Hands-on learning

By Erin Possiel and Julie David

As students who have worked extensively in the community, we appreciate understanding the goals and perspectives of our nonprofit partners.

Likewise, we feel that a student-nonprofit partnership can be maximized when organizations gain understanding of student perspectives.

There are some fundamental areas where students and organizations differ in basic perspectives:

Time constraints: Generally, students do not view time on a 9-5 scale.  Students utilize many parts of the day, including “wee” hours of the morning, to be productive.

It is important to specify times when volunteers are needed onsite. However, giving students tasks such as internet research that can be done in other locations and outside business hours can also utilize the students’ time effectively.

Skills and capabilities: The most urgent tasks for your nonprofit may not be the best fit for your student volunteers.

Determine how students want to help, what skills and capabilities they have, and what tasks they feel they could do best.

Students have a wide range of skills to bring to your organization that may relate to their studies or other outside interests. A students studying history, for example, may have amazing computer skills from growing up in the digital age.

Goals: Make sure your student volunteers understand your organizational goals and how you hope to benefit from their service.

It is also important to understand how students hope to benefit.

Not all students simply want to gain a certain number of service hours.  They may want to learn specific skills, find out about particular issues in the “real world,” or positively impact the community.

They may also want more meaningful experience for their resumes; complex tasks with some responsibility look better than simple office work.

Partnerships can be beneficial for both students and community organizations.

However, details such as time constraints, skills and capabilities, and goals should be discussed from the beginning.

To maximize the partnership, nonprofits might consider creating contracts to document goals, holding interim meetings to discuss progress, and creating surveys to determine students’ qualifications and interests.

Erin Possiel, who will be a fifth-year senior, and Julie David, who graduated this spring, were involved with Service Learning at N.C. State University in Raleigh and affiliated with its Institute for Nonprofits.

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