Here's How to Get Involved in Your Community
If you have a strong interest in helping your local community address issues that affect the public, consider pursuing a career in civic engagement. This type of work can provide you with a challenging yet satisfying career focused on improving the quality of life for those in your local community and beyond. It also offers a chance to put your leadership skills to use. Learn more about civic engagement examples as part of your path toward building a career around community involvement.
What Is Civic Engagement?
Civic engagement refers to taking an active part in improving your community, whether environmentally, politically, or socially. From registering voters and being an electoral poll volunteer to cleaning up local or national parks, you can become involved in multiple ways. The increased focus on global citizenship has made civic engagement in local communities even more important. When you participate in supporting the public, you’re doing your part to be a responsible and compassionate global citizen.
Civic Engagement vs. Community Service/Volunteering
Civic engagement and community service or volunteering are sometimes synonymous. You can volunteer to pitch in and help a local organization or provide community service in other ways on a casual or occasional basis. For example, you might decide to help out at a local soup kitchen during the holidays. This is actually different from civic engagement, which involves participating in various activities regularly to help your community on a broader scale. Civic engagement, for example, might involve working the polls every election or actively engaging with your local government on a routine basis.
How to Get Involved in Your Community
Find a Cause You Care About
Although civic engagement can be done in multiple ways, it helps to find a cause you feel passionate about. This can help you decide what to focus your energy on and how to spend your time helping your community. Some people know right away what cause they want to support, while others need some help figuring it out. Keep the following tips in mind to discover what cause you care most about.
Identify Your “Why”
Think about why you want to get into civic engagement. What goals are you hoping to achieve? What kinds of changes are you interested in making? Perhaps health and nutrition has always been a priority to you and you'd like to find ways to help increase access to fresh ingredients for more families in your community. Since this type of community involvement can be done in many ways, it helps to narrow down your interests and focus on what truly matters to you.
List the Issues and Problems That Mean the Most to You
You might have a long list of issues and problems that affect your community and should be addressed, but you won’t be able to handle them all. Instead, write down the ones that you have the strongest feelings about and focus on those. Doing this can help you determine the best ways to get involved. For example, you might focus on organizing neighborhood watches if safety is your main concern, or you might become involved in the PTA if your biggest interest is your local school.
Find Organizations and Groups and Get Involved, or Start Your Own
Once you’ve narrowed down the issues and problems you want to tackle, look for local, regional, or national groups and organizations to join. They can provide you with guidance and resources for specific ways to get involved and work toward achieving your goals. If you don’t find any that fit your interests, keep in mind you can always start your own with a few like-minded people in your community.
Benefits of Community Involvement
Getting involved in your community does more than provide a way to make improvements and help others. When you pursue civic engagement, you’ll also gain other benefits that can boost your wellbeing as well as your career. The following are some of the benefits of community involvement.
Career Advancement and Leadership Opportunities
Being involved in your community can provide you with opportunities to use your leadership skills. For example, you might become the leader of a local group or organization that focuses on helping your community. Community involvement can also help you advance your career. As you use and develop your leadership skills, you’ll be better positioned to handle a leadership role at work.
New Personal and Professional Connections
Civic engagement can help you expand your professional network and provide chances for you to form new friendships with people who share your interests. You’ll get to meet other community members which can lead to personal or professional connections, potentially opening the door to new career opportunities.
Fulfilling Learning Opportunities
Community involvement gives you a great way to learn more about different aspects of your community, such as local government, schools, and ecosystems. Getting involved helps you learn more about the importance of these different parts of your community. For example, you might learn a lot about local wildlife and plant species if you focus on environmental issues in your community.
It Is Good for Your Health
Being involved in your community can benefit your health and well-being. Helping vulnerable members of your community, for example, such as the homeless or refugees, can boost your emotional well-being. When you focus on civic engagement, you can take pride in the fact that you’re doing your part in helping others and your community as a whole.
Community Involvement Ideas and Volunteering Opportunities
How can you get involved in your local community? There are several ways to volunteer your time or support your community financially. The following can give you an idea of the kinds of opportunities you might find in your own community. What works best for you will depend on which issues mean the most to you and what kinds of skills you have to offer.
The simple act of voting in local elections is an easy way to participate in civic engagement. However, you can take this a step further and volunteer your time at polling locations. Other ways to be involved in local elections include helping with voter registration and working as part of a campaign team.
If you want to support your local schools, consider tutoring or mentoring. You might also consider other opportunities, such as joining the PTA or volunteering to be a crossing guard to help students safely cross streets.
Serve Vulnerable Populations
If your main interest is helping those in need in your community, there are many opportunities to do so. You might volunteer to help at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, or you might look into how you can help local refugees. Organizing clothing and food drives in your community is another good way to help vulnerable populations. Another opportunity to explore includes helping the elderly. You could also volunteer at an animal shelter.
If your civic engagement focus is on your own neighborhood, you can organize cleanup events to help keep the area looking its best. You might also start or help out with a community garden or put a neighborhood watch together to keep your community safe. Other ways that you can help out in your own neighborhood include volunteering for your homeowners association or organizing carpools to reduce the amount of traffic and pollution in your area.
Support Local Businesses and Activities
Giving local companies your business provides them with financial support and helps them stay afloat. This can encourage other small businesses to open in your area. You can also get involved in local activities and events to support your community, such as art festivals and other cultural events, local community classes, and coaching youth sports.
Environmental and Sustainability Initiatives
If your focus is on the environment and sustainability, you can join a local environmental group or start your own if there are none in your area. Consider leading awareness campaigns about how to protect your local environment or organizing cleanup activities and events for local parks, ponds, and other outdoor areas to remove harmful debris and reduce pollution. You can organize and lead sustainability initiatives at work, at local schools, or at churches. You might also organize municipal initiatives focused on environmental concerns and sustainability.
If a career in civic engagement sounds right for you, please contact the University at Minnesota College of Continuing and Professional Studies (UMN CCAPS). Our school offers a Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Civic Engagement. This program includes courses such as Critical Approaches to Civic Engagement, Data for Decision Making, and Facilitating Community-Driven Leadership. With these courses, you can develop the skills needed to advance your career in civic engagement.