Italian community service projects (Progetti utili alla collettività, PUCs) constitute a key component of Italian Citizenship Income (Reddito di Cittadinanza, RdC) which – although the name implies a totally unconditional measure – has put beneficiary activation at the core of the Italian anti-poverty strategy. The RdC is a means-tested cash benefit, with several activation and conditionality requirements, depending on beneficiaries’ (in)ability to work. Except for those exempt under the law, all RdC beneficiaries are required to consent to join PUCs under penalty of forfeiture of the subsidy. PUCs thus represent an activation requirement similar to those that have been spreading in the European minimum income schemes (MISs), particularly since the launch of the Lisbon Strategy and the consequent «activation turn». However, the Italian legislation specifies that PUCs are not only an obligation but also «an opportunity for inclusion and growth» for the beneficiaries and the local communities, according to a perspective of empowerment regarding the beneficiaries and community development. Given this twofold value (required counter-performance and empowerment), PUCs are particularly interesting in the European landscape, where similar mandatory unpaid work experience or public work for MIS recipients is quite uncommon and little studied. This article aims to help reduce this knowledge gap, first by examining the PUC experience in light of the international literature on active inclusion and other community service experiences in Europe. In addition, through qualitative empirical research, this article enters the black box of PUC implementation at the local level by investigating which factors are preventing – or promoting – their efficient functioning. The research questions can be summarized as follows: How are the Italian PUCs placed with respect to other community service requirements in Europe, and how do they serve the dual function of counter-performance and empowerment? What factors (regulatory, institutional, organizational, and cultural) influence the implementation phase by bringing the PUCs closer to or further away from the scope that the legislation attributes to them?