In 2015, Service Year Alliance commissioned an intensive research survey with the help of Penn Schoen Berland on the awareness and perception of the service year experience.
The research revealed several key messages that resonate with different audiences when discussing a service year. For example, researchers found that parents, millennials, and youth ages 14-17 who are not familiar with service years were most concerned about distance from family, affordability, doubt about the opportunity, safety, lack of information/familiarity, and the potential to be taken off a career or education track. To appropriately address these concerns for each audience, it is important to emphasize the opportunities and incentives that come with a service year experience.
For example, the top three service year benefits that each group ranked are the opportunity to gain skills, build experience, and experience personal growth. We found that tangible, educational incentives — such as class credits and tuition awards — drive interest as well. The terms “rewarding” and “educational” were top traits for Parents and Youth that increased interest, and for Millennials, the words “life-changing” peaked their interest.
This research is the basis of Service Year Alliance’s branding and messaging around the service year experience, and we’ve found that implementing it in our promotional materials has dramatically increased interest and awareness around a service year. We encourage service year programs on ServiceYear.org to implement this messaging whenever possible to build brand awareness about the service year experience and peak the interest of target audiences.
What is a service year?
A service year is a paid opportunity to develop real-world skills through hands-on service. This life-changing experience is a chance to impact the lives of others and drive change in communities.
It’s an extraordinary year that transforms your life and your community. It’s not your typical path; it’s an experience for A Better You. A Greater Us.
What is "A Better You. A Greater Us."?
A Better You: What’s in it for me?
Research shows that millennials (18-24) find experiential and tangible outcomes — such as cultural immersion and education awards — to be their biggest incentives to complete a year of service. When talking about a service year, we lead off with messaging that highlights the personal benefits of the experience.
A Greater Us: How am I helping the community?
While millennials are more interested in how a year of service will benefit them, younger audiences (14-17) are more incentivized by how their involvement can help a community. We always want to highlight impact and stories of success in communities to show how a service year can leave its mark on society and make our world stronger.
“A Better You. A Greater Us.” is Service Year Alliance’s tagline and the foundation for all of our messaging.
Our research found that when talking about the benefits of a service year, appealing to young people’s self-interest outperforms content that appeals to their sense of altruism. For example, when we start a statement about a service year by emphasizing the career or financial benefits vs. impacting communities, the message resonates better with youth and millennials.
Of course, service years also make a tremendous impact in local communities and on the individual, so we are sure to touch on how a service year can build a “greater us” as a community and country.
Sample Recruitment Pitch
A service year is a paid opportunity to develop real-world skills through hands-on service.
Whether you’re in high school or college, or looking to find your path — a service year gives you the chance to develop leadership and professional skills, make an impact on the lives of others, and become the active citizens and leaders our nation needs.
Service years have the power to revitalize cities, uplift and educate children at risk, and empower communities struggling with poverty. They can unite the most diverse nation in history, binding people of different backgrounds through common cause and inspire the next generation to become the leaders our country needs.
How do I talk about a service year and my program at the same time?
A great way to adopt the service year brand is by updating the way you talk about your service year program.
Here are some examples of using the term “service year” when talking about your program:
You can get paid to do a service year with City Year.
A service year with Health Corps helps build skills and experience that will lead to greater success in your college and career.
AmeriCorps offers young people a life-changing service year experience.
Messages to highlight, by audience:
Youth Age 14-17: personal growth, exposure to other cultures, aspirational/greater good
Millennials: personal growth, exposure to other cultures, tangible rewards of stipend and tuition award
Parents: personal growth, education
How to address perceived barriers for a service year:
Provide information up-front about the barriers associated with doing a year of service; offer budgeting tools and guidelines for applying for benefits, and outline additional supports that corps members will receive during their service term.
Offer to connect prospective corps members to current corps members and alums so they can share their experiences of living on a stipend while developing skills & experience.
Messaging Dos & Don’ts
Penn Schoen Berland research proved that the terms shown on the left are more influential to potential corps members than the terms on the right. This list should be referred to throughout the copywriting process to ensure your messaging resonates with our target audience.