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Let’s Expand Our Definition of Service

By Alexis Schroeder

For many years I thought of community service in very narrow terms. Service meant volunteering at a local shelter or food bank, cleaning up a park or a beach, or raising money for a nonprofit organization in need of funds by going door to door or making cold calls to potential donors—three things I didn’t mind doing, but didn’t especially enjoy doing either. And though I may not want to admit it, service absolutely was an afterthought, a side project, something I did if and only if I had the time.

While I was glad to help, I remember wondering if there were other things I could do on a regular basis that would be of service to my community that might also feel more interesting and rewarding to me personally.

It wasn’t until a few years later when I began consciously trying to link my career with what I cared about that my concept of service began to change. Over the course of my first year with NPi, it gradually occurred to me that service could look like any number of things; it wasn’t limited to providing a direct service like food, clothing, or shelter or helping with fundraising. I was an aspiring writer and editor with a flare for public speaking, and I knew I was good at organizing and hosting events. Why couldn’t these things be forms of service as well? How might I begin to think of them as such?

It occurred to me that my daily work, my means of earning an income, could also be my service to the world. In other words, I could make service my work. It wouldn’t be easy. I’d need to leave my 9-5 job and come up with some kind of transition plan until I could work for the start up full-time, but it wasn’t impossible either. Plenty of people had done it before.

Today, I am still in the process of making my work my service and my service my work with both the New Prosperity Initiative and my writing and editing projects. This is not true for everyone, nor should it be. In the spirit of acknowledging and honoring all human beings’ unique skills and talents though, I encourage everyone to think more broadly about service whatever your day job may be.

If you want to get involved in your community, but don’t know where to start, consider what you naturally do already that could benefit others. Having worked in the nonprofit world for a few years now, I know many nonprofits/social businesses frequently need help with website design and/or communications. If you’re a web designer, graphic designer, coder, marketing or communications professional, consider contacting local nonprofits you believe you can help with your particular expertise. If you know you’re good at drawing a crowd, say for parties or concerts, consider offering to help with the promotion of a local organization’s event or fundraiser.

Providing food, clothing, and shelter to people who need it or helping to build homes, for example – providing goods and services people desperately need in the short-term – is work we must always do. Beyond this, however, there are endless ways to be of service. About as many as there are different kinds of people. 

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