What will the national service moment look like?

"This is our moment – what we have worked for, over the years has brought us to this moment.”
 – Patrick Corvington, CEO, Corporation for National and Community Service (June 29, 2010)

 

The CEO transition between David Eisner and Corvington created a large outflow of key personnel and required a temporary management team composed primarily of long-standing Corporation employees in acting positions who ran the agency for 15 months (many more months than initially anticipated). That team, led by acting CEO Nicola Goren (now president at the Washington Area Women’s Foundation), pushed for the Corporation's reauthorization through the Serve America Act, received and allocated $200 million in Recovery Act funding, and expanded the agency's budget and scope.

Corvington came on board at a critical moment for the Corporation as it geared up to focus on components of the Edward M Kennedy Serve America Act including growing national service programs such as AmeriCorps and launching new initiatives such as the Social Innovation Fund, Volunteer Generation Fund, Summer of Service, and the Nonprofit Capacity Building Program.

The fulfillment of those initiatives will take place over the next few months. The Social Innovation Fund will announce its intermediary awards this month. In August, the Corporation will announce the award recipients for the $4 million Volunteer Generation Fund, “designed to increase the number of people who serve in meaningful roles as volunteers.” In September, the Corporation will announce the grant recipients for the $1 million Nonprofit Capacity Building Program.

As we move beyond the immediate timeframe, though, Corvington will be in a position to firmly define his vision for national service and chart the ongoing course for the agency. Part of that vision was revealed in Corvington’s speech at the National Conference on Volunteerism and Service. In his speech Corvington challenged the service community to “focus on a narrow set of outcomes and drive relentlessly toward those results.” He also stated that “we have a mandate to place service at the center of our response to big national problems.”

I’m deeply interested in learning more about which outcomes the Corporation will aim to generate and how it will assess its achievements. I’m also interested in learning more on how the agency, under Corvington’s leadership, will embrace and articulate the mandate he identified. And yet I’m concerned that Corvington has not built enough support within the national service field to deliver on the mandate.

The conference represented a major moment in Corvington’s relationship with the national service field.  People who attended the conference commented through Twitter and blog posts about how well the conference was organized and the wonderful service moments it delivered (such as the Target’s Party for Good profiled by Susan Hyatt).  And yet, in a few direct discussions I had with friends who attended the conference, a common theme emerged indicating that Corvington remains an unknown and distant partner who has not been fully embraced by the national service community.

In order to capitalize on the moment Corvington identified in his speech, I believe we will need a stronger and more definitive understanding of his vision and priorities. It will certainly be voiced and informed through the Corporation’s upcoming five-year strategic plan and listening tour, which was launched at the conference. Ultimately, that vision will have to sustain the national service community as it continues to scale up and grow, but also as it generates the inevitable new round of criticism.

 

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