Have you done some volunteer work or community service and want to get a letter that shows how many hours you've completed and what jobs you did? Or maybe you need a community service letter to apply for a scholarship, job, or to a particular college? Do you know who you should ask to write the letter and what it should include?
Read on to learn what a community service letter is, why it’s useful, and how you can get a great one written for you.
What Is a Community Service Letter and Why Would You Need One?
A community service letter is a letter that explains where you did your community service, how many hours you worked, and what duties and responsibilities that work included. It may also include additional information, such as the dates you worked, if you had a specific job title, and contact information from the organization.
There is no standard format for a community service letter, so what they look like and the amount of information they include can vary widely. Some letters are little more than a form with a few lines that your supervisor signs. Others are more like a standard letter of recommendation and can be several paragraphs long, explaining in detail the work you did and what your personal strengths are.
What Is a Community Service Letter Used For?
A community service letter provides proof that you completed volunteer work, and it also gives more information on what duties and responsibilities that work included. Having that information can be useful for multiple situations, including the following:
If your community service work was particularly important for you, for example, if you spent a significant amount of time at one location, worked for an organization that is in the same field as your future career, or reference your community service work in other parts of your application, then you may want to attach a community service letter to your college application to provide proof of your volunteer service and give more information about your work.
There are many community service scholarships available, and some require a letter or proof of your community service as part of the application.
If you include your community service work on your resume (which you should, many jobs count volunteer work as work experience), attaching your community service letter gives the employer more information about your work, as well as a way for them to contact the organization.
Some high schools require students to complete a certain amount of community service hours before they graduate, as do some extracurricular organizations, such as certain chapters of the National Honor Society. Your community service letter provides proof that you completed those hours.
Some high schools require community service in order to graduate, or to graduate with honors
Now that you know what a community service letter is and when you may need one, read on to learn about the steps you should take in order to get a great letter.
1. Get Strong Community Service Experiences
It may seem obvious, but the better your community service experience, the stronger your community service letter will be. They are multiple ways to get solid community service experience:
Volunteer Primarily With One Organization
Having a strong community service letter from one place that goes into detail about the work you did is better than having a bunch of letters that show you did a couple of hours of work, then moved on to the next organization.
Sticking mostly to one location shows dedication and commitment, and it allows the people writing your letter to go more into detail about you and the work you did. Volunteering often at one place may also lead to increased responsibilities, which will strengthen your letter because it shows that you are gaining more skills and are seen as trustworthy and responsible.
Get to Know Your Supervisors and the People You Work With
You should make it a point to regularly make small talk with the people you’re around while volunteering. This includes supervisors, other workers, and any people you may be helping. The person writing your community service letter will always be able to write a stronger letter if they actually know you because they will be able to include more details about your personality and skills.
Work at a Place You Care About
While you may think that some places are “better” or more impressive to work at, what’s really most impressive to schools and employers is you showing a passion for the organization you volunteer for. Even if you have a volunteer experience that you think is very impressive, if you don’t particularly enjoy it or care about the issue much, this will show when you are asked to speak or write about it for applications or jobs.
For example, if you volunteer for, say, a video game conference and put in a lot of time and got a lot of the community involved in participating, this will be more impressive because your community service letter will show that you’ve done more work, and the person writing the letter will be able to discuss your evident passion and dedication to the job.
2. Think About Who You Should Ask to Write Your Letter
Who you ask to write your letter will depend on both what the letter should include as well as any restrictions the place you are sending the letter to has. Your first step should be to check with the school, scholarship, or job you’re submitting the letter to in order to see if they have requirements for who can write your letter.
Your supervisor is mostly likely the person you'll ask. Many scholarships and colleges require your supervisor or another person working above you to be the person who writes your letter. Your supervisor is a great person to ask because they have a good idea of the work you've done and usually know you pretty well.
However, there may be some circumstances when you don't interact with your supervisor much, for example, if they work mostly weekdays, and you volunteer on weekends. This isn't a problem if you only need a short letter that lists your duties and when you volunteered; your supervisor can still write that even if they don't know you well. If you need a more in-depth letter that describes your personality and specific examples of your work, and you don't have a close relationship with your supervisor, you may want to ask someone else to write your letter. Only do this if the person or place you are submitting your letter to allows it!
If you are able to submit a letter written by someone other than your supervisor, ask a coworker or someone else you worked closely with and who knows you and the work you did well. It's personal details that separate good community service letters from great ones, so you want someone who can recount specific anecdotes and examples of your work. You may also be able to have a coworker write your letter and your supervisor sign it, verifying that the information is correct.
In any case, don't just choose your best friend at community service to write your letter. You want someone who can write professionally about the work you did and explain clearly why you are a strong worker.
It will most likely be your supervisor or boss who writes your community service letter
3. Ask Them!
Once you have decided who you want to write your community service letter, the next step is to ask. If all you need is a short form filled out, this will not be a big deal, and your supervisor may be able to complete it right then and there. However, if you need a longer, more detailed letter, you will want to give the person writing your letter enough time to complete it, so try to ask them early. At least a month before the letter is due is ideal.
You should ask for a letter in person. It's more personal and mature, and it gives you an easy way to set up a follow-up meeting (see the next section). As for what exactly you should say, there are a lot of ways to ask. One example is:
"I've really enjoyed doing community service work here and learning new skills and meeting new people. I'm applying to a scholarship/job/college and need to submit a reference letter from my community service, and I'd be flattered if you would be willing to write me a strong letter."
After you've asked, make sure you also give the person writing your letter all the information they need to submit a great letter on time. If there are any specific instructions they need to follow, make sure they have them. Also, make sure they know when the letter needs to be completed. If they will be sending the letter themselves, remember to provide them with the proper mailing address or e-mail address.
4. Discuss What You'd Like to Be Included in Your Letter
As mentioned previously, community service letters can vary widely in length, content, and format. After you ask your supervisor or coworker to write you a letter and they agree, ask to set up a time to discuss what information you would like the letter to include.
You may only need them to state the number of hours you completed and list what your duties were. However, if you’re using this letter as a way to give an employer or school more details about your personality and strengths, you will want the letter to include more.
Talk to the person writing your letter about what you’d like them to write about. Sample ideas include:
- Details of any major projects you worked on.
- Specific examples of you going above and beyond expectations.
- Specific examples of you working well with others.
- Particular work you did that you’d like to be emphasized (for example if having those skills or experiences will be useful for a future job or class).
Final Things to Remember
Before you ask for a community service letter, remember to think about what information you’d like the letter to include, and how in-depth you’d like it to be.
After you receive your letter, double-check it to make sure all the information is correct, including the number of hours you worked and when you worked them. Many organizations have multiple volunteers working for them, and it can be easy for information to get mixed-up.
Send your supervisor or co-worker a thank you note after they complete your letter.
- Make copies of the letters you receive so that you can use them for multiple college, scholarship, or job applications if you need to.
Are you applying to a community service scholarship? Many of these scholarships are quite competitive; fortunately, we have a guide that gives you all the tips you need to maximize your chances of winning these scholarships.
Do you need other letters of recommendation? Read our complete guide on how to ask for a letter of recommendation to ensure you get the strongest letters possible.
Do you need to write an essay about your community service as well, whether for a scholarship or graduation requirement? We have a guide that gives step-by-step instructions on how to write a great community service essay.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.