AmeriCorps is getting things done – but for how long?

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

As of today, it sounds like legislation that allows the U.S. federal government to fund all programs at 2010 levels will expire in a couple of weeks.

Background

In order to continue funding programs like AmeriCorps and HeadStart, Congress must come together to pass a new budget. Soon the Senate will look to pass a budget, which must be reconciled with the one that the House of Representatives passed Feb. 18th—H.R. 1—which cut $100 billion from President Obama’s proposed budget, and effectively eliminated funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) among other programs.

CNCS, one target of defunding in H.R. 1, is an independent federal agency that oversees several national service programs that allow people over 18 to serve part- or full-time in their local communities.

AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA, AmeriCorps NCCC, and Senior Corps members and Foster Grandparents roll up their sleeves every day to:

  • tutor and read with our children,
  • create healthy schools and build affordable housing in our neighborhoods,
  • take care of our forests and rivers,
  • help us access health care when we find ourselves under-insured,
  • assist recent immigrants on the path to U.S. citizenship,
  • help returning Veterans transition to new careers,
  • establish volunteer programs that recruit even more people to help out in local communities,
  • and build the capacity of our organizations that are working to end poverty.

Tens of thousands of people participate in national service programs every year, earning an education award and in some cases a very modest stipend.

The point of the stipend isn’t so much to offer service corps members a wage; national service is different from employment. The point is that in most cases, full-time corps members can support themselves on their stipend. This frees up their time to devote to their communities, and keeps them from competing against unemployed people for scarce jobs.

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Americorps Members, via the Grace Hill St. Louis Flickr feed

National service programs are a network of partnerships between the government and nonprofits, schools, and agencies which receive—and match—funds that put corps members to work.

Because of the partnership model, national service programs are cost effective; offer host organizations valuable, focused, energetic staffing power to start new projects and serve clients at an affordable cost; and create opportunities for people to serve in critical-needs areas in their communities.

Actions to save service

In an effort to rally support for and defend funding for national service, several pro-service organizations have formed a new coalition called Save Service. Last week Save Service, AmeriCorps Alums, and other groups organized thousands of people to participate in District Day visits. People across the country showed up in 441 local House and Senate offices to share stories of the impact of national service programs with 295 Representatives and 83 Senators (and/or their staff). Save Service is offering web tools to help service fans talk with their leaders about the importance of national service and social innovation to their communities. And news media is covering national service like it’s 2008.

Rumor has it that AmeriCorps Week will be moved a week later this year (to May 14-21). As it happens, that is a district work week for Representatives, so as people across the country are celebrating AmeriCorps they can reach out to their Representatives and invite them to see first-hand member impact.

To be fair

We are in debt nationally. Yesterday my colleague Put Barber wrote about the need to make painful changes in order to create a financially sustainable future. We need to make sacrifices.

But surely we can do that without abolishing a valuable, cost-effective, successful, and popular program that involves thousands of communities across the United States and tens of thousands of citizens.

What do you think? Are you speaking up on behalf of service programs?

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Creative Fundraising Campaigns in Tough Times

This recession has clearly had ravaging effects, but fortunately, it has also sparked a lot of creativity. As nonprofit organizations attempt to carry out their work despite considerably reduced budgets, some are coming up with innovative takes on traditional fundraising and advertising campaigns. Here are two recent examples that we heard about:

The Salvation Army of Northern New England slashed its advertising budget to zero and nonetheless succeeded in rolling out a large, attention-grabbing advertising campaign to raise funds in Portland, Maine. Springwise reports that a local ad agency donated its time to design the ads and coordinate the campaign, and more than 50 local businesses donated various forms of ad space to the nonprofit. As a result, Salvation Army advertisements appeared on everything from store windows to pizza boxes to bathroom mirrors to tennis courts, all around town. Some individuals even scribbled on the dusty back windshields of their cars in order to display the ad.

In New York City, the Queens Museum of Art decided to transform its annual fundraising gala into what they called a NON-GALA in June. Rather than waste any precious donations on a fancy event, the QMA skipped the drinks and dancing in order to put more towards its actual exhibits and programs. The NON-GALA took place online, and it still managed to have most of the other highlights of an annual fundraiser: a welcome from the director, speeches by honorees, a chance to chat, and, of course, an opportunity to donate. There was even an auction conducted via a live streaming video, where participants could obtain the auctioned items for free by making creative, non-monetary bids via phone, email, and Twitter.

If you know of any other recession-friendly fundraising campaigns that nonprofits have tried, please share them in the comments below.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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