Direct Service & Site-Based Teams

Strategy  •  Background  •  Next Steps  •  Available Resources


Direct service has been and remains the central focus of campus community outreach efforts.  This direct service is provided to individuals or communities to meet social, educational, or environmental needs such as tutoring children, providing compassion to senior citizens, feeding the hungry, and cleaning streams.  This is true of the Bonner Program, too.  This service may be provided directly or indirectly through a student-initiated project or a project sponsored by a non-profit or government agency.

Direct (client) service is the backbone of most campus community engagement, and is usually coordinating by students in site- or issue-based teams.  Click to enlarge.

From a developmental perspective, students often begin their community service with one-time and short-term service projects such as painting a classroom or building a playground.  These experiences provide students a firsthand introduction to the local community and a direct experience with the issues, programs, and community leaders who are addressing them.  In fact, it is difficult to imagine a student developmental model that doesn’t have direct service as a foundation upon which higher levels of understanding, relationship building, and engagement are built.  

On campuses, these volunteer programs are often coordinated through student-led site- or issue-based teams which provide the on-campus structure for sustained volunteer recruitment, training, and management, especially important in light of the annual transition of student leaders.

For Bonners, we envision both sustained engagement in direct community service for their early years in the program and the opportunity for them to develop their skills, knowledge, and values as student service leaders on site- or issue-based teams.

Connection to Community Impact

When done well, community partners rely upon Bonners and other student volunteers who are well trained and supported, and who, as a result, can sustain their engagement in their community-based programs regularly throughout the school year.   In addition, as a by-product of their sustained engagement and extensive training, Bonners often become site- or issue-based team leaders, even as early as their second year in the program, thus assisting their host organization in managing other volunteers.

The other important impact of sustained direct-service engagement by students is that it builds the trust by the community partner in individual students and the campus as a whole which sets the stage for developing other opportunities for campus engagement in the organization, including capacity building projects.  

Connection to Student Impact

This chart shows a sample developmental progression, beginning with direct service.  Click to enlarge.

Students want to do real things that matter.  And they want to see the impact of their efforts.  Direct community service, and leading site- or issue-based teams, gives them that opportunity.  

In the process, student build their skills, knowledge, and confidence to make even larger impact through their community engagement.  They also come to understand the challenges people and communities face, and begin to identify ways they can be part of the solution to those challenges.

The Bonner education, training, and reflection curriculum is an essential ingredient in this developmental process, and helps accelerate it.

Connection to Campus Impact

Student led site- or issue-based teams are the backbone of campus-wide community engagement efforts, and usually account for a large percentage of student community service hours on any campus.  Providing consistent, quality education and training for student service leaders improves the experience for everyone involved in the service placements and the community outcomes they can achieve.


Overview of Bonner process for developing and managing community partnerships and student placements.  Click to view.

Well-developed community partnerships are necessary for creating change within our local communities, nation, and even the world. The Bonner Program rests on a commitment to meaningful, long-term service commitments to the partners and communities with which we work. These relationships are intended to be intentional and reciprocal. Each campus program develops a long-term approach, working with key partners year after year.  This dedication to community partners promotes more significant change, resource development, and capacity building for our communities—as well as allows for personal and professional growth for each volunteer.

Campuses use a developmental approach for establishing and maintaining partnerships, moving from short-term academic or co-curricular projects to sustained, deep partnerships that engage in multiple levels of service placements and projects.  

The process of building and maintaining community partnerships is supported through the annual review of the opportunities and accomplishments, planning retreats, and on-going communication with campus staff and students.

Next Steps

As we discuss in the section on student-led, campus-wide engagement, we are actively working with schools to develop or strengthen this component of their centers.

Available Resources

See resources on Campus-Wide Student Leadership here on our wiki.