Creating Sustainable and Mutually Beneficial Service-Learning Projects

Sustainability and reciprocity are two of the most important factors to consider when designing service-learning projects. For a project to be mutually beneficial, the institution, students and community partners must all experience meaningful outcomes. For a project to be sustainable, the time and resources invested should be achievable and replicable. 

In addition, the community partner should continue to feel the benefit of the collaboration, whether the project was a one-time occurrence or a continuing engagement. For instance, if a group of students worked with a community partner to create a social media strategy, it should be designed so that the partner organization can implement the strategy using their existing resources (staffing, budget, etc.). Ongoing service-learning engagements, such as weekly student volunteering, should be designed with a sustainable and realistic number of volunteers and hours in mind.

But how can you ensure the project you're designing can create a lasting impact? Here are three tips for creating sustainable and mutually beneficial service-learning projects.

1. Work With Local Organizations to Identify Community Needs

If you're looking to address challenges and build on strengths in the local community, it's vital that you work with the people who understand these issues best. 

Engage with local service organizations and ask broad, open questions about their needs and challenges. It's essential that you don't go into these conversations with pre-conceived ideas of how service-learning can support your partners. Instead, ask your community partners for their perspective on how students can help move the needle on community needs and listen to their answers. Community partners are the experts in their respective fields, and their engagement is key to building sustainable and mutually-beneficial projects.

If you're using a service-learning management (SLM) platform like GivePulse, you can use filter and search tools to identify relevant community partners and agencies based on the particular issue you're looking to engage on. For instance, if you teach a public health course, you may be looking for local health agencies or healthcare facilities to partner with for your service-learning project. 

2. Take Stock of Resources

Now that you have a better understanding of the issue you'd like to address, you need to identify what your institution can contribute. How many students can volunteer with a partner or undertake community-engaged research? Can your institution support their travel and purchase the supplies they'll need? If not, how can you alleviate any financial burden on the partner organization? Can your institution track student hours and provide logistical support?

When designing service-learning projects, it's essential to ensure that you're adding capacity for your partners rather than draining resources. One way to streamline service-learning logistics and administrative work is by investing in an SLM. Using GivePulse, you can easily engage student participants, post opportunities, track student engagement and schedule student shifts.

This will reduce the administrative burden on community partners and ensure that the project has the intended impact on both the students and the community.

3. Establish Clear Goals and Objectives

Well-defined goals and objectives will create meaningful student service opportunities that further student learning and positively impact both the students involved and the community they serve. 

When approaching your goal-setting, ask yourself these key questions:

  • What are the needs of the community that you are hoping to address?
  • What skills do you hope your students will gain by completing the project?
  • What would be an ideal outcome of the project?

Make sure your community partners have meaningful input on your goal-setting, too. Your goals should consider how you will make your project sustainable and mutually beneficial. For instance, if your students volunteer at a partner site, how will you ensure that the students have the training they need to be truly helpful to the partner? 

By setting clear, measurable goals, you'll have a yardstick to measure your results against to understand if your project was sustainable and mutually beneficial.

Creating Impactful Service-Learning Projects with GivePulse

Service-learning projects provide a unique opportunity for students to learn about and give back to their local community. However, without the right tools, these projects can also tax your institution's resources and those of your community partner. 

By using a service-learning platform like GivePulse, schools and communities can streamline the logistics of service-learning, like tracking student service engagement, managing volunteer schedules and collecting student reflections. This will also improve the experience for students and community partners, increasing volunteer and partner retention and paving the way for long-term community engagement–a key contributor to sustainability.

Ready to learn more about how we can help you create sustainable and mutually-beneficial service-learning projects? Schedule a demo with GivePulse today.



About GivePulse

GivePulse's mission is to enable everyone in the world to participate and engage in lifting their community to new heights. We do so by providing a platform to list, find, organize and measure the impact of service-learning, community engagement, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and volunteerism.

Founded in 2012 in Austin, Texas, GivePulse works with 650,000+ groups, including colleges and universities, nonprofits, businesses, K-12/school districts and cities and municipalities. Together, we connect millions of people in an effort to create positive social change.

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