Corvington Out as CNCS CEO: Who’s Next?

Late last month the reporters at the Chronicle of Philanthropy broke word that the Corporation for National and Community Service probably wishes they hadn’t. After a little more than a year on the job, Patrick Corvington, the new CEO of CNCS, would be resigning soon to take an “opportunity in the nonprofit community.”

The story is interesting for two reasons. First, ordinarily CNSC coordinates this kind of news pretty carefully. With the National Conference on Volunteering and Service scheduled to meet just a few weeks away in early June, it seemed like a good bet that any change in leadership would be announced then. How would the agency respond to having the keyhole pried open?

Second, perhaps because that opportunity was unspecified, it caused some to wonder whether Corvington was going to a new position, or running from one that just wasn’t working out.

Corvington was appointed by President Obama. At the time of the hire, Alan Solomont and Stephen Goldsmith, chair and vice-chair of CNCS’s Board of Directors, wrote how “Patrick’s management experience, expertise in capacity building, and understanding of the value of service today will prove invaluable at this moment of unprecedented need and opportunity for national service.”

That was then. Today, as Chronicle reporters Suzanne Perry and Cody Switzer noted in their April 29 story, things are different:

He was sworn in as chief executive of the agency in February 2010, at a time when the organization was quickly expanding following the passage in 2009 of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

The law aimed to significantly increase the number of participants in AmeriCorps, the flagship national-service program. It also created several new programs, including the Social Innovation Fund, which awards grants to help nonprofit groups expand effective social programs.

But the agency is now facing a much different political climate. The recently approved 2011 federal budget allocated roughly $74.6-million less to the corporation than in 2010, leaving it at $1.08 billion. President Obama had proposed increasing its budget to $1.4-billion.

So what’s behind the move? Patrick Corvington, a recognized expert in non-profit leadership and capacity issues as well as emerging philanthropy, seemed like a strong pick for a CNCS energized by the new federal largesse.

A native of Haiti and bootstrapping student, he was a former senior staffer at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. There he was also senior advisor to Ralph Smith, the Chair of the Council on Foundations, where Corvington was engaged directly with many of the sector’s most innovative programs.

Corvington had also authored a book on next-generation leadership, done significant policy research, and worked “to build the capacity of nonprofit organizations abroad.”

In DC, of course, politics is bloodsport. And while a few on the right grumbled about Casey Foundation’s funding for ACORN, the left liked Corvington’s global orientation, his youth, and the promise of innovation in his bio. Absent other messaging from CNSC, one does have to wonder whether Corvington was pushed out. We don’t know this to be true, but if so, it could be a sign of the times. And that would be a shame — service in America should be something that unites us, not something to be used for political ends (by left or right).

Then again, Corvington wasn’t actually the CNSC’s first choice. That was Maria Eitel, the Nike VP and president of Nike Foundation, who declined the role back in 2009 citing health problems. Could be she’s feeling better now?

What do you think?

Who would you like to see as the next CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service? Share your thoughts here.