What Does Patrick Corvington Need to Know?

10_0211_corvington_200America has a new top promoter for volunteering, and his name is Patrick Corvington.

On February 18, Corvington was sworn in as the new CEO for the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that is the nation’s largest grantmaker for service and volunteering. He takes over from interim chief Nicola Goren, who helped bridge the pre-Serve America Act and post-Serve America Act periods for the Corporation.

What is Corvington getting into? According to the press release, he joins the agency in a time of “unprecedented social need and support for national service.”

We couldn’t agree more about the need, with social service budgets being slashed across the country, massive layoffs, record foreclosures, and gridlock on Capitol Hill.

As for support, the money is certainly there. While nonprofits across the nation shrinking their operations, the Serve America Act’s bipartisan backing has meant a $260 million-plus increase in funds for federal programs like AmeriCorps, SeniorCorps, and Learn and Serve America. And more people are talking about volunteering that seemingly ever before, even if the needle has not yet substantially moved on involvement.

Impact Uncertain

And yet, as things stand today, the impact of the Corporation for National and Community Service has not been felt across the sector.

Most nonprofits aren’t tuned into the Corporation or how national service could help their operations.

Most volunteers have little sense for who is behind national promotions like MLK Day, much less an interest in signing up for national service programs, stipended or not. (It doesn’t help that some aspects of the Corporation’s communications haven’t been updated in an eternity — this page appears to date back to 2004.)

Meanwhile, a few whispers are being heard that the Serve America Act may have it all wrong.

Some say the already limited funding for social innovators and volunteer referral programs has too many strings attached or that key funds have already been unfairly earmarked as pork for state commissions.

Paula Bergin and Susan Ellis, influential voices on volunteer management, even expressed their fears that putting lightly trained AmeriCorps members in a management capacity for a limited time could actually destroy many volunteer programs.

New Focus on Capacity Building

But the new hire could mean the Corporation has turned the corner — especially with regard to a renewed focus on increasing the ability of organizations to effectively recruit and manage volunteers. Corvington got the job in large part because his background aligns with the Corporation’s renewed focus on “capacity building” from the Serve America Act.

At the Annie E. Casey Foundation he helped guide the foundation’s grantees on issues related to leadership development, next generation leadership, and capacity building. Before that he led the Innovation Network, a nonprofit agency whose mission is to build nonprofit capacity, and conducted policy research in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Center at The Urban Institute, the think-tank that was responsible for one of the most important studies on the sector over the last decade.

With Corvington running the agency and money about to start flowing out of the funded coffers, the time appears right for your organization to plug into programs that could make a huge difference.

So what do you think, volunteer managers? Are you ready for real capacity building support? More importantly, what does Patrick Corvington need to know about your program as he prepares to try to help you? Share your advice for America’s top volunteer promoter below.

(Photo: CNCS)