Organizing a successful one-day service event takes careful planning. Finding a project that fits everyone may be the hardest part. After you do, it’s a matter of putting all the pieces together, from recruiting volunteers to finding supplies, getting the word out and the work done. Here are some guidelines for making your Make A Difference Day event a success. To make planning easier, we’ve broken it down into five critical components of campus outreach to help guide you from start to finish.
Critical element #1: Community Voice
Before you identify a community service project, listen to the voices around you, and voices of the community. Community members can best define what needs to be done since they live there and share a history. Listening to their ideas is essential if we are to build bridges, make changes, and solve problems. There are many ways to learn about the needs of your community. As a resident, you probably already have some idea about the major problems facing your community. The best way to find out specifically what you can do is to contact community gatekeepers. Often they are not individuals but agencies that deal directly with the community, including schools, clinics, hospitals; local houses of worship; community groups, organizations, and associations such as Rotary, Lions Clubs and PTAs. Call them up. Attend a meeting. Ask questions. Do some research. Take notes, and most important of all, listen.
Get organized! First, establish an organizing committee. Once you have a committee, your first job is to choose a project and service site.
Choose a project
After you’ve contacted several community groups to determine their needs, the next step is to choose an issue or several issues on which your Make A Difference Day service event will focus. Here are some examples of service projects that other campuses have held in conjunction with specific issues:
- AIDS - deliver meals to homebound patients, visit hospices
- Criminal justice - tutor in juvenile justice centers
- Disabled - help out with sports programs for people with disabilities
- Domestic violence - work with women and kids in shelters, collect supplies in a food or clothing drive
- Education - present special educational programs to schools such as science experiments or arts & crafts projects
- Environment - large scale clean-up projects, parks, beaches, etc.
- Health care - visit hospitals, work in community clinics
- Hunger and homelessness - sort non-perishable goods at a food pantry, cook and serve food at a soup kitchens, distribute clothing
- Senior citizens - serve with a Meals on Wheels Program, visit seniors in nursing homes, Adopt-a-Grandparent
Once you’ve chosen a project, focus next on recruiting volunteers to help. The biggest reason people get involved is by simply being asked! In order to recruit volunteers successfully, you need to do more than post fliers and send out mass e-mails. That statement aside, you know what will work best on your campus. You know where people hang out, the places they walk past every day, and with what organizations other students are involved. Capitalize on that! Every campus activity is an opportunity for recruitment. Some suggestions:
- Put tent cards or fliers on dining hall tables before meals.
- Set up a table outside the student union and talk to students as they go in and out.
- Go door-to-door in dorms.
- Ask student leaders to make announcements during their meetings.
- Ask your professors to let you make announcements at the beginning or end of a class or let you write announcements on the chalkboard.
Fundraising and finance
Another issue that you will need to tackle is funding your event. If you are going to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to deliver to the local homeless shelter, who is going to supply the peanut butter? The jelly? The bread? The knives? Who will provide the transportation? You need to determine your program budget and find ways to either get supplies donated or raise the money you will need to carry out your project. Here’s how:
- Check with your student government office to see what services they may offer.
- If you have several different campus organizations represented in your planning committee, ask each to make a contribution to the Make A Difference Day fund.
- Ask administrative or faculty departments for contributions. The Dean’s Office or the Office of the President might be eager to support your efforts in some way.
- Ask local businesses and corporations for help. Often businesses will provide in-kind contributions. For instance, you might be able to get a local bakery to donate day-old bread. Offer them something tangible for their contribution, such as publicity on your recruitment materials or on the back of your T-shirts if you have them printed for the event.
Transportation and liability
Liability issues could be a major nightmare if there were to be some kind of accident. Check with your school to ensure protection for student volunteers. Getting to the site is also important, so ensure that it’s accessible to volunteers. You may want to arrange for pick-up and drop-off services. See if you can get public transportation costs donated. And provide site maps as well as agency contact info to all volunteers.
Critical element #2: Orientation and Training
The next critical step in preparing your volunteers for the service day is orientation and training. Orientation should be mandatory for every participant and as close to the time and date of the service program as possible. Information should be provided for volunteers about the community, the issue, and the agency or community group with whom they are to work. Keep in mind that to be successful, everyone should have a pre-assigned task or the clear understanding of what will be required of them at the chosen project site.
Why do you need to have an orientation?
- To give a general overview of what kinds of service the agency provides, what clientele they serve, what volunteer needs they have
- To resolve any misunderstanding about the agency or the issue
- To let the participants know why they will be working at the service site, what is hoped to be accomplished, and what they are expected to do
- To prepare participants to learn as well as work
- To prepare volunteers for emotions they may encounter at the site, i.e. frustration, uncertainty, sympathy, hope and joy
- To train participants to act effectively at the service site
What needs to be included in your orientation?
- The goals of the community service program
- Information on the issue to be addressed (e.g. teen literacy)
- Information on the agency and service site (e.g. alternative education center)
- Information on the service client (e.g. emotionally disturbed teens)
- Review of past experience from former clients and participants
- The participants’ responsibilities in the program: be on time, attend reflection/evaluation sessions
- Program procedures and logistics: times, dates, how to get there, etc.
