said. “I think it’s important to hold their perspective when we’re always trying to improve.”
But it’s not just millennials where organizations are seeing a shift in volunteerism.
Anderson Noon Lions Club president Jean Stiers has noticed that fewer middle age adults are involved with the organization. She suspects part of the reason is their kids are more involved in sports and activities, which require massive parental involvement.
“We didn’t have all these things to be involved in when we were younger,” she said. “When you’re involved in something, you’re full-force involved with it. I think that takes away a lot of people.”
The Lions Club often discusses how to find new members, and one effort they’ve made is to set up booths at Anderson Speedway and community events, such as the Andersontown Powwow.
“I find that a lot of people don’t even know Lions Club exists anymore, so I think any visibility is going to help,” Stiers said.
Most of the Madison County Historical Society’s volunteers are of retirement age, member and former vice president Harry Kirchenbauer said. Most new volunteers are recruited by current members, and having the museum open only three days a week means volunteers don’t make too much of a commitment.
At the same time, much of the help is needed during museum hours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“We’d love to have younger people,” Kirchenbauer said. “Having them available here through the week is tougher because a lot of them are working.”
Part of the mission
At the Christian Center, Spaulding said 35 percent of the organization’s volunteers range from people in their 40s to retirees who volunteer weekly or twice a month, and they almost always volunteer in the same areas or capacity.
Youth groups, college students and work “teams” make up about 45 percent of the center's volunteers during the school year. With the exception of AU students, those groups usually “float” and take on projects such as painting and organizing.
Spaulding said over the past year, the average volunteer has gotten younger and he’s seeing more families, church groups and co-workers volunteering.
While established organizations are figuring out how to appeal to younger volunteers, A Town Center, Inc., is comprised of a board of directors ages 29 to 48. The community art center and artist cooperative aims to help revitalize downtown by offering classes and programming when it opens its doors.
“I think it’s the mission,” program director Sonia Caldwell said. “The only organizations I really volunteer for are ones I’m passionate about.”
Being involved with A Town Center was two-fold for Jordan Huffer, 29. Part of the appeal was community revitalization and attracting businesses. The other was creating a culture in her community.
Understanding an organization’s goals and values is vital to Huffer. Like many millennials, she researches organizations before donating her time or money in case they aren’t LGBT-friendly, for example.
“That has really impacted how I look at organizations,” she said. “A lot of organizations are not transparent about that sort of thing … I don’t want to be part of an organization that actively funds discrimination.”
Kim Rogers-Hatfield, 48, who is treasurer for A Town Center, said many organizations are caught up with what they consider tradition, but millennials and those in Generation X see it as the same-old, same-old.
Young adults are looking for ways to bring their skills in volunteer efforts, as well as see the impact they’re making.
“What I can give, being older, is how to make sure you follow a proper structure but not crush that creative spirit that comes from new ideas being brought to the table,” Rogers-Hatfield said. “And it’s fun for me.”