The great Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — and we couldn’t agree more.
Immersive service is what teaches us the meaning of living for others. It opens us to the world where what matters is more than what benefits us.
As students, adult volunteers and future leaders, there are so many ways we can be of service. One of which is becoming involved or organizing your own service project.
Today, we are going to talk about service projects. Below is an exhaustive guide that we believe will inspire you to take action on your own, no matter how big or small.
What are service projects?
A service project is an activity organized by one or a group of people with hopes of improving the lives of others. It is an act of kindness, generosity, learning, and hard work. Be it a global or a local service project, such program is meant for people to serve those who are in need — without those carrying it out expecting anything in return.
Community service project VS service learning project
There is often confusion between the terms, “community service project” and “service learning project”. Granted that they are both a form of service projects, they vary to a certain degree.
Community service projects aim to provide ways to better the lives of a community, organization, school, and the like. Learning here is secondary and is anchored more on volunteering for various programs. Furthermore, community service can be done by anyone at anytime.
Service learning projects are aimed at intentional learning. These programs are meant to ensure the sustainability, longevity, and effectiveness of a service project. There is a lot of research involved, to benefit those receiving help and those carrying out the project. Sometimes, service learning projects are implemented to ensure that funding a cause is worth it.
Both projects co-exist to ensure the long-term benefits service projects provide.
4 Types of service projects
Whether you are in university or involved in a volunteer program, there are various service projects you can join or organize.
Here are the different types of service projects commonly implemented on a local or global scale. All these service projects can be implemented to help the community, environment, church, school or to further a specific cause.
This type of service project has participants work directly for and with the people who will benefit from their program. This is an extremely rewarding kind of project, as you are able to see first-hand the effects of your service.
Some examples of a direct service project include volunteering at an animal shelter, visiting a retirement home to entertain the elderly, giving out food to the hungry children of Uganda, tutoring kids in an after-class program and distributing food in a local soup kitchen.
This type of service project has participants work indirectly for and with the people who will benefit from their program. Compared to direct service, it doesn’t require volunteers to leave their post to carry out the project. However, it is still as a critical component of service projects, as this type ensures that those that will carry it out directly have everything they need.
Some examples of indirect service projects include collecting clothes for a homeless shelter, redesigning a park, organizing fundraisers to raise awareness on malaria or breast cancer, and preparing packages for shipping to war-stricken countries.
This type of service project is often called a service learning project. People often involved in this program are students, researchers, and scientists. This service project mutually benefits the community and the researchers themselves.
Some examples of a research service project include testing the soil for planting, conducting surveys for the betterment of the community, studying innovative ways to recycle, and testing waters for possible diseases.
This type of service project raises awareness. It aims to inform the community about certain issues and problems. The goal is to help solve a problem and hopefully, make a difference in the future.
Some examples of an advocacy service project include educating the school about cyberbullying, raising awareness about rare diseases, holding a municipal meeting about local community issues as well as creating and displaying posters about various issues.
Why is there a need for service projects?
There are layers upon layers when it comes to the need for service projects. Whether you are on the giving or receiving end, mutual benefits always exist.
This is why many organizations encourage the young generation to serve as early as now. Countless programs welcome students of all ages to get involved. Some may just start off by seeing it as required hours. However, they will soon realize that service projects are more than just “work”.
It helps develop a richer perspective of the world
Any local volunteer is a citizen of the world. While carrying out these projects, volunteers will see just how much impact their work has on the world. No matter how tiny the effort, you are already changing someone’s life for the better.
Often, sheltered students are privileged teenagers who are oblivious to everything. They don’t think outside their school, town, and country. That perspective will change once they immerse themselves in the world of service. Superficiality is lost. Teenagers will gain a richer perspective.
It lets people discover what their purpose is in life
Getting involved in service projects unlocks talents, skills, and special gifts. This is incredibly helpful for those who feel lost and have no idea what they want to do in the future.
For example, students who are required a minimum amount of community service hours may not see the greater purpose yet. However, it is a rare opportunity for them to discover themselves — who they can be and what they can do for others.
It provides better university and career opportunities
Remember when we said the benefits are mutual? This is one of the biggest benefits of service projects among high school and college students.
Certain scholarships are specifically designed to reward those who participate in community service. Moreover, clocking in all those hours of service puts you in a good light upon college admissions. Distinct leadership organizations also give high regard to budding leaders who are organizing and participating in such projects.
