Catholic University student raking leaves

Students at Catholic University have the opportunity to organize their own community service projects. Scroll down to learn how!

What is your organization looking for?

Identify an issue: What community issue would your group like to address? Is the group interested in sharing their unique gifts with the community? Ie. chess lessons, ballroom dancing lessons.

Determine numbers: When you contact an organization, it is helpful to offer an estimate of how many volunteers will be coming. We recommend that you offer a realistic range. Be honest about how many people will follow through on their commitments, given class & work conflicts, etc. If you have 30 people in your group, it is unlikely that all 30 will sign up and/or follow-through. It is also helpful to offer a range to the organization so that if a fewer people come, they are not disappointed and if a few more people come, there is still enough to do. Do everything you can to help the organization have enough for everyone to do – not too much, and not too little. If you think 15 people will come at the most, tell the organization you expect 10 to 15 volunteers. Don’t forget to count yourself! Most organizations can handle 10-20 volunteers at a time; accommodating more than 20 may be more challenging- but there are some organizations that can accommodate a larger group. Please look at the resources on the web.

Choose possible dates & times: The organization will want to know when you want to volunteer. It helps to be as specific as you can and try to offer a few options. Be realistic about the start time (how early will people really get going on a weekend morning?) and the duration (what else do people have to do that day?) of the project. 

Which organization should we work with?

Quick read: Scan through the organizations on the website to find ones that peak your interest.

Weekly Service Opportunities: There are weekly service opportunities that the Campus Ministry Office offers that make it easier for your organization- transportation is provided, there is a student leader contact, and the details are planned for you. If you are interested in your group participating in a weekly service opportunity, please contact the student leader to set up a time for your group to go. All contact information is on

Seasonal Opportunities: A complete list of seasonal opportunities is on Some of these 1-time seasonal projects may be able to accommodate your groups, such as Halloween on Campus, Little Sisters of the Poor Dance, and CUA Giving Tree.

Service Bulletin Board: Find one-time and on-going alternative service opportunities in the Washington, DC area. This is a listing of organizations that are looking for volunteers immediately.

Directory of Service Organizations: Listing of DC Metropolitan organizations based on interest and accommodation of group size.

Investigate further: As you find organizations that interest you, investigate further by visiting their website. If you have any questions please feel free to contact the Office of campus ministry.

Pick 3-5 possible organizations: We recommend that you look at 3-5 different organizations. Please use the Community Service Project Planning Form to help you plan your project. This will help assure that you ultimately find a match with an organization. If you only research and contact one organization at a time, you will likely experience a slower process if you find difficulty making contact with the right person at the organization or they cannot accommodate your group. Our philosophy is: “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket”. <

Contact the organization’s volunteer coordinator

Make multiple calls at once: If you decide to volunteer with one of the Campus Ministry sponsored service activities, please contact the student leader responsible or If you are looking for outside organizations, we recommend calling all 3-5 organizations at once on the assumption that some will not work out. If you call organizations one at a time, play phone tag, and then find that the organization is not a good fit for whatever reason, then you may have let a significant amount of time go by only to start at “square one” again with the next organization. It is important to note that when you outreach to multiple organizations at once, you need to be respectful and responsive to all of them once you have picked your project. If you find an organization to work with and another returns your call, be sure to call that organization back and let them know you’ve already found someone to work with. Be patient but persistent: Community organizations are often small, overwhelmed with work, and have high turnover. Even if you have a contact name, that person may have moved on, so be sure to ask for the volunteer coordinator and explain why you are calling.

Be patient but persistent! You may not hear back right away, but also be sure to follow-up and leave professional messages with your full name, purpose, your affiliation with Catholic University of America, your phone number, and the best time to reach you. If you can establish email contact, this may be the most effective day to make contact and work out details. 

