Written By Nik Koulogeorge
If lockdowns and social distancing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it's that we can do more from our homes than we thought. That is as true for community service and philanthropy as it is for a chapter or business meeting.
This article offers 25 ideas to volunteer or collect money from the comfort of your home or dorm. Whether you use these to replace in-person programming forever or just want a way to integrate service and philanthropy into your day-to-day life, there is something here for you.
The key to community service and volunteering, in general, is to find a few things you and the members of your chapter like and to stick with them. If you are committed to a particular cause or if your professional interests or hobbies lend themselves to one of the ideas below, then I suggest going for that idea - whether or not it has anything to do with what your chapter has traditionally done.
Food Drives: Organize a contact-free food drive. Find a local food bank and ask what kind of help and items they need. Then, identify one or more locations in town where students and neighbors can safely drop off items. Some members can be responsible for unloading cars, others for sorting, and the third group of members can take care of delivery. Promote the drive with posters and signs around town as well as on social media, in local papers, etc.
Encouragement: Writing letters to those in nursing homes sounds cheesy, and it kind of is. That said, encouraging is a wonderful service. Tools like Love for the Elderly and Neighborly can help get your letters into the right hands. You can also partner with local organizations to write and deliver letters to nearby people. COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on our nation's nursing home populations. Many find themselves isolated from their friends and family. Your letter might be a treasured, bright spot during scary and lonely times.
Book Readings & Recordings: Record videos of members reading children's books and send these to local elementary schools or friends/family with young children. You may even organize a video meeting to read directly to a group or class. Contact nearby schools or after-school programs in advance to determine what they need and what may work for their schedule. They may even have books that you can borrow for this kind of project. The Reading is Fundamental organization has hundreds of children's books in their "Skybrary"
Educational Video Content: If your chapter has a YouTube page, there's a chance that it is home to rush videos and other things that no one cares to watch (I said it, and I'm not sorry). So, use it as a way to offer free educational content to the world. Create "how-to" videos around crafting projects or record alumni sharing thoughts or advice related to their field of work. You may put together videos that offer first-year students advice or promote your school.
Pet Toys: Here's a very simple at-home project: dog toys. This article on Care.com shares 17 DIY dog toy ideas (some are better than others). Not only are dog toys decidedly masculine (if that's a concern), but they make for a great gift to local shelters, friends with pets, or family members. All you need is an old t-shirt and some time. Get on a Zoom call and make the toys together - it'll be fun.
Stray Cat Shelters: The world is packed with stray cats, and they get cold in the wintertime. Some animal shelters may have the supplies to create winter shelters for strays. This article from BalconyGardenWeb.com includes ideas and designs to create your own shelters.
Bookmarks & Posters: Create posters or bookmarks with encouraging messages, quotes, or poems. Share them with libraries or local elementary schools. These are easy to make and members can drop them off at a central location on their own time.
Online Tutoring: Publicize tutoring and group study opportunities to the broader campus community. Many fraternities organize study hours throughout the week. Why not have a junior or senior member offer to answer questions about a topic on Zoom for any students facing trouble. If your school is limited to online classes, then this may be a great way to connect with (and even recruit) people from beyond your fraternity/sorority.
Thank You Videos: Create little videos thanking teachers, community activists, and "essential" workers. Their jobs are already stressful and face even greater pressure in the midst of a pandemic. Set up a Dropbox or Google Drive folder for members to upload thank you videos. Then stitch them together and send them off! You may also choose to have members take a picture with a sign (or each holding a letter) and put those into a collage. Print those off and share them with advisors.
Recycling Services: Some communities build recycling programs into their taxes. Others require that residents pay a fee to pick up and deliver recyclable materials to a facility. Cut out the middle man by being the middle man. Follow in the footsteps of this Kiwanis Club, which recycled more than 900,000 lbs of plastic, metal, glass, and furniture over 15 years!
Here are some ways to give back to your community without the need to organize an entire project. Most of these were pulled from the Key Club Florida District's COVID resource (Thanks y'all!)
Translators without borders: Translate medical texts for healthcare professionals and earn service hours.
Free Rice App: Download the app, answer trivia questions, give rice to those in need through the United Nations World Food Program
Charity Miles: An app that tracks your movement and dedicates funds to your charity of choice for each mile you record.
BeanBeanBean: Like the Free Rice app, this program gives money to food banks as you answer trivia questions. Make a game of it!
BookShare: A website where you can scan or edit books for people with reading disabilities.
UNICEF's "Math for Good": If you are better at math than trivia, then consider this game which dedicates 25 cents for every question you correctly answer.
Share The Meal: Send meals to hungry children from your phone.
Smithsonian Digital Volunteers: You can help make Smithsonian collections more accessible by volunteering online to transcribe historical documents. You can also edit Wikipedia articles related to their artifacts and research.
Amnesty Decoders: Help conduct research into global human rights violations like oil spills, drone strikes, or even abusive tweets.
Donate CPU Power: Programs like BIONIC can run in the background, dedicating your computer's spare processing power to what is effectively the world's 6th largest supercomputer. Simply download an app, choose which project you'd like to donate power to, and your computer may help find a cure to an uncommon disease or discover extraterrestrial radio signals. Neat! (Here's an article covering similar programs from VICE)
The great thing about at-home or contactless service is that it may not require the effort of the whole chapter. Allow your members to take part in whatever speaks to them. It may be more impactful to allow members to set up small groups or committees around their favorite project ideas. (That is not just a tip for COVID times. Chapter-wide service projects are dramatic and rarely put every members' skills and interests to good use)
Here are some ways to organize fundraising projects concerning your local guidelines. Many of the aforementioned service projects can be transformed into fundraising projects with a little creativity and a positive attitude.
Bingo: Create a bingo card to share on social media (like an Instagram story) and include a donation link on the card. Each square can include a dollar amount or a dare for a member/officer to complete. As people donate, you can tag them in the appropriate square and re-share the image. If each member shares a square on their story, then your chapter can post stories congratulating the members and donors whenever one gets a "BINGO." (Find designs on Canva).
Local Business Support: Many restaurants and places of business are suffering at the hand of COVID-19-related lockdowns. Draft a letter and deliver it to local restaurants or businesses with delivery services. Ask that they donate a portion of the proceeds (say 10%) of the money they raise in one night if your chapter offers to promote their business. Then, encourage students and neighbors to order food from those restaurants at the appropriate time. You'll give a boost to their business and raise money for charity.
Virtual Trivia: You can use apps like Kahoot or create a Jeopardy-like game in PowerPoint. Invite guests to attend a virtual meeting for a small fee. Invite members and alumni to take part in a trivia contest about your fraternity. You may also choose to focus the event on the charity of choice. For example, if the proceeds go to a food bank, then make the questions about hunger, nutrition, and food bank services.
Organize a Virtual Conference: Get alumni, professors, and others in the community to give 20-30 minute presentations or to take questions online. Charge a fee for those who wish to participate, and open the event up like your own little conference or TED Talk series.
Speed Read/Spelling Bee Competition: Find the fastest reader on your campus by giving them a children's book and challenging them to read as many pages as possible within a time limit. Entrants can pay a registration fee, but the event is sure to be fun to watch. Use the funds to purchase and donate digital books to schools or libraries. Another fan-favorite? Spelling bees. Host a weekly spelling bee with a small entrance fee. Get a trophy to give to the best speller of the semester and give the rest to charity.
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