One of the many benefits of attending a college in the United States are the countless organizations to join, including sororities, clubs, sports teams, and organizations. Many of these have great involvement with philanthropic work. I encourage joining one or many of these organizations and volunteering with them. Not only does it enable you to give back, it also allows you to make friends and boost your resume (no need to pretend!). However, I challenge you to volunteer in a new sort of way and organize your own volunteer project.
It is so, so important to organize a volunteer project as a leader at least once in college, and the steps on how best to do it. To make the process easier, this post includes a volunteer project guide. It’ll make sure you’re getting all the relevant information for your project to go smoothly, and help you keep it all in one place.
Why you should lead a volunteer project
You get to contribute to something you care about
College is time for you to learn about your major, but also learn about global and local issues in a whole new way. From the historical and global happenings you learn about in classes to the diversity of the student body within your university, you’re exposed to so many new things. You’re discovering what you care about, what excites you, and what worries you. Don’t let these newfound passions and interests wash away. Act upon them! Does something about your campus life bother you? Does your community have an issue that needs an attention? Get in the middle of it. It’s one thing to learn about things in contextually, but another to learn about them first hand. Colleges won’t do this for you, it’s your job. This is a good thing. That means not only will you learn so much about the topic, also…
You gain leadership experience
Leadership experience is so valued in the professional world… yet it’s honestly quite difficult to get in college. If you work in college, you’re probably a waitress or in retail, nothing you’re the boss of. Or, you have an internship, where again, you’re not really leading. The most traditional shots you’ve usually got is to serve on the board of a club or on a newspaper for your school. That’s why I really encourage you to lead a volunteer project. Plus, that way, you’re leading something you also created, not leading something you inherited. Double impressive. It won’t be easy, but neither is this life.
You’re helping others
This is the no-brainer perk. This is the entire reason this matters. In college, we have a tendency to get extremely caught up in ourselves. That’s okay, that’s not always our fault! The culture in the United States has bred college to be a very competitive time for students. They often feel much of their future will be determined by their performance in college. On the flip side, college has bread a YOLO culture. That’s right. College students in the United States party like crazy because “we’re young, wild, and free”. I’m not criticizing this mentality, or the competitiveness, either. But, both breed self-centeredness. There’s no better way to destress than with a fresh dose of perspective. Volunteer! Focus on others for a little while and make a difference.
How to lead a project
Now that you’re (hopefully) convinced it’s a great idea to lead a volunteer project, you have to pick which cause you want to contribute to. This is the fun part! Pick something that speaks to you as an issue or problem that you want to help improve. I also encourage you to pick something related to your career field so that you can gain a deeper understanding of the workings of that field. You can’t learn everything in a classroom.
Some examples of tradition volunteer projects include:
- Walkathons for cancer
- Soup or food drive for homeless shelters
- Bake sales or yard sales for a charity
- Cleaning up a local park (or your campus!)
- Organizing a day at a local school to repaint/clean the school
Some nonconventional volunteer ideas related to your major or career field are:
English –> work with your school’s newspaper to create a writing contest on a topic you are about that you (and others) are the judge of. Get people involved and use your skills!
Pre-med/ Nursing –> organize a blood drive at your school or a volunteer weekend at a local hospital.
Fashion –> organize a workshop at a low-income school where you and your fellow classmates/ volunteers teach young girls the world of fashion and/or how to make their own clothes.
Computer science –> work with Girls Who Code and bring something to a local school.
I encourage you to use this time to not only volunteer and gain leadership skills (as if that isn’t enough!), but to also deepen your own education. Think of this: when you graduate, thousands (tens of thousands!) of students across the country will also graduate in your major. It’s the harsh truth. What is going to set you apart from them in your field of work? Why do you know more about this field than the other potential career candidates? How has your experience equipped you to actually make a difference with this career choice?
Coordinating the Project
Now that you’ve brainstormed some genius ideas (because you are awesome), it’s time to make that action a reality. You need to get in touch with those responsible for the resources you need. This might mean a school’s principal, a project coordinator of an existing nonprofit you want to expand, or a blood drive company. (Note that there may be some legal restrictions you need to comply with to work at schools and some other organizations. This will vary by city/state.) My favorite approach for this is the classic cold e-mail. It’s bold and shows you mean business. So reach out to those that you need to make this happen and see what kind of responses you get. Tell them who you are, why you’re interested in putting this project together and thank them in advance for their potential collaboration.
If you’re having trouble getting in touch with these people, the next step is to approach those regularly involved with this kind of thing. Some ideas are:
- The Rotary Club
- Key Club within your University
If you’re reaching out to a charity or a nonprofit, I can’t imagine that you won’t get support on some level. People like you are why these organizations exist! They’re happy to help you help them.
Recruit other volunteers
Now you have to find volunteers! Finding volunteers isn’t usually the most difficult part, but holding them accountable can be tricky. Like we covered above, college kids get wrapped up in their own lives easily. They can forget about their commitments or decide later that their homework or other things are more important, which is okay! Things happen. But you don’t want it to be at the cost of your project. To avoid this, make sure you’re very upfront about the commitment this project is, and emphasize that every person’s participation influences the success of it. Show true gratitude toward their participation and commitment to this cause and to your project! Without them, your project and vision wouldn’t be possible. People will go out of their way to honor commitments if they feel appreciated in doing so.
You can find other volunteers:
- Speaking at philanthropic clubs on campus and inviting them.
- Speaking at clubs on campus related to the cause
- Hosting a blood drive? Go to the pre-med club
- Hosting a theater weekend workshop? Go to the drama or art clubs
- Spreading the word in your classes, especially if the subject relates to the cause
- Spreading the word on social media
- Asking professors of courses related to your cause if they would please announce it to their classes
- Asking your friends to spread the word!
Executing the project
Congrats! You’ve set up your volunteer project. It may have been a lot of headaches of coordination, scheduling, and organizing. But, you should be proud of yourself. You’ve gained a leadership experience, you’ve contributed to a cause you care about, and you learned more about your field of interest. You should be proud of yourself.
Make sure that the event goes as smooth as you can. Of course, some things will be out of your control, but some ways to minimize a hectic event are:
- Go to the site of the event prior to and get a solid feel for the layout and space
- Depending on how big your event is, use an e-mail marketing tool that will automatically e-mail your volunteers at given times so that they are reminded of the event.
- Use a clipboard (they actually work!)
- Have specific assignments laid out for people before you get there
- Use name tags! (again, they actually work!)
To make this process easier and more organized, I’ve included a volunteer project guide. It’ll help you keep all your information organized and together. Get yours below!
Make sure that the volunteer project you began is either finished or is set up to sustainably run on its own. Once your project is over, reflect on the experience. Is it something you’d want to do again? Is it a cause that really speaks to you? See how you can incorporate it into your future. Also, don’t forget to keep in touch with your awesome volunteers. You can also offer to hold workshops on how you set up a volunteer project from scratch for others on your campus that might want to do the same but don’t know where to begin. So many possibilities out of this!