Youth Recruitment & Retention Tips

The Issue

  • Recruitment – especially of high school aged youth
  • Young people missing meetings – especially multiple meetings in a row
    • This can happen during busy times, like during finals and college applications
    • High school youth, esp. in rural areas have tech issues w/ wifi, devices, etc.
  • Young people not communicating about missing meetings, not responding to follow up messages
  • Young people dropping out of programs without warning
  • *This is a larger issue that folks who work with youth across the board, such as teachers, are also experiencing

Guiding Questions

  • What kinds of expectations can we set at the beginning of the program around absences, work produced and communication?
  • How do we handle stipends for youth who are not showing up and/or not producing work?
  • How long before a young person is dropped from a program if they aren’t showing up?
  • How do we handle fairly the different circumstances of different youth – some of whom may have a lot more going on in their lives than others?
    • Some youth are giving 100%, but also have more capacity 
    • Provide structure, and implement accountability so that folks who are putting in effort are recognized, while offering opportunities for youth to contribute in ways that make sense for them.
    • *PCs say they have not gotten a lot of guidance around how to distribute funds

Potential Solutions


  • Word-of-mouth!!! 
  • Referral system – rewards for youth who recruit other youth (and youth recruited)
  • Working with libraries/librarians – spaces where teens are already at! 

Application Process

  • Application form includes questions about youth’s other commitments outside the program. 
  • Mini-interviews include convos about the program and whether it’s a match for their current capacity (these interviews are framed as relationship-building with the youth so its low stakes but transparent)
  • Orientation workshop for applicants that walks through the syllabus and
  • “Niche” programming (such as journalism vs. the broader field of “storytelling”) as an interest can be a weakness but also a strength. The pool of applicants might be smaller, but retention is higher, because being more specific helps folks know what they’re getting into.

Program Launch/Orientation

  • Community agreements as a way to talk to youth about their commitment to the program
  • Setting expectations at the beginning of the program for attendance and participation. 
  • Attendance Policy, e.g., after x number of missed meetings, we’ll follow up/assume that you’re no longer participating.
  • Integrating skill building around being a professional into the curriculum – showing up, engaging, communication.


  • Group text threads with youth, if they are willing to participate.
  • Setting expectations around communication – how we will communicate with them, and what we expect them to communicate with us:
    • When they aren’t going to show up
    • How they are going to follow up and make up the work
    • When they are going to set up a 1-on-1 to follow up and make up the work
    • When they need help!!
    • When they want to share good news
  • Staff schedule 1:1s with youth if they are not attending meetings to understand what is going on, provide youth with opportunities to catch up or get help with projects (youth often struggle to reach out for help when they need it, which can eventually lead to dropping out of a program), and evaluate if the program is still a fit. 
  • “Conclusion” emails/texts to youth who haven’t responded for a while.
    • Example: “hope you are doing well, we’ve missed you at meetings. Since I haven’t heard from you in awhile, I’m going to hold off from reaching out again since it seems like you have moved on from our programs. We are always here for you and hope to see you again in our programs at a future time.”


  • Creating relationships between youth really helps in terms of youth coming back after missing meetings rather than just dropping out.
    • Break out groups – getting to know each other without necessarily needing to report back. 
    • Group dynamics – inviting youth to bring their friends.
  • Food brings youth in – which is easier in person. Virtual solutions include reminding folks to bring snacks, or send snack boxes/gift cards.
  • Opportunities to travel is big for retention
  • Youth-Adult partnership really helps retain young people. Personal check-ins, 1-on-1s, etc.

Flexible Programming

  • Hybrid model – virtual and in-person. In-person is big for relationship-building and retention, but virtual keeps those who move away/go to college, or who are very busy connected. Also, during the pandemic, the virtual option made meetings more accessible to youth who live further away (e.g., in rural areas) and so the hybrid model works for them.
  • Young people who can’t make meetings, but want to be part of the program can continue to participate as long as they’re submitting work and participating in events.
  • In-person community building events that tap into youth’s individual interests outside of funder requirements/topic areas.
  • Smaller versions of programming – a 1-off workshop or short series. 
  • Scheduling breaks in programming around busy times, like finals and college applications.


  • Some programs track participation, which is connected to payment. 
  • Provide gift payments at the end of the program to youth who have stayed on. 
  • Gifts tied to completion of work. 
  • Creating a transparent and inclusive rubric around calculating and processing stipends/gifts that youth can reference to understand how their engagement, attendance, completion of homework, etc. all impact their monthly stipends/gifts:
    • A base amount that youth always get
    • Opportunities to earn more through consistent attendance, attendance at optional community building events, content creation
    • Examples: CAM’s Rubric, We’Ced Youth Media, The kNOw Youth Media