It gives those in need a chance at a better life
Service projects provide people opportunities to improve their lives. There are countless hungry, homeless, uneducated and mistreated people in the world. The smallest gesture of giving back is already helping them in a big way.
For example, Yuda Bands started small. The organization hoped to provide education for the children of Guatemala. Fast forward to today, it has catapulted to greater heights and has expanded to help other countries. It has also provided job opportunities for local artisans.
It secures the future
Whatever it is that’s driving your service project, it helps secure the future of mankind. Whether you are pushing the boundaries to spread awareness about chordoma or selling bracelets to put children in school, you are making the world a better place.
Who knows what will happen in the future? But what we can do now will greatly impact what the next generation will experience. After all, what we want is a world that’s worth waking up to.
Starting your own service project
Involving yourself in a service project is one thing. Organizing your own is another. There will be numerous challenges. However, you shouldn’t be discouraged easily. Remember that what you aim to do, you will do to help others.
Fortunately, we are here to help. We have plotted a step-by-step guide on how to organize your own service project.
Determine the need/s
Does your community park need more trees? Are there a lot of hungry and homeless people in your area? Are the roads in your county unsafe?
The first step is to determine what’s needed. Choose one and develop on it. Otherwise, tackling so many things in one go may leave you feeling overwhelmed. Moreover, it may compromise the quality and extent of your project.
We recommend conducting a thorough research. Spend enough time in and around your community to really learn what you can do for them. You can also conduct surveys, study the local news or research online about current issues.
Distinguish the skills needed for the project
Now that you have a better idea on what you want to focus on, it’s time to determine what you need for the project. The next thing is to distinguish what kind of skills the project requires.
Will the project need a lot of people? Heavy lifting? Does it need a certain niche like people who are talented in crafts, science, math or the like? Make sure you are listing all these down. You are already close to building your team. Every person must have a purpose in this project. This way, you can make sure that no task is undone and no person is left behind.
Build your team
If you are doing volunteer work required by the school, chances are you have been provided with fellow volunteers to work with. However, organizing your own will require you to build your own team. This is a great way to find like-minded people with the heart of service.
Start with the people you know. Talk to them about the project you have been working on. Have them onboard if they are interested. It will be better if they have something specific and beneficial to offer.
If you want to recruit more people, you can make a public announcement. You can place ads in newspapers, magazines or even post a status in your social media. The beautiful thing about technology is how it can help you spread the word fast. Take advantage of your resources.
Delegate, delegate, delegate
It’s easy to be attached to something especially if you’ve put your heart and soul into it. However, the key to successful service projects is delegating tasks. You have an entire team who wants to help as much as you do.
Create different categories in your team. Some could be in charge of logistics while others could work on marketing, evaluation, and accounting. This way, you get to accomplish a lot more in less time. Just remember to align with each other from time to time. Let everyone give updates, changes, and feedback as needed.
Have a plan — and a plan B
Planning is key to any project. When you are trying to execute a service project, things will come up. That’s why you must always have a plan or strategies to implement. It is a proactive way of getting things done.
From your project goals to budget as well as risks and challenges, plan everything. Jot down ideas, problems, solutions as well as possible outcomes of the project. Be as technical and as detailed as you can be. This allows you to have something to guide everyone by.
You must also anticipate that not everything will work out as planned. So devise a plan B early on. Determine what the risks are and how you can better address them. Don’t be discouraged with roadblocks. Take them as chances to make your project better.
Raise the money
Service projects require funds. Whether you want to organize a feeding program for kids in Africa or build a church for the community, you will need financial resources. That’s why the next best thing is to come up with engaging fundraising ideas. The good news is there’s no shortage of that.
Below are tried-and-tested fundraising ideas you can adapt:
- Campus carnival
- Speed dating
- Charity auctions
- Bake sale
- T-shirt selling
- Mock Olympics
- Caroling for a cause
- Battle of the bands
- Yard sale
Publicity counts in implementing service projects. You need to create a hype not just to raise awareness but also, get more people involved. It’s a way for the local and global community to understand that there is a need for this project. Publicity sparks inspiration, hope, and interest among others. The better you get the word out, the more people you will have backing you up.
