For many students, community engagement is a key aspect of their college or university experience. Community-engaged learning helps students feel connected to the place where they live and study while allowing them to develop a deeper understanding of social and economic justice issues.
But before offering service-learning opportunities to students, institutions of higher education need partners in the community. Local nonprofits and agencies can host student volunteers, share knowledge and invite students into their advocacy efforts. But campus-community partnerships can only flourish with the right approach and infrastructure.
When developing a robust community engagement program, your partners are your foundation and best resource. Here are six best practices to ensure you build a program that supports long-term sustainability and impact.
Before you dive in, make sure you have a good understanding of the community you'll be operating in. Do you live and work there? Do you and your colleagues have strong ties to the community? Tap into local community networks, subscribe to Facebook groups and regional publications, and research your community's particular strengths and challenges.
When approaching new community partners, it's important to be mindful of their relationship with your institution. Has your college or university historically been a strong partner to the local community, or are there ways it has perpetuated inequality? If so, you should take this into account when framing your conversation.
As you identify a list of partners to engage with, be thoughtful about your selection. Do they cover a wide range of community issues? Is their leadership diverse, and do they reflect members of the community they serve? Will your students feel comfortable engaging with them? Make sure the partners you choose align with the values you're striving to live by in your community engagement program.
Draw on Community and Student Expertise
While service-learning can inject needed resources into the community, community partners are the experts in the areas you'll be engaging in. Make sure you are centering partner needs in your decisions and providing opportunities for honest feedback and input.
Similarly, you should be engaging student voices in the design and delivery of your program. As your program's target audience, they have valuable insights to share. How will your program meet their needs and help them succeed?
Many schools choose to form Community Advisory Boards and Student Advisory Boards to provide regular communication channels. If you're using a service-learning management (SLM) platform like GivePulse, you can also survey partners and students for feedback at regular intervals, such as at the end of each semester.
Allocate the Right Resources
Managing a community engagement program requires time, money and resources. Today, many campuses have service-learning centers which manage the logistics of community partnerships, offer student engagement opportunities and support community-engaged scholarship.
Before launching, ensure you have the resources you need to make your program sustainable and successful. If you don't, advocate for more funding, space, tools or staffing.
Develop Shared Goals
Any strong partnership relies on reciprocity. For a community engagement program to be successful, both students and community partners should see tangible benefits.
Before formalizing your collaboration, ensure you are on the same page as your partner by agreeing on some shared goals. For instance, you may hope to develop student understanding of community health outcomes by offering placements at a local clinic. Meanwhile, the partner may aim to increase clinic volunteering by 20% over the semester.
Once your community engagement program is successfully off the ground, it's essential to keep in close contact with your community partners. Do they have what they need to be successful? Are students well equipped to work with them? An SLM will help you stay on top of the logistics of community engagement opportunities, like accepting and approving volunteer applications, tracking student hours and inviting participants to regular training sessions.
You and your partners can use your SLM to keep in touch with one another and with student volunteers, and since the data is at your fingertips, you'll both be able to identify roadblocks or trends within student engagement.
There are many ways that investing in community engagement will benefit your institution. Research shows that students who participate in service during their college or university years record higher GPAs, greater retention and a greater likelihood of degree completion. But community engagement brings with it unique challenges. It's vital to make sure you have the right resources, partners and tools.
GivePulse works with professors, teachers, educators, staff, and service-learning centers from institutions all over the country to streamline the logistics of community partnerships and track student participation in service-learning programs.
If you're looking to develop a robust community engagement program, we're here to help you succeed. Schedule a demo with GivePulse today to learn how we can help you build strong and sustainable campus-community partnerships.
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.
Start making a difference today by visiting www.givepulse.com.