15 ideas for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” It’s therefore unsurprising that the Civil Rights leader’s eponymous day was designated as a day of service in 1994. This eventually became part of Serve.gov, the President’s national call to service initiative.


So, since you have the third Monday in January off (which is especially well-timed in 2018 as it falls on Dr. King’s actual birthday), here are 15 ideas for how your organization can take part in Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

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  1. Volunteer for your own organization: If your organization runs on volunteer power, you can join those on the frontlines. Answer phones at your hotline, deliver meals, or assemble care packages.
  2. Volunteer outside of your organization: Soup kitchens and food pantries always need an extra pair of hands.
  3. Go where you’re needed: If you want to volunteer but aren’t sure where to start, the United Way has got you covered.
  4. Offer your talent to another organization in need: Find someone at another nonprofit that is getting on its feet or looking to pivot into an area of your expertise. Offer to take them out for a coffee on MLK Day and pay it forward with your expertise on whatever they need — be it marketing copy, website development, or donor cultivation.
  5. Meet with the next generation: If you don’t have another nonprofit buddy in need, there are always students who want to know how they get from where they are to where you are. You can do this one-on-one, or you can reach out to a local teacher who may be looking to introduce their senior class to career possibilities.
  6. Call your reps: We know you’ve probably been intending to do this forever. Using a website like 5Calls, you can get the appropriate numbers, issues, and scripts. Make a difference in your community around the issues that matter to you and start dialing.
  7. Lend some sugar: Teacher and head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche says that society doesn’t necessarily need to be a large collective of people — it can be just two people having tea. Likewise, your day of service doesn’t need to benefit everyone in your community. Shovel your neighbor’s driveway, buy a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line at Starbucks, or babysit your friend’s kids if they have to work.
  8. Become an organ donor: One American dies nearly every hour waiting for a transplant, yet a single organ donor can save as many as eight lives. Plus, you can register to become an organ donor online, from the comfort of your own living room.
  9. Donate blood: It’s easy to find a blood drive in your area. And you get a free cookie afterwards.
  10. Clean out your closet for good: Organizations like Dress for Success and Career Gear will take your gently-used clothing and donate it to men and women looking to create a better future for themselves so that they have better professional opportunities.
  11. Or Kondo your bookshelf for good: There are a number of places that will take your books and send them to places that will put them to good use — be it active duty soldiers, children in Africa, or the incarcerated. Here’s a roundup from the Huffington Post.
  12. Crowdfund for a cause: Make #MLKDay the next #GivingTuesday and set up a crowdfunding campaign for a cause. Facebook or CrowdRise make it easy to set this up. Offer crazy incentives like taking a run around the block in your bathing suit if you hit your goal.
  13. Teach the next generation about Dr. King: There are several great children’s books about Martin Luther King, and plenty of opportunities to read about them to kids. Contact your local independent bookseller, library, or children’s hospital.
  14. Organize a community cleanup: Find a park, community garden, or other public area that needs a little TLC and get it into tip-top shape.
  15. Host a think and drink: Host a salon on Dr. King’s life and teachings and how they can apply to your community — and make sure you make some actionable next steps to go along with it.


Want more volunteering and crowdfunding tips? Start with our guide on measuring volunteer impact and crowdfunding best practices.