Illustration of writing an article on a laptop

ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Making the Play: Successfully Engaging Youth Within the Nonprofit Sector

Many of us in the nonprofit sector work specifically with children and young adults. It can be a big challenge, but also, I'm sure we can agree, exceedingly rewarding.

For the past four years, I have had the privilege of working with Team M'Phasis, where I get to watch young boys turn into capable, determined young men. This organization uses sports, specifically basketball, as a vehicle to help youth get motivated in school and learn life lessons while at the same time producing some seriously great athletes.

Whether you work with young volunteers or interns, or if your organization focuses specifically on children's services, I've learned a few key points that have helped me make strong connections with kids during my time with Team M'Phasis. Below are a few of those take-aways to help you and your organization get the most out of working with youth.

Develop Their Court Vision

In working with youth, it's a good idea to have a strong, clear conception of what your organization aims to accomplish. By threading easily understandable concepts throughout your program, you’ll have a better shot at getting your message front and center. In my experience, I've learned how integral life skills can be taught and nurtured by tapping into something kids love: basketball.

For Team M'Phasis, it's important to not only teach kids through sports, but to also incorporate our religious beliefs into our work. Every one of our meetings, practices, and team events starts with prayer. Having Godly principles embedded in our program is the most important concept that we teach, and we make that a clear focus right up front. Kids know they can expect two things from us: sports and God. In other words, they can see the entire court. After we establish these principles, we can begin to teach them real life lessons that they'll use over and over again.

Teach Them to Pass the Ball

Developing the skill of working well with others is not accomplished simply by having a group of people show up and work (or play) together. But it's the kind of skill every kid needs, and one that we in the nonprofit sector have a unique opportunity to instill. As coaches, mentors, and teachers, we have to put our youth in situations where they learn the best ways to communicate with one another, help each other, and encourage one another. As anyone who watches basketball knows, it isn't always the best players who win — it's the ones who play best together.

At Team M'Phasis, we accomplish this by including team building components in everything we do, especially in our "team drills." During these, we give our students a list of commands to do, and they as a group have to get it right and figure out the best way to do it together. Games like this teach the kids how to interact with one another in a positive way that also accomplishes whatever goal they're aiming for. Try to think of ways you can encourage your interns and volunteers to work with one another. Doing so will prove valuable not only for them, but also for the efficiency of your organization.

Move Beyond the Court

It's fantastic to work with youth, whether they're volunteers or the people you're helping. But what happens "after the final buzzer?" Try to engage the kids involved in your organization beyond your normal working hours. Find creative ways to keep building those relationships. Making a good connection with a nonprofit organization early in life will also encourage young volunteers to continue on in the sector later in life.

Off the basketball court, Team M'Phasis has our youth help each other with homework, and we even have team events like bowling, laser tag, or a barbecue. These activities build relationships beyond basketball and establish a bond that our youth may not otherwise have. We have also had people come in and talk to our youth about college, honing in on their ambitions, and teaching them how to forge a successful career path. These opportunities, as well as community service projects that they participate in, create an atmosphere where our students are able to learn to team up with members of their community, ultimately teaching them that making those connections in the sector are valuable and meaningful.

How does your nonprofit organization engage youth?


ASU Lodestar Center Blog