Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How Can Volunteers Create the Greatest Amount of Social Change?

Before I was a Mom and a community volunteer, I was a public policy major.  As a public policy major, I spent lots of time assessing the costs and benefits of various actions and considering how to derive maximum impact from limited resources.  

Recently, I've been thinking about applying a cost-benefit analysis to my volunteer activities.  In other words, what volunteer activities will allow me to have the greatest possible effect?   Don't get me wrong.  I love community building events like neighborhood picnics and class socials.  These events bring people together, create a sense of connection and community, and set the groundwork for future cooperation.  But I'm thinking about activities that really move the needle forward on social issues.

Take the issue of K-12 education, for example.  Public education in Washington State faces many challenges.  Sometimes the problem seems too big for one person to make much of a difference. One solution is to concentrate on a small project.  Our neighbor's school recently held a hoop-a-thon to raise money to fund a PE and nutrition teacher for next year.  

Another solution is to advocate for change in larger systems and encourage others to do the same.  The results aren't as immediate, but they could have a much larger effect.  If I make cookies for a bake sale, the benefit (say, $1 per cookie) is seen almost immediately.  Advocating for school reform before the school district or the state legislature takes longer to show results, if at all.  Yet, a community mandate to make education funding a priority could result in millions of dollars in money for schools.

The idea of going to Olympia to talk to a legislator or even writing a letter to the editor can seem overwhelming to an individual.  Are there ways to provide smaller opportunities to be involved a la MoveOn.org or MomsRising?  The work of the League of Education Voters and Stand for Children is a good start.

1 comment:

A Day That is Dessert said...

This is an important question that I keep coming back to at different times, too.