Critical element #3: Meaningful Action
Meaningful Action means that the service being done is necessary and valuable to the community itself. Meaningful Action also makes people feel like what they did made a difference in a measurable way and that their time was well used. In determining what is Meaningful Action, there are two players involved. Both the community (represented by the agency with whom you are working) and the service participants (your volunteers) need to feel that the service was worthwhile. Activities that address both the community’s need for action and change, as well as the students’ need for a sense of well-being and accomplishment represent true Meaningful Action. Many times when students come in for one day of service, agencies will want them to do a task like stuff envelopes for a fundraising mailing, something that is not disruptive for the staff or their client population. An activity like this can be made meaningful for the student participants if they are working alongside clients of the agency, such as senior citizens. This kind of interaction with the clients would give the students a chance to learn about them and get an idea of what volunteering on a regular basis would be like.
Critical element #4: Reflection and Learning
After your work is done, volunteers should get together to share their reactions, personal stories, feelings, and facts about the experience. Discussing the day is an opportunity to dispel any stereotypes or ignorance about the group or cause served and get ideas about how to better serve the community in the future. Reflection also provides an opportunity to place the experience in a broader context. Volunteering often encourages continued community service. It is a learning experience. Discussion is an opportunity to share what volunteers learned.
Possible questions to ask participants or volunteers:
- What was the project’s most enjoyable/frustrating/surprising aspect?
- What did you learn about yourself? About the issue?
- How do the problems of the clients tie into bigger issues?
- What did you like/dislike about the agency’s services? n Why do you think the clients are in need?
- How did this experience change the way you would combat the issue?
There are many different methods for reflection ranging from group discussions centering around the issue to keeping a service journal, but one of the simplest and most flexible models for reflection after a one-day service event addresses three types of questions:
- What? (What actually happened during your experience?)
- So what? (What was the significance?)
- Now what? (What do we do now?)
Critical element #5: Evaluation
Evaluation measures the impact of the volunteer experience and how effective community service can be. Service participants should evaluate what they learned or experienced as a result of their work, and agencies should evaluate the results of the volunteers’ contribution of time and effort. The dual evaluation helps both giver and recipient determine how to improve, grow, and change future service events.
Here’s why evaluation is valuable:
- Evaluation can help volunteers have a more powerful learning experience.
- Evaluation can help strengthen campus-based and community programs.
- Evaluation can strengthen collaborating agencies’ programming for clients and better enable them to use volunteers productively.
- Evaluation can help document the impact of your programming and help you win support and expand the number of agencies and volunteers involved in Make A Difference Day in years to come.
- Evaluation helps solve the community’s social problems and provides those who use it with the ideas and tools to be more effective leaders.
Great examples of college students making a difference
California State University
Across a network of 23 campuses, 5,500 college students from California’s state university system mobilized to clean and landscape community schools, paint homeless shelters, walk to raise research funds for AIDS and breast cancer, plant trees and host parties for needy kids at shelters.
Idaho State University
With the financial help of Wal-Marts in three communities, the Golden Key National Honor Society at Idaho State University collected enough clothing, school supplies, children’s books and toiletries for 800 needy adults and kids helped by four community-based groups.
University of Kansas
Led by the university’s Center for Community Outreach, students helped a Native American cultural center by moving its food pantry to a new facility and cleaning and remodeling its transitional housing building. They also painted eight single-family homes and did yardwork for an elderly neighbor.
Ohio State University and Northwestern University
100 students from each school volunteered at service activities throughout the Chicago area on Make A Difference Day, which was also the day of the Ohio State vs. Northwestern football game. Projects included trash clean-up, site revitalization, and volunteer work. The day started with a breakfast for the participating students and concluded with a substance-free tailgate party at the football game.
University of Nevada-Reno
The Undergraduate Student Social Work Association collected 5,000 pounds of clothing and distributed it to the homeless at a barbecue in the parking lot of Project Restart. They served 400 hot dogs donated by local businesses, and treated children to balloons, candy and Halloween toys. These students received an award of $2,000 that went to the Committee to Aid Abused Women.
390 of the 1,000 students at this Kentucky school volunteered. They served a meal to 25 needy families, including 76 children; gave them 5,700 donated clothing items; and awarded prizes to the kids. They also did chores for elderly people, cleaned a highway and collected 3 tons of food. They received an award of $2,000 that went to school-based Family Resource Centers.
Lake Superior State University
Michigan students hosted a career fair for “at-risk” students from seventh grade to college. Career Day ’98 consisted of career information tables attended by volunteer professionals, and at least three workshops: Goal Setting, Resume Writing, and Interviewing.
Stephen Austin State University
A “SWAT” team rebuilt a kitchen for a 74-year-old woman with glaucoma; transformed gardens at three nursing homes and a senior center; and collected toys for a women’s shelter. They received an award of $2,000 that went to Stephen F. Austin State University Foundation.
Mohave Community College
Fraternity members and a children’s karate class teamed up to visit three nursing homes.
University of Montana
107 volunteers helped in a continuous effort to raise $10.4 million for a 70,000 square foot expansion to the School of Pharmacy and Allied Health Science Building.
Students in Pennsylvania planted vegetable seeds to be used in gardens for homeless people.
Northern Arizona University
350 students kicked off a long-term tutoring program at 17 elementary schools and 4 high schools.
University of Great Falls
After a devastating flood, 70 students raised $85,000 on Make A Difference Day by contacting local businesses and residents. The money went to the University Great Falls Library.
Keene State College
New Hampshire students helped in a Habitat for Humanity home and a Boston city cleanup.
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