What's the biggest motivator for teens and young adults to volunteer?

"Making a difference" usually tops the list they give researchers. But having buddies who are volunteering, especially of the opposite sex, is the main underlying reason behind this philanthropic gesture, a new survey found.

More than 75 percent of young people with friends who volunteer regularly also volunteer, according to a survey commissioned by dosomething.org, a New York-based nonprofit that encourages teen volunteerism and civic engagement.

That compares to 42 percent who don't have such buddies.

Friends also typically came up with the volunteer ideas. More than half of the people who volunteer were invited by a friend, family member or other adult. Just 19 percent came up with the idea themselves.

The survey was based on responses from 4,363 young people age 13 to 22.

"Ninety three percent of teens say they want to volunteer, but a far smaller percentage of young people actually do volunteer," the survey report noted. "This ... exposes why some teens and college students volunteer and why some don't, and gives insight into how to close that gap."

Nonprofits courting younger volunteers should consider these findings:

* Young people want to volunteer with people their age, but not the same gender.

* Young people want volunteer opportunities that are close to home, but not at home.

* Young people say their top causes are animal welfare, hunger, homelessness, the environment and the economy.

But volunteer opportunities in these areas don't match potential demand. For example, teens don't know how to get involved in animal rights issues, and haven't been offered good ways to help, the report said.

The report's author, Bob Filbin, concludes: "Organizations will attract more teens by inviting them to have fun with friends while making a difference rather than just pushing the do-gooder aspect alone."

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511