The Volunteer Generation Fund came into being with the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in early 2009. Its main purpose, as you might remember, was to increase the number of people who volunteer in “high quality volunteer positions” by building capacity at “volunteer connector organizations” — exclusively defined as state volunteer commissions.
At VolunteerMatch we see nonprofits using our service in innovative ways to recruit for high quality roles, oh, just about every single day. And ideally, with the support from the Volunteer Generation Fund and your state commission, your ability to do this will increase. At least, that was the idea when the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) promised a focus on capacity building for nonprofits when it introduced the Volunteer Generation Fund.
Back then, CNCS had just gotten a new CEO, and many observers were concerned there was too much focus on national stipend volunteer programs like Americorps, and not enough left over to support for community service organizations and their volunteer managers. And the evidence seemed to support this, with just $4 million for the provocatively named Volunteer Generation Fund out of a billion-dollar (plus) sized budget.
Flash forward to this week, when CNCS has just announced the 19 state commission grantees that will receive this money. Together they have a daunting set of tasks ahead:
- Develop effective approaches to increase the number of volunteers
- Strengthen the capacity of volunteer connector organizations to recruit and retain volunteers
- Develop strategies to effectively use volunteers to solve local problems.
Among the grantees include organizations like California Volunteers, Massachusetts Service Alliance, and ServeWyoming. Each commission has received a different sized grant, ranging from around $75,000 to over $480,000. Not surprisingly, three big recession-blasted states will get nearly a third of total allocation — including California, New York, and Michigan. (You can see the full list here.)
Thinking Big But Spending Small
Yet it’s difficult not to notice how small these grants really are.
For example, the Wisconsin National and Community Service Board is getting a grant of $75,000 for the entire state. According to GuideStar.org, there are 44,225 nonprofits in Wisconsin.
Additionally, while the state service commissions support nonprofits in recruiting and retaining volunteers, there are many small nonprofits that don’t work with these commissions – perhaps because they don’t know how to integrate into the programs, or because they don’t have the staff time and resources to commit to the collaboration.
For example, in California the grant will be used to fund a project for volunteer centers to pilot a curriculum on social enterprise — important to be sure, but only relevant to a niche number of nonprofits in the nation’s most populous state.
How Can Your Volunteer Program Benefit?
For starters, check out the list of grantees and see if your state is one of them. If so, reach out to the commission involved and see what programs are available. If nothing is obvious, ask the staff or commission rep what other programs might be able available in the future. As a nonprofit, you should know how your state service commission is working to support nonprofits (whether they received a grant or not).
From our vantage the glass is half full – $4 million in grants have been given to help build nonprofits’ abilities to recruit and retain volunteers, and to address the pressing needs of our communities. But it will take much more than that.
What do you think about the Volunteer Generation Fund grants to state service commissions? How can nonprofits best take advantage of these allocated resources?
(Photo: Corporation for National and Community Service)