September 20, 2018

By Marvin Cadet, Mission Continues Staff

Running service projects requires a lot of planning, coordination, and execution. Projects can include tasks such as painting classrooms, building pergolas & benches, and landscaping a large open space.  You have to gather input from a number of different people to ensure you’re fulfilling a need the community truly wants.

As you get closer to the day of the project, things get a lot crazier as everyone scrambles to check things off their to-do list, make sure all the materials are prepped and ensure it’s a great event.

Believe it or not, project planning gets easier the more you do it. Here are 5 tips to help you plan awesome service projects!

1. Build a Team Around a Vision

It can be a challenge to get a big project done by yourself, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Bring people along to be a part of the change you’re trying to create.

But don’t become a taskmaster and delegate things to do from a position of authority.

Share the vision of what you’d like to accomplish. Instead of cleaning up trash, it may be a bit more fun to be part of a team that is transforming a vacant lot into a public space that will provide access to locally grown produce. Or instead of painting over graffiti, be a part of a team that’s revitalizing parks to inspire community pride!

The vision will give your team something to work towards. The work is important, but the people doing the work is what will inspire future change!

2. Ask All the Questions

Do your best to discover as much as you can as early as possible and what takes precedence. There are a lot of things to consider when planning on top of the actual work that is getting done.

When talking to community partners, I always ask, “If we could only tackle one major need with this service project, what would you want that to be?” Or, “What do you want volunteers walking away from this having accomplished?

This will set the stage for further questions like:

What exactly will this project consist of?

What kind of materials (paint, lumber, plants, etc.) will we need?

Can we dig in this area?

Once you feel good about the tasks, then consider the environment:

Is there parking?

Where is the bathroom?

Where will set up our registration table?

Who will provide lunch?

What are the expectations?

With this information, you can now dive deeper into what your project will look like.

3. Map Your Process

Planning a service project is just as much a process as cooking breakfast. It’s very important to map out what needs to be done then follow those directions or your results may not come out the way you intended.

Of course, stay flexible in your approach too. I’m a big fan of lists, models, and any tools that help visualize information. There are parts of the process that are iterative and you can later improve on.

For example, when ordering supplies plan to have your vendor identified and a delivery setup at least 2 weeks in advance. Know where the supplies are going, who’s picking them up, at what time, with what vehicle, if any will be needed.

Have a backup plan as well.

Also, have a plan for prepping materials that need to be cut, primed, or whatever the case may be. Over time, you’ll become more comfortable with it.

4. Keep Volunteer Experience at the Forefront

A service project is just as much an event as a Knicks game or prom. It’s a spectacle!  

With all the activities taking place it’s important to pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Move with purpose as opposed to running to handle issues as they come up. I make it a point to be intentional about not running at a service project.

Be strategic about when lunch will take place and what snacks you’ll have in the meantime.

Keep a safe space. Be sure everyone is aware of safety issues such as the weather, handling tools, any poisonous species, and where they can get water. 

Always keep at the top of your mind the experience you want your volunteers to have. People may be looking to network and connect with like-minded folks as well as make an impact. 

Have fun, learn something new, make a difference!

5. Tell the Story

Be sure to get pictures of the work being done.

Be sure to talk about why everyone is in the space they’re in and what impact they will have on the space.

Get a count of how many people came out and what that means in terms of volunteer hours completed.

Gather stories from people and find out why that came out.

And finally, tease the next event or opportunity for engagement.

About Marvin Cadet, Project Specialist

Marvin Cadet is a Regional Project Specialist for The Mission Continues where he plans service projects from start to finish. He has planned over 60 service projects in over 20 cities. Marvin also helps platoon leaders execute successful service projects as well. Service projects include tasks like building benches & structures, painting, and revitalizing public spaces. During his free time, Marvin enjoys taking pictures and working out.