New Partnerships Ease the Burden of Community Engagement Matching and Tracking

Without dedicated software, comprehensive tracking of student community engagement activity can be a lot of work – or nearly impossible. Software programs can be expensive, but two creative partnerships are making sophisticated tracking accessible to more campuses both in Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities. If campuses and community organizations increasingly use shared software platforms, higher education volunteers, service-learners, interns, and other resources can also become easier for our communities to access. It’s a win-win.

Southwest Minnesota State University and United Way of Southwest Minnesota recently launched a new collaborative website called MustangsVOLUNTEER, which makes service opportunities easier to find for students, while also taking their interests, abilities, and availability into account. Sixty nonprofits, schools, and other agencies already post on the United Way’s existing GetConnected database. Because of the new partnership, SMSU’s website can directly sync to this database. Dr. Christine Olson believes the best feature is its ability to track and verify service hours, providing a continuous record of the amount and type of service individuals have performed. This can help students as well as SMSU tell the story of its students’ engagement in the Marshall community. The benefit goes both ways, too. Marshall organizations now can easily tap into the SMSU community through one common portal, also alerting people to new opportunities related to their interests. The United Way of Southwest Minnesota invested in the software at the outset, and SMSU’s student government is dedicating part of the Student Technology Fee to cover the annual cost of $1,500 to access the GetConnected system (a cost substantially less than the standard database). Learn more about their partnership here.

Using a similar model, HandsOn Twin Cities recently launched a new website platform that campuses can leverage to promote and track community engagement experiences. This software offers a mobile-friendly experience that enables nonprofits to list volunteer opportunities, and students to register for service opportunities that match their interests. Within the platform, students, faculty, community partners and administrators can easily communicate by sending and receiving messages. The software also streamlines registration and real time tracking, allowing HandsOn Twin Cities to generate reports for users, including campus partners. Provider Galaxy Digital offers Campus Connect and Service-Learning modules as well; one example of an existing collaboration has the volunteer center at Great Rivers United Way feeding opportunities to Western Technical University, University of Wisconsin La Crosse and Viterbo University. To learn more or discuss the possibility of collaborating, contact Tracy Nielsen at tracy {at} handsontwincities(.)org.