Creative Ways to Start and Grow MLK Day of Service Initiatives

25 Tips

The following tips are based on work being done by the Arizona and Oregon Commissions on National and Community Service. Although some of the tips are specific to state commissions for national and community service, most of this information can be adapted to your organization or program.

  1. Join an existing King Holiday planning committee. Many states have King Holiday commissions that meet to plan for a birthday celebration honoring Dr. King. Introduce service as a way to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy. Position service as an add-on, not a replacement to the regular celebration.
  2. Offer mini-grants as a way to get a seat at the planning committee table and to encourage community groups to include service in their King Holiday observances.
  3. Suggest an ongoing or year-round service initiative rather than serving only on the MLK holiday.
  4. Pitch relevant and convenient service ideas as an addition to the regular celebration.
  5. Utilize your access to the governor’s office and state capital to raise the celebration to a state-level event. If you are not a state commission, partner with one to do this.
  6. Ask the governor to videotape an introduction to the group’s celebration event.
  7. Encourage the governor’s staff and state employees to serve on MLK Day.
  8. Team up with planning committee members to reach out to the specific groups they represent, such as educators and community organizations, to encourage their participation.
  9. Refer to the national website,, to help people to better understand that they are a part of a national effort.
  10. Promote statewide volunteerism through MLK Day.
  11. Promote Dr. King’s dream of the Beloved Community - striving to build a community full of love, where the triple evils of poverty, racism and war are not present. Use the triple evils as a lens through which you identify service projects in communities.
  12. Incorporate other national days of service starting with MLK Day and continuing throughout the year.
  13. Leverage the media to further your work. Connect your work to the larger national effort when working with the media.
  14. Promote and partner with national service programs through MLK Day:
    • Senior Corps—Foster Grandparent Program, Senior Companion Program, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)
    • AmeriCorps—including VISTA and the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC)
    • Learn and Serve America
  15. Present a 10-minute ask to Commissioners or other stakeholders encouraging them to become involved in MLK Day of Service. Provide them with material to do the same 10-minute ask to others they know.
  16. Use the “MLK Day of Service: Now is the Time” video to seal the deal. The video may be viewed at and copies are available at
  17. Ask community groups that are already involved in service to list their projects on to connect to the national effort, recruit new volunteers, and potentially get media attention.
  18. Ask new community groups with which you partner to persuade other groups that they know to get involved in MLK Day events
  19. Co-brand national service with local partners to raise awareness of national service. MLK Day presents a useful, broad-based context in which to do this.
  20. Where applicable, use Program Development and Training (PDAT) funds to offer mini-grants for MLK Day service projects that involve partnerships between national service programs and other community groups.
  21. Invite national service members and volunteers to apply for mini-grants to support an MLK Day service project that they have developed with community partners. This is an opportunity for national service members to develop project planning skills.
  22. Expand from a day of service to a “Semester of Service” by awarding mini-grants to support service activities that extend from MLK Day through Cesar Chavez Day and culminate on Global Youth Service Day. Grants are available through Youth Service America ( to support mini-grants for the Semester of Service.
  23. Tap into disability funds and introduce people with disabilities to service. Utilize disability funds to award mini-grants to national service programs that partner with an organization that serves individuals with disabilities for MLK Day.
  24. Foster strong follow-through on service projects by requiring mini-grant recipients to fund their service projects up front. Reimburse them after a final report and documentation of expenses are submitted.
  25. Ensure that that each mini-grant recipient has a staff person who is supporting and advising the project to foster success.

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