My observations here only apply to Stanford students, since I go here. I can’t say much about high school students since I wasn’t smart enough in high school to be like these guys: Daniel Brusilovsky, Max Marmer, Cory Levy.
Anyway, Stanford students – I love them, they’re all so amazing. But hanging out with them is one thing, working with them is another. I’ve worked on class project teams, small side projects, had been president of a fraternity and now I am running BASES – motivating my peers has proved to be the most difficult thing. Yeah, classes are tough, and we actually do party pretty hard, but that’s the same with everyone – why are some students so much better than others when it comes to working for a volunteer organization?
Options. Unlike our graduated counterparts who are tied to their jobs (not all of them are like that, fortunately), Stanford students have options. Most have gotten here when the only option we knew in high school or younger was to go to college (which makes the aforementioned young people all the more amazing). Education is a pretty linear path, so when we are offered options, many stall, explore, and take advantage of our ability to choose. A necessary step to exploring different options is getting involved in student groups, but when we realize it is not our interest, we fail to man up and say no, so we stall, do the minimum (if at all), hoping that this “exploration of options” will be an excuse for another line on our resumes (which often consists of names rather than accomplishments). I went through a phase like this myself, so I am always telling people to explore, but I just remind them to say no when no is the most responsible thing to say.
I’ve also seen a couple different types of students. Some are clearly interested in your organization’s mission. For BASES, it is to promote entrepreneurship education at Stanford and develop the next generation of entrepreneurs. For Alpha Kappa Psi, it is a brotherhood as much about socializing as it is about learning business. These students are the passionate ones, and they are addicted – they’d rather spread the spirit entrepreneurship, advocate for gay marriage, beat taiko drums, edit newspapers than study for classes that don’t engage them like these activities do. Others are the really responsible ones. Whatever it is that they do, even if they have problems with it, they can’t just leave something unfinished. More are the excellence freaks, they may only do a few things, but they do it extremely well – 4.0 GPA and awesome in IEEE. If they are part of your volunteer organization, then you’re lucky because they chose your organization to be excellent at. Others are the hyper-active ones: they are ambitious and like to be involved, and they do a decent job, but I am a little wary of these students because it is just humanly impossible to be able to do a great job when you have too many commitments.
One thing that I’ve found in common with everyone I’ve worked with is that we love to learn. If you can structure your organization to deliver the most learning experience to the students, your volunteers will not drop off the face of the earth. Engage them, give them room to grow, teach them. We get distracted easily, if you are not continuously thinking about how to make the volunteer experience better and interesting, then you’re done.
I guess the reason why I am writing this is really to think a little bit about the nature of students’ involvement in volunteer organizations. What is the nature of this involvement? What kind of students do it? What are we looking for? From here, we can think about how to align our organizations’ goals with those of the students involved. There’s a lot more to running a good student organization, but it’s a start. Yeah? What do you think?