Serve America Act Update: What Nonprofits Can and Should Be Doing Now

President Obama signs the Serve America Act in front of Congressional leaders.After so many months of anxious build-up, the signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in April may feel like a signal to volunteer managers that now is the time to relax.

Not so fast.

Successful policy is a product of good legislation and good implementation both – and there’s still plenty left to do before the hopes of volunteer managers can be fully realized.

A recent Energize Inc. article by nonprofit management consultants Paula J. Beugen and Susan Ellis makes the precarious state of things abundantly clear. Beugen and Ellis do a terrific job explaining where the Act is today and what nonprofits can and should be doing now to prepare to tap into new funding from the Act.

The authors have two main points. First, as Beugen reminds readers, now is the time to get board members, executives, and other stakeholders involved in discussions about expanding programs through increasing volunteer capacity.

Second, as Ellis points out, not all is rosy or clear with the Act. For starters, certain portions of the Act calls for new investment in AmeriCorps roles that could, theoretically, crowd out paid positions in the sector over time.

Writes Ellis,

The Act directs the Corporation for National and Community Service to deploy AmeriCorps members into positions that will leverage more community volunteers.  In other words, agencies will expect AmeriCorps to become a source for volunteer program development…. Will increased engagement of AmeriCorps members as volunteer coordinators substitute for future commitments to the employment of professional, ongoing volunteer resources managers?

Ellis also notes that other areas of the Act are vaguely written and could be subject to lots of interpretation — especially the provision for funding social innovation projects:

The language is vague and we should watch whether there will be open competition for the funds or whether they will, in essence, be earmarked for certain pass-through recipients.

The piece is a great reminder that now is a time for vigilance and involvement — not rest. For tips on what you can do to strengthen the implementation of the Serve America Act, here’s a link to the rest of the article.

(Photo – Greg Baldwin, VolunteerMatch)