There are different ways to get publicity for your project. The first is to use your own resources. One is to get social about your project online. From Twitter and Facebook to Instagram, let everyone know in your circle what you’re up to. You can even create a hashtag to distinguish your project.
Another is to contact your local media. See which station or which journalist will be specifically interested in your story. Come up with a brief yet engaging press release that will intrigue the media.
Creating visual and written content such as blogs and vlogs are another way to get publicity. Original content distinguishes you from the rest. So be creative and find means to stand out.
Execute the project
Now the real fun begins. When you are executing the project, be mindful on your performance and the turnout. Have a team of people who will evaluate, assess and determine how the project is progressing. It is also important that you have people documenting what’s going on.
Be prepared to have a summary of the project. From the strong points to areas of opportunities, regroup with everyone. Evaluate how you did and be open to suggestions and constructive criticisms.
What makes a service project great is how sustainable it is. Sure, a one-off program helps people. However, reinventing it in ways that continuously help more people makes a bigger difference. That’s why we encourage you to follow through with your project.
You can collaborate with other organizations or volunteer groups. Merge your ideas and tap on another target market. Tweak your plan to accommodate the current needs of your program.
You can also do the project more often but in a more micro approach. For example, now that you’ve fed the hungry in your area, why not do it seasonally? Organize a soup kitchen during the holidays or Thanksgiving.
Be open to those who want to adapt your ideas on a different scale. Welcome those who want to partner with you. The more ground you cover, the more people you help.
The challenges of community service
There are constant talks about the rewards of service projects. However, there’s not enough talk about how hard it can be. In fact, community service can be just as challenging as the next activity.
Below are some of the challenges and controversies surrounding the topic.
The question of required hours
One of the most common challenges surrounding service is it being a requirement. Plenty of students aren’t as happy or inspired to help others compared to others. Some find the act as “forced volunteering”.
“There is literally no point at all to help out a bunch of people who I see to be bums, and I hate them. I seriously hate those people in the nursing homes that we have to sing to and stuff,” a student quipped. Another explained: “The moment you make it a mandate, the moment you impose upon it coercion or the dynamics of a paid transaction, you’ve abandoned the ethic that calls people to volunteer.”
Required community service continues to be a debate among schools across the country. However, there is a promising solution. What we recommend is to inform students early on about the requirement. Moreover, it would be helpful to match their preferences and tastes with the ideal service program for them.
Another common challenge surrounding service projects is budget constraints. There are many programs out there that have great potential. However, they are left unfinished or poorly-implemented because they didn’t have enough funds to carry it out.
Our solution is careful planning. It is very important that you plan your service project as early as you can. In fact, some programs take years of planning. Part of this is to make sure that you have adequate fundraising programs and sponsorships. Logistics is vital when organizing a project. It’s best to plan as early as now.
Poor risk management
We forget about things that could go wrong when we get excited. We focus our energy too much on something that we overlook certain risks and challenges. That’s why when problems occur, we’re not as prepared as we would’ve wanted to be.
The best way to address this is to improve risk management. Practice a proactive approach wherein you will foresee what risks are involved. Afterward, determine how you can deal with these risks. Planning is once again a critical phase. This doesn’t just prepare you to deal with future risks. It also helps determine how you can avoid them entirely.
Teachers find it superficial
As surprising as it sounds, many teachers don’t find service learning projects relevant to the course. They are often overburdened by it or even resist the demands associated with it. The result is it rubs off on the students. Some begin to believe that service projects shouldn’t be associated with the school curriculum at all.
It’s understandable that teachers may feel burdened by the additional task given to them. However, this can be improved by partnering teachers with service organizations. These groups can provide further training as well as resources to improve professional development and give support.
Service isn’t always easy. Fortunately, there are more people who are willing to lend an extra hand to ensure that everyone understands that there is a great purpose to it.
Another challenge student volunteers face is the lack of time. Some think that between home, school and social life, there isn’t much time left to be involved in community service. That’s why the debate continues as to whether or not it should be required.
What we recommend is providing more flexibility to students. The school and teachers can also boost the students’ drive by widening their options. Provide them with adequate support and partnership with service organizations. Teach and show them the many benefits of community service.
The secret is to constantly guide them. This is what fuels inspiration and motivation.
Service projects come in all forms and magnitude. The important thing is you are willing to step up and live for others.
We hope that this guide did not only inform but also inspired you to become a better servant leader.