Develop a plan that will be mutually beneficial

When you make contact with the volunteer coordinator, inquire about possible volunteer projects for your group and share with them your numbers and possible dates. Your project should fit your group’s needs and be educational, fun, and rewarding – but it also should meet an identified community need as articulated by the organization. Be sure to listen to what the organization needs! If your ideas do not mesh or scheduling conflicts arise, it is alright to tell the organization that the project will not work out. Be sure to communicate this clearly and with advance notice. As you contact organizations, it is helpful to take notes on the Community Service Project Planning Form so that you remember to ask all relevant questions and avoid confusing the details from different organizations. Most people want to do direct service projects that allow for direct interaction with clients at the organization. Examples of direct service are reading to a child, talking with a homeless person, or visiting a hospital patient. It is important to understand why direct service projects may be harder to find. Organizations might be protective of their clients’ privacy or the emotional risk that comes with connecting with one-time volunteers who don’t come back again. Working with clients often requires training and a long-term commitment. And, clients often have things to do and places to be other than being there to create a good experience for volunteers! Indirect service provides valuable work to an organization that ultimately affects their clients, but you may not interact with the clients directly. Examples of indirect service are painting a room, raking leaves, organizing donations, or preparing a mailing. Though these jobs may seem less glamorous, they represent the nuts and bolts that an organization needs to address in order to maintain a safe, welcoming, and effective organization. Your assistance may create more time for the organization staff to work with and on behalf of their clients. Remember that you are volunteering to help the organization, so if you are doing indirect service, come with an open mind and be glad you can help! <

Confirm, Confirm, Confirm

Confirm with the organization: If you need to bring the information you’ve collected back to your group, do this now. Whether you make a group decision or you decide which organization to work with on your own, it is important to make sure the organization knows you do plan to work with them. If you’ve established email communication, this is a great way to articulate the details you’ve discussed so there’s no confusion. The Community Service Project Planning Form includes all the details you’ll want to confirm with the organization, such as arrival time, appropriate dress, and directions to the volunteer site.

Confirm with your group: Get commitments from members of your group and make sure they know when and where to meet, how to dress, and when they’ll be back to campus. The more you can tell them about the organization’s mission and what you’ll be doing, the more excited and committed they’ll be to the project. Be sure to offer reminders just before the project. 

Arrange for transportation and get there (safely & on time)

Look into your transportation options and make appropriate arrangements. Allow enough time for travel, orientation, the service project, clean-up, and reflection. Be sure to arrive to your project on time, dressed appropriately, and ready to work! Metro and walking are the easiest transportation methods. You may need to reserve University vans or use personal vehicles- please plan ahead! 

Ask for an orientation

When your group arrives for the project, a critical component of your service will be learning more about the mission and goals of the organization. Why and how did the organization develop? What are its current successes and challenges? How will the project you work on contribute to the overall mission of the organization? Be sure to ask for an orientation, even if it’s just a quick 5 or 10 minute overview. 

Enjoy the project and make a difference!

Have fun and stay on task. Be sure everybody is involved in the project and ask for more guidance if you need it. If possible- take pictures of your group. Ask the organization if it is ok to take pictures- sometimes they do not allow picture taking because of privacy reasons. Also, encourage your group to wear Catholic University gear to help recognize the group as CUA students. 

Allow time for discussion & reflection

Reflection allows your group time to think about their experience in broader terms: How did this affect me? Did I make a difference today? How did my expectations compare with my experience? How might I get more involved in this issue? It’s important to not just walk away from the organization, get back into your campus routine, and never consider the service experience again. Allow time to ask questions of the organization staff, have some brief discussion on the way back to campus, or, if time allows, go to ice cream, coffee, or lunch with your group to keep talking about your experience. Click here for more resources on reflection. 

Follow-up & wrap-up

Evaluate for your group: Your project is not quite complete when you leave the organization. It is important to evaluate the experience with your group. Did they like the service project? Would they go back? Did the logistics work? Would you recommend the organization to other groups or individuals? Keeping this information in your group’s files can help future leaders in your group. You can do this by completing a Community Service Project Evaluation. Please give a copy of the evaluation to the Campus Ministry Office- this will help us determine if the organization is an organization we would like to continue working with.

Evaluation for us: The Community Service Program values your opinion on the organizations you work with. Please give us your feedback so that we can best guide future groups toward organizations that come recommended. It is also critical for us to know if anything went wrong at the organization so we can work with you to explore the issue or address the concern further. You can email us your feedback or complete our organization evaluation form. Please give a copy of the evaluation to the Campus Ministry Office- this will help us determine if the organization is an organization we would like to continue working with.

Say Thanks! Be sure to thank the organization for hosting you. Although you offered a service to them, they took time out of their schedules (often on a weekend or evening) to be with you and to prepare for your project. You can say thanks by mailing a note, sending an email, or leaving a voice message. Don’t forget to thank your group for their participation as well.