I’ve tracked some 500 hours across the spectrum of high school and college – and I don’t feel like much of a better person for doing it. I feel more like someone trying to have my sense of entitlement expunged from my record.
Although tracking hours provides a standard, easily acquired statistic to report, it isn’t a particularly effective way to teach a student what it means to benefit one’s community,and this is why tracking hours must become a thing of the past.
“More hours = better person” – or at least that’s how we are taught to think.
It’s the same misconception that an employee who comes in early and works late, or who responds quicker than most to emails is one’s “best” employee. Those who make good use of their time and who don’t clutter the conversation. . . what of them?
Here are a few ways we can track our community impact without the damaging side effects of equating hours volunteered with people helped.
1. Track Relationships
As a fraternity student, a fraternity professional, and a fraternity volunteer, I’ve heard more times than I can track that we are in the “relationship business.” Social organizations are meant to create social people, and being social means engaging with others in your community.
Rather than track the number of hours per member, require that a chapter detail a regular relationship they’ve established with one or more local nonprofits or student organizations.
This may broaden the idea of service to assisting smaller or poorly funded student groups in accomplishing their goals, and encourages the chapter to work on managing a consistent relationship with others.
2. Look To Consecutive Weeks of Service
Forget the hours entirely. Simply ask:
- Did you serve this week?
- How did you serve?
With those simple questions, we get an idea of what our members are doing, and the number of weeks per year in which they serve.
Community service is meant to be a recurring gift. A colleague of mine spends many Mondays helping others prepare their tax filings. It’s not his job to do so, it’s his service to the community – and it’s consistent.
If we want to build habits of consistent service to one’s community, we may be better off learning when throughout the year members are serving. I can guarantee that fraternity chapters across the country are putting together last-ditch efforts to meet “hour” goals for the end of the semester.
That’s not to their benefit – they have finals to complete!
3. Focus on Impacts Made
What is the result of your service to XYZ partner?
Is the road free of litter throughout the year? Did an organization expand their operations due to your labor? Did a new law pass thanks to the work of your chapter?
Community service must have impact, and simply asking students to provide evidence of their impact may be a better way to teach an individual of the expected outcome of community service: something in the community gets noticeably better.
Beyond that, we should openly encourage chapters to get involved in matters of civic engagement, whether that be canvassing or simply opening their space for respectful conversation.
What are the key issues with the above statistics?
They may not be as exact as service hours. There may not be an entire industry built around creating apps and “check-ins” to validate them as there are with service hours.
Still, each enforces the following truth: To facilitate lifelong volunteerism, we should encourage habitual, impactful, local service.
Service depends deeply on relationships – not hours.