Thoughts from the Field

Here are some pointers from Senior Corps colleagues to help you plan and develop your MLK Day of Service initiative. Whether your initiative is large or small, these are a few things that every organization or planning group needs to do.

Idea One: Set Goals for the MLK Day Initiative.

MLK Day planning groups should have clear goals for their initiative. What do you want to accomplish? Your goals might include things such as; fulfilling Dr. King’s dream of people from different backgrounds working together, promoting the principles of nonviolence, bringing the community together around a common cause, or opening doors to partnerships with other sectors such as faith-based groups, corporations, or schools.

Idea Two: Invite Partners or Become a Partner.

At the outset, invite representatives of all the groups in your community that have held events for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday in past years. If groups already have meetings or committees, get invited to their table. Whether or not events have been related to service, these are groups that are committed to honoring Dr. King. Find ways to connect service to things that are already happening in the community on MLK Day of Service. This may allow you to reach new audiences for service projects.

Think through the process of developing partnerships and how each potential partner can add value to the partnership. Establishing partnerships can be challenging and time-consuming. It is difficult to create successful MLK Day initiatives without the buy-in of partners, and it may take some time to build buy-in for service if this concept is unfamiliar to the potential partner.

Idea Three: Identify Types of Projects.

Building from your goals for the MLK Day initiative, ask yourself what types of service projects you want to create. If your organization works on behalf of children or seniors, you may want all service projects to be an extension of your work to provide for the needs of youth or seniors. Keep in mind that projects should meet a real need in the community and be possible to complete in a day or a weekend, depending on how you structure the MLK Holiday weekend activities. Projects can be small or large in scope. Some may only require people power, while others require a large amount of supplies and equipment.

Idea Four: Create a Theme.

The MLK Day of Service traditionally has a theme of A Day On! Not a Day Off. In addition, organizers may want to generate a theme which is meaningful to your organization or in your community. The theme can be a rallying call and encourage involvement by a wide cross-section of the community.

Idea Five: Consider Transportation Needs.

When developing projects, location is critical. Consider whether proposed project sites are accessible by public transportation, and whether transportation can be provided for seniors and others who may have difficulty or safety concerns about reaching service sites.

Idea Six: Encourage a Spirit of Community and Service.

If you promote a spirit of community and a spirit of service throughout the planning process, you will likely see this spirit realized in the projects and activities that are implemented on the King Day of Service. Invite people with various levels of involvement with service and people of various ages, abilities, socioeconomic classes, ethnicities, races, and religions to the planning table. This will produce service projects and events that are welcoming to a wide cross-section of the community.

Idea Seven: Raise Public Awareness for Programs.

The MLK Day of Service is a great opportunity to raise public awareness about your organization, your partners and your work. Take every opportunity to promote programs, activities and successes through local, regional or state-wide media.

Idea Eight: Plan for Evaluation and Follow-Up from the Outset.

Don’t make evaluation an afterthought. When you create goals and objectives for the MLK Day initiative, also create your evaluation. The evaluation should measure if you met your goals and objectives in specified areas such as: number of projects, number of volunteers, new project sponsors or partners, new funding partners, new relationships with community leaders, or amount of media attention received. Also create a plan for follow-up activities such as sending thank you’s to sponsors, generating post-event media coverage to highlight your results, and creating opportunities for partners to debrief and celebrate accomplishments.

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