“Everyone can be great because anybody can serve.”
While you may recognize this as an often-shared quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I love this line because it highlights a critical and often-overlooked aspect of service: Truly, anyone can do it.
As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and an AmeriCorps alum, I’m proud of the “big” service work I’ve done with long-term in-person service in the US and abroad. I’ve also served on student service learning boards, coordinated National Honor Society service projects, volunteered at literacy councils, delivered Meals on Wheels, completed community clean-up projects, joined and spoken at rallies, and supported numerous other organizations and causes.
Early in life I found value in service, and my experiences with Girl Scouts and National Honor Society (among many other influences!) reinforced this value that I carry with me. It’s no coincidence that at Sogolytics, I’m proud to support service as one of our core values.
In a business sense, service is often equated with external customer service or sometimes interdepartmental customer service. A client calls, and you should be helpful to them. A colleague asks for help with a project, and you should work with and support them.
Beyond the “paying customers” and internal service asks, however, corporate social responsibility programs can help to reinforce the value of service. More and more, customers do care about the practices of the brands they choose to do business with. “Doing good” statements must be followed up by “doing good” programs.
When someone asks you “How is your company doing good in the world?” — how will you answer?
Purpose before profit? The debate continues.
If you’re just getting started, you don’t need a fancy program name or logo. The most important thing is simply to do something. For years, we’ve done a wide range of volunteering and service projects, plus rolling out a policy that includes paid time off for volunteering.
Of course, over time, as your team and business grow, it can be helpful to develop — well, a program name and logo. 😉
For us, it’s SoGood. As with so many thing, it’s a work in progress, but I can tell you: I’m a big fan.
Four types of service
Beyond the idea that “anybody can serve”, it’s also important to recognize that there are a wide range of types of service. When you think of “community service”, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s picking up trash, helping an elder with groceries, or building a home or playground.
What is service? Doing what needs to be done.
While definitions vary, I’m partial to the service learning model that includes four types of service:
- Direct service
- Indirect service
1. Direct service opportunities
You might think of direct service as the most “in-person” form of service. Here you’re working directly with or for those people who benefit from the service. Beyond people-focused activities, though, this category often includes direct service to animals and to specific places.
- Delivering meals through an organization like Meals on Wheels
- Tutoring or teaching classes at a local literacy council or community center
- Walking, spending time with, and caring for animals at local shelters
- Picking up trash to clean up roadways and the local watershed
2. Indirect service opportunities
While you might not be “in person” with those being served, indirect service plays an important role in expanding your reach. In some cases, there’s a need that exists beyond your community, and indirect service delivers support in the form of supplies. In other cases, we’re simply not the right folks to do the job, so we raise funds to help those better placed to fill the need.
- Organizing a warm clothing drive for donations to a local shelter
- Sending cards and care packages to troops serving far from home
- Hosting a blood drive and inviting colleagues and community members
- Fundraising to donate money to disaster relief
3. Advocacy service opportunities
Advocacy is about speaking up. While it may look different from direct or indirect service, advocacy combines the powers of communication and community to inspire action.
- Writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper or other news source to build awareness and encourage action on a specific issue
- Designing and hanging up signs to convey an important message, like being an LGBTQ+ ally
- Posting on social media channels to share information about issues
- Organizing and attending rallies and events to bring attention to the causes you care about most
4. Research service opportunities
Research may look like “armchair service”, but without the facts that research uncovers, the other forms may veer off track. Imagine sharing some great-looking advocacy resource with your own personal network — only to find that the article got the facts wrong. While many forms of advocacy rely heavily on ethical and emotional appeals, logical appeals built on facts are the critical foundation.
- Conducting a survey to better understand the “trash habits” of your target community in order to inform recycling and composting programs
- Testing local soil and water to better gauge the current quality and explore opportunities for improvement
- Researching best practices regarding energy conservation before launching an in-office campaign to save energy
- Exploring laws that impact your top causes, like the legal support available for employees who speak up as whistleblowers
Ready to dive in? Any day is the perfect day to step up — because every day you can make a difference. ❤️
A few references to inspire your next steps: