Service-Learning Programs Prove to Be a Valuable Resource for Nonprofits

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Emily Magnus and Marshéle Carter

Many nonprofits may be overlooking a valuable resource in their own back yards. Service-learning programs on many university campuses offer college students the opportunity to connect their classroom learning with community service. A wide variety of service-learning courses on campuses across the country not only provide hands-on experiences for students, but also many much-needed solutions for understaffed, overworked community organizations. 

Do you need help creating content and managing your social media accounts? Do you need assistance with an overwhelming research project? Does your growing educational program need more tutors? Do your services need someone who speaks Spanish, Farsi, Chinese or Arabic? Finding the exact volunteer help that you need is as simple as enrolling your organization as a community partner in a local college’s service-learning program. 

“Service-learning programs focus on connecting service in the community to students’ academic work on campus, which allows them to gain a deeper understanding of community issues, their own personal impact and the importance of sustainable partnerships.” Said Becca Bender, program officer of APPLES Service-Learning Program in the Carolina Center for Public Service at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“I believe this is a helpful resource to area nonprofits because students are often not completing a one-day service project, but working with the organization over the course of the semester or summer,” she said.

The APPLES Service-Learning initiative at UNC-CH was created in 1990 with the goal of creating and sustaining mutually beneficial partnerships between the university and the surrounding units. A unique aspect that sets the APPLES program apart lies at the core of the program as it is founded, led and funded completely by students.

UNC-Chapel Hill is just one of many successful service-learning programs located on college campuses nationwide. The need for skilled volunteer help is a common plea at most nonprofits.  Colleges from coast to coast are helping to meet the needs of community organizations in their areas through similar programs. For example, Duke University’s service-learning programs provide consultation, research and advocacy for any staff member, student or community member in order to reflect ethical and civic dimensions of a service experience. Notre Dame University works through the Center for Social Concerns by encouraging with students to focus on community outreach by honing in on learning resources. Texas A&M University was named the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2013 due to their exceptional reputation for student and community involvement.

Not only does service-learning create opportunities for students, but it creates forward momentum and ignites change for the public good.  Service-learning opportunities enable organizations to partner with universities in a shared vision. These mutually beneficial relationships between energetic, talented students and worthy causes transform communities and change lives. 

“I believe it is essential that the university does not only see volunteering as a benefit for its students, but also a way to make change and learn about the community by meeting the needs that nonprofits identify,” said Bender.

The skilled, supervised, volunteer help provided through service-learning programs on campuses across the country have enabled countless nonprofits to meet their goals and fulfill their missions more effectively. Here’s how organizations can get involved:

  • Contact colleges in your area to locate service-learning programs near your organization. Sign up to participate as a community partner. 
  • Get familiar with the number and scope of service-learning courses offered to students at the college.
  • Designate a staff member to serve as a point of contact for the school and the students. 
  • Identify and describe the specific needs of your organization.
  • Submit your request for student-volunteers based on your organization’s specific needs.
  • Enjoy the interaction with students.
  • Celebrate the progress you achieve together.     

Marshéle Carter is the founder and executive director of Carolina Cause Communications, a nonprofit, public relations agency that provides strategic communication counsel, campaigns and tools for nonprofit organizations that support North Carolina’s vulnerable populations.  

Emily Magnus is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in Public Relations and Religious Studies. She serves as a Public Relations Intern Intern at Carolina Cause Communications.  

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