Campus-wide Student Move-Out & Donations Drive at Georgetown University

May 20, 2015

In any given May, Georgetown University's Washington, D.C., campus is a maze of rolling carts and plastic bins stuffed with students' things. It's a scene replicated across the country at the end of every school year, with many students discarding their unwanted sofas, coffee makers, and other items on the curb.

To harness the energy--and leftovers--of move-out day for a good cause, this year Georgetown added a new item to the familiar move-out landscape: a set of portable storage units where students could drop off appliances, furniture, and other donations for local organizations serving the homeless.

The effort was part of a partnership with KEYS for the Homeless in Annandale, Virginia. The organization collects gently used goods that can be given directly to individuals in need. According to founder and President Valerie Guste Johnson, collaborations like this offer students a way to get rid of their things in a socially responsible manner, and help agencies meet their communities’ needs on a tiny budget.

For eight years, Johnson has worked with D.C.-area colleges to repurpose students’ items at the end of the academic year. She says the 2015 drive at Georgetown collected goods worth approximately $47,000 for programs and their clients. A bonus result: Students become more aware of local organizations working to prevent and end homelessness, Johnson says.

"When there’s an acknowledgement of where your donations are being placed in the community from the get-go, there’s an educational component that is really significant,” Johnson says. “People do become more aware of what’s out there in the community.”

Five Tips for Hosting a Successful Campus Move-Out Drive : Items collected from students can be given to young people and families in your programs. The items can also be sold at “yard sales” to raise funds for your agency. No matter which route you choose, take these five steps to make the process more effective:

1. Start early. Reach out to universities at the beginning of the school year, or in early winter at the latest, to form partnerships and discuss logistics, says Lisa Heller Boragine. She's been helping communities plan college re-sale events since 2000, when she started the nonprofit agency Dump & Run. “You really need an academic year to plan effectively,” she says. And a well-run event makes partners more likely to participate in the future.

2. Find a university advocate. Finding a "campus champion" like a university's office for residential life or a student-led volunteer group can open lots of doors, Boragine says. For example, schools may require outside organizations to fill out more paperwork than a university department or student group. Schools may also limit your access to on-campus buildings if you're not affiliated with a campus group.

3. Be open to change. Johnson encourages agencies to meet often with campus organizers to discuss strategy and to work through obstacles that arise. Georgetown organizers scrapped their original plan to collect items in the dorms, for example, in favor of outside storage pods manned by volunteers. The switch encouraged students to clean and sort their donations more intentionally than they might if they could simply drag them down the hall.

4. Put yourself in college students’ shoes. College students may be wonderful at promoting and planning campus move-out events, Boragine says, but they may (understandably) be less reliable once exams hit. Boragine advises agencies to recruit volunteers from local groups like Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, and to stagger their schedules with more volunteers posted in the final days before the dorms close.

5. View the event as a long-term partnership. Think of move-out events as potential multi-year collaborations with room to grow, Johnson says. Agencies worried about the time and expense of storing large items, for example, can start small by asking colleges to collect women’s clothing or nonperishable food. Hosting a small, well-executed drive in the first year, she says, can keep the door open for future conversations.  

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