‘Service’ is stodgy. What’s a better word for what we do?

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week and people across the U.S. come together to help each other and work toward solving our common problems, we’d like to pose the question: what exactly is social good?


What’s this guy doing? You tell us.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

At Idealist, we’re all about helping people find the information, connections, and resources they need to turn their good intentions into action.

As blog writers, we’re all about making keen, conscious word choices that we hope will excite, motivate, and paint a vivid picture for our readers.

At the intersection of these aims is one of our favorite essays by Idealist founder Ami Dar, published as part of Fast Company and Catchafire’s “Co.Exist: World Changing Ideas and Innovation” series in the spring of 2012. Here’s an excerpt:

Outside of the military, who goes to a dinner party and asks people where they “serve”? Only we, the organizations and foundations that make up the “service industrial complex” talk this way. People want to build, coach, teach, help, and if we want to engage them, we have to talk like them.

Read the whole thing on Co.Exist.

What words might better describe “service” to you? Tell us in the comments.



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We need a new word for "service"


Ami points out that "Kaboom! invites people to build playgrounds," in strong, active language. (Photo: Ft. Meade Public Affairs, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Today on Fast Company, our founder Ami Dar writes:

To help more people take the leap from good intentions to action, we need better words for what we do. “Service,” “volunteerism,” “civic engagement”—even “nonprofit” and “social entrepreneurship”—are all weak substitutes for the action-oriented verbs that people actually use to describe how they work together and help one another.

Click here to read the rest of the piece. Thanks to Fast Company and Catchafire for including Ami in the “Co.Exist: World Changing Ideas and Innovation” series.

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From The Service to nonprofit service: Career resources for vets

By Amy Potthast.


U.S. Army 1st Lt. Anthony Buchanan gets a hug after reading to children on "Read with a Hero Day." (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Kilka, Creative Commons)

In 2010, Daniel Finan separated from the Navy. He told us recently, “I was sure I was going to get stuck doing some kind of intelligence work or defense contracting because of my military background. Not what I wanted to do, at all.”

For veterans, the task of searching for a rewarding job—something in the civilian world that is as satisfying and selfless as service-to-country—has its complications.

  • Military service is more than a job — it’s a mission, it’s a challenge, it’s an identity, and it involves caring for the people you serve with. You can’t leave that kind of high-stakes job and be satisfied with just anything that pays the bills.
  • Over a million vets are unemployed, and their spouses (who move around frequently) are facing unemployment rates of 25 percent.
  • As sector switchers, vets entering the nonprofit sector must learn to translate their experiences and skills so that civilian employers get it.

After four months of searching and applying for positions he found on Idealist, Daniel landed a job at the Institute of International Education, as program manager of the International Visitor Leadership Program sponsored by the Department of State’s Educational and Cultural Affairs Division.

If you are like Daniel, hoping to transition from military missions to nonprofit missions, you may benefit from these insights:

1) Network. Your path to a satisfying public service career at home is paved with relationships. Relationships will help you figure out your new career niche, learn where to look for jobs, and familiarize yourself with the lingo and philosophies of the sector.

Resources to check out:

2) Volunteer. A great way to build relationships in the nonprofit sector is to volunteer with organizations that mean something to you. You should list your volunteer position and job duties on your resume — in line with paid positions. Search volunteer listings here on Idealist or refer to these other resources.

Resources to check out:

  • Mission Serve, a program of ServiceNation, connects vets and civilians through volunteering — often an entry point to careers in the nonprofit sector. Its blog is filled with stories of vets who have found meaning in service here at home.
  • AmeriCorps isn’t technically volunteering, but it is full-time, stipended service here at home. Opportunities exist throughout the States and Territories and service comes with an education award of about $5,000 to put towards school.

3) Lead with issue. Many sector switchers wonder, “what employer needs my skill set?” Coming from military training and service, it’s clear you have a strong set of unique skills that a nonprofit will put to good use.

But in the nonprofit sector, more important questions to ask are, what am I passionate about? What change do I want to see in the world? Consider the social or environmental issues that you are most concerned with, and find ways to work on them professionally.

Resources to check out:

Your turn to weigh in! Are you transitioning out of the Service? What secrets or success stories can you share?

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

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Postcard from New York: September 11th and the "Compassion Boom"

Joanna Eng, our Web Editor and the editor of the Idealist in NYC blog, had the opportunity to watch speakers and entertainers—including Hillary Clinton, David Paterson, Caroline Kennedy, Gavin DeGraw, and the Roots—last Friday as they commemorated the newly-deemed September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance. Following are some excerpts from her blog post about the experience. Read the full entry here.

By Flickr user Sister72 (Creative Commons)

So many of the acts of kindness performed on and after 9/11 inspired others to take action too: Secretary of State Clinton marveled at the thousands of people from out of town who converged on our city to help with relief and recovery efforts, and people across the country who organized benefit concerts to help fund relief efforts. A few years later, many New Yorkers decided to return the favor by traveling down to Louisiana and Mississippi to assist with relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

After Cindy McGinty’s husband was killed on September 11, her neighbor, who had a local landscaping business, came to mow her lawn for free every single week for eight years, until McGinty moved out of town. She later decided to help start the nonprofit Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund and serve on its board of directors, but she said that she would never have thought of doing anything like that if her generous neighbor hadn’t inspired her towards service.

Glenn Winuk was a volunteer firefighter from Jericho, Long Island, who lost his life in the 9/11 attacks. His death and service propelled his brother, Jay Winuk, to co-found My Good Deed.

In his closing speech, Winuk described the Day of Service and Remembrance as a “forward-looking, caring, useful way” for us to remember September 11. Another speaker, Nicola Goren (acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs AmeriCorps), saw it as just one more way to formalize the fact that “a bona fide compassion boom is evident.” People throughout the country found ways to volunteer on Friday, but my guess is that for most of them (and most of us at the event that evening), the commitment to public service lasts year round.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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