Developing High Impact Service Projects



“How can we maximize our collective impact?”

We were discussing the adoption of a new local service project, something long-term that would allow us to get closer to the community and make a meaningful contribution.

We had entertained this discussion many times before, but never in quite the same way. Usually it was in the form of self-critique, pointing out what we didn’t do well, or enough of. After all, the mission of Rotary is “service above self” so the question of whether our output was sufficient seemed both natural and heavy as we continued to ponder the direction of our club’s growth and evolution.

But for me this time felt qualitatively different, and the moment resonated with promise.

By framing the question as such, “How can we maximize our collective impact?” we had opened a secret door. And if we chose to enter, it would lead us to something big and important, as long as we had the courage to see it through. 

With the question hanging in the air, the probes quickly followed. “Who are we at our core? What do we do best, and enjoy most?” The responses flowed easily.   

However, the next question, “What do we have that our community needs most?” gave us pause. It was clear that our city’s needs were great, but there were also so many resources and organizations. We would need to be careful not to duplicate services or even worse, inadvertently compete. We agreed to study community reports in hopes of identifying critical gaps and opportunities. 

But we also needed to define the boundaries, the lines that we promised not to cross. As Rotarians we were all volunteers, paying significant dues for the honor of being members. As such, we had little tolerance for going outside our comfort zones. And with membership being such a critical issue, we would have to stay firmly within our sweet spot, maintaining our current members while continuing to attract more. 

The promise was tantalizing- identifying a new service project that would serve a significant unmet need, leveraging and supporting other community programs and resources, while being uniquely suited to our club’s respective strengths and interests.   

So what did we come up with? I’ll save that for another post. Suffice it to say that our new project, which is still in its formative stages, promises to be both exciting and ambitious, in all the right ways.

But perhaps even more important than the project itself is the associated birthing process. By framing our new endeavors, whenever possible, within the guiding question “How can we maximize our collective potential?” we can ensure that our efforts are both inherently important and uniquely ours. And when we are truly working- or serving- in our sweet spots, not only will we find the fulfillment and satisfaction that we crave, but we will also attract other like-minded individuals who are ready to join us, and our capacity for impact will continue to grow.

-Mara Huber

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About mbhuber2013

Associate Dean for Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning and Director of Experiential Learning Network at the University at Buffalo

3 responses to “Developing High Impact Service Projects”

  1. Kevin Crosby says :

    Excellent insight. One of the joys of being in Rotary is the creative process that occurs when you engage the minds of people who share a common desire to do good in the world. Ultimately, the execution of the project is most important, but the process of developing the project – engaging the ideas and experiences of fellow club members – contributes to the satisfaction of being part of this wonderful organization.


  2. noronwe says :

    Mara, It sounds like your club has never had a stategic plan or planning process, other wise the issue of a signature long term project would have been discussed within that context would it not. I know it was for our club. We decided on having both a local and an international signature project.


    • mbhuber2013 says :

      Interestingly, we’ve had an international project and a number of small local efforts, but nothing that I would call a signature project. Historically, we’ve been a small club with many members deeply engaged in district leadership. So from a capacity standpoint we were pretty tapped. We did go through club visioning which was useful, but we’re only now committing to the process of truly maximizing our impact with regard to our unique strengths and talents…. thanks for your comment-Mara


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