Communication with Teen Volunteers

October 26, 2011

Communication can be a major challenge for Volunteer Administrators. In my role, I coordinate the Junior Volunteer program for students age 14-18. I have found that communicating information to these volunteers in a timely manner can be difficult. While bulletin boards are great and newsletters are invaluable, I often need to send notice of last minute issues and updates to this group of volunteers.

Traditionally, I’ve relied on phone calls and emails to reach our Junior Volunteers. However, it’s tough to catch them on their cell phones during the school day, and according to ComScore’s 2010 Digital Year in Review, email use among 12-17 year olds dropped 59% in 2010 (http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Presentations_Whitepapers/2011/2010_US_Digital_Year_in_Review).  So, I set out to figure out a way to text the JVs.

Prior to starting my research, I knew that I didn’t want to use my own cell phone. I also knew that I wanted the students to “opt in” to receive texts. I searched online and found a few suggestions on how to send text messages to large groups of people. Each method had positive and negative features. The most popular suggestion I found, was to set up a Google Voice number and text from that number. The downside to this option is that you must constantly update an excel spreadsheet with volunteer phone numbers and cell carriers. Also, through Google Voice, you can only send a text to 5 recipients at a time and there is a limit to the total number of texts you can send out. This could prove to be an issue if I were trying to reach the large group of JVs we have in the summer months.

The simplest suggestion, and the one I went with in the end, was to set up a Twitter account and text through Twitter. Twitter accounts are free, and the tweets that I send out appear in the JV’s text in-box as regular text messages. Once my Twitter account was set up, I advertised to the Junior Volunteers that they could sign up to receive text messages. To receive text messages, they simply text the words “follow USERNAME” to 40404. The downside to this method is that I have no way of knowing who has decided to receive texts and who has declined. However, I know that it is working because just last weekend I sent out a text saying, “we need subs for Saturday morning,” and two JVs picked up shifts!

 

For more information see the twitter blog at http://blog.twitter.com/2010/08/introducing-fast-follow-and-other-sms.html.

 

Amy Lobitz

Volunteer Coordinator

Fairview Southdale Hospital

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