Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Service Learning - A Key to Leadership

Three ways to serve
from our friends at The Apathy Myth: A Blog for America's Student Leaders

We hear a lot about "service" on today's campus. How rewarding it is. How needed it is. How consistent with our organization's values it is. But, when you or your organization decides to serve, how are you going to actually do it? How can you do it in such a way that it makes the most impact?

This might help to frame your plan. There are three kinds of service.

All organizations need funds to operate, and in this struggling economy, the needs are huge. You can help a great deal by finding ways to generate much needed money for an organization you support. It doesn't have to be a huge amount to make a big difference. You can raise funds by having events (large or small), writing letters asking for donations, or by providing services for free that businesses would pay for (stuffing envelopes, cleaning parking lots, etc.).

One of the very best fund raisers I remember from my days as a student was a "skip a meal" fund raiser. Instead of eating out or eating in the dining hall one evening, everyone would donate the money they would have spent on dinner to the designated charity. We raised a ton of cash and had zero overhead costs.

But, be careful. Many students use fund raising as an excuse for having a fun event (party for a cause, tournaments for a good cause, etc.). It seems like a good idea – let's have fun and do some good along the way. But, as a general rule, if you're not raising 10 times what you're spending on a fund raising event, then you can do better. Blowing $2,000 on a tournament that raises $500 is a joke (just give the organization the $2,000). Spending $500 on an event that raises $5,000 for a charity is awesome.

It usually helps to identify a need at the organization and then do a bunch of small fund raisers throughout the semester or year to meet the goal. For example, find out how much it will cost to renovate that playground at the local school, then set that amount as a long-range goal. Don't try to do it all in one event.

Get your hands dirty. Spend time actually doing something that helps others. Examples of volunteerism can be as varied as reading to seniors in a nursing home, picking up trash along a highway, painting the local rec center, building a ramp for a person with disabilities, or handing out programs at your campus theatre production. No money is involved. You're just lending your most valuable and readily-available resource: your effort.

Many people find this type of service to be the most personally rewarding. Once you find out how much it's going to cost to replace the playground equipment at the local school, figure out how much you can save in labor by rounding up a group of students to do the work themselves alongside licensed contractors. Now you're really on to something!

This type of service allows for a lot of creativity without necessarily spending a ton of money. Find an issue that you care about, and then find a way to get the word out. Chalk the sidewalks. Do a ribbon campaign. Put flyers on cars. Film public service announcements or radio spots. Make presentations to classes, faculty meetings, or administrators. Write letters to your local newspaper.

There are a million ways you can generate awareness on a critical issue. It's a great idea to do an awareness campaign BEFORE you do a fund raiser. This way, people are tuned into the need and the issue. Do members of your campus community know how run-down the playground equipment is at the local school? Take pictures, post them online. Get people fired up about improving schools that are struggling for dwindling public funds.

Just about anything you care about can be helped by using all three elements: fund raising, volunteerism and awareness. As you sit down with your officers or committee dedicated to service projects, make sure you develop a comprehensive plan for the year that includes all three. Tie them in together, and maximize your impact.
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