Change in a Day: Outcomes of the RGK Center's First "Service Jam"

In Fall 2014, master’s students from Dr. Sarah Jane Rehnborg's Mobilizing Communities and Engaging Volunteers class were responsible for planning and implementing a 12-hour online brainstorming session involving 200 pre-registered guests and approximately 100 participants. This event was sponsored by the OneStar Foundation and the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service in partnership with the Texas Association of Volunteer Centers and United Way for Greater Austin. The theme of the event, known as a “service jam,” was short-term volunteer projects. In preparation for the online Service Jam each student attended an episodic or short-term volunteer service opportunity, also known as a day of service.

Service Jams provide opportunities for people to come together online to discuss innovations and challenges in their field, pose and explore questions, and exchange ideas. Participants post or respond to questions on message boards, share their concerns and/or experiences on a topic, and, hopefully, as a result, gain greater understanding and knowledge that will help them to be better managers, innovators, or volunteers in the service sector.

Service Jam participants were recruited though a variety of measures, including e-mail list serves, Facebook, the OneStar website, the RGK website, and word of mouth. The majority of the Service Jam participants were staff of nonprofit organizations. Other participants included volunteers and staff at for-profit companies. A number of experts in the world of volunteerism were also invited to participate in the Jam, in part to attract attention to the event, and to ensure a high level of dialogue. Almost all participants were located in the state of Texas and in urban areas, but there was also some limited participation from individuals in New York, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, Ohio, California, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.

Students organizing the "jam" came away from the process with a much deeper understanding of the real-world needs of professional volunteer managers.  

You can read the entire report here. The report provides a summary of the event beginning with a brief history of “jams” and an overview of the logistics of creating and executing the Service Jam. From there, the report explores the content of the jam in terms of four major areas or themes related to short-term service. Discussion includes reflections on short-term volunteer experiences in which students participated in preparation for the jam, a review of the research on the topic, and a summary of the online conversations conducted during the jam by theme. The report concludes with major takeaways from the experience and possibilities for future research that could be useful for individuals or groups interested in conducting their own jam.