The Case for Scaling the 21st Century Infrastructure Necessary to Bring America Together Again Through Service
Crisis, conflict, social media, and ego are devastating communities across the country, and last week, we saw them lead to an unprecedented attack on our nation’s Capitol. This public display of selfishness and lawlessness violated every ideal of democracy in America. Left buried in the day’s wreckage was what remains of our country’s once proud history of putting service above self – a history defined by the sacrifice of those who have fought to prevent our differences from fulfilling our shared obligation to serve our country, our communities, and each other. The January 6 mob attack was sickening proof that these values, and the community-building civic infrastructure necessary to support them, have been dangerously unattended for too long.
We can be thankful that a handful of leaders put down the crisis by setting aside their political animosities and self-interest to uphold an obligation they felt to serve a cause greater than themselves.
Sadly, many more were unable, or unwilling, to do so.
Service to our communities, and our country, is a value that good people from all political parties must find a way to discuss and prioritize as a matter of national policy under a new administration and new Congress. We, in the nonprofit sector, must never forget this moment, or those who have weaponized hypocrisy, privilege, disinformation, and fear to marginalize the principles and people that hold democracies and communities together. We also must find new ways to invite all Americans to join us in service to each other – and to the ideals of equality, justice, and freedom we hold dear.
To do that, we will need to collaborate with the public and private sectors to scale our capacity to bring communities together to more effectively engage and collaborate with the volunteers we will need to take on the challenges our democracy now faces. There are 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. and 330 million potential volunteers. Twenty years into the digital revolution, there are no effective national policies, plans or platforms to connect them. Many once believed that commercial social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter would one day close this gap, but that dream has been undone by the unavoidable truth that it is more profitable for digital ad platforms to amplify our differences – than it is to bridge them.
This has left civil society and our communities without the scalable digital infrastructure required to embolden a culture of service – or operate effectively in the 21st century. During the pandemic, this massive gap in our nation’s civic infrastructure has left public officials and communities across the country without the data, tools, or cross-sector digital solutions necessary to effectively mobilize the service of volunteers and reliably connect them to the groups and organizations that needed them most.
America deserves better, and the Biden-Harris administration has a historic, and long overdue, opportunity to defend the values of service, and close a national policy blind spot by collaborating with the growing coalition of nonprofits, businesses, academics, and philanthropists working to scale America’s capacity to serve.
The Nonprofit Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Group (NIIAG), a national coalition of more than 35 national, regional, and local nonprofits and foundations, is calling on the new administration to invest in supporting and strengthening the civic infrastructure in communities across the country. NIIAG urges Congress to amend the National and Community Service Act of 1990 to include $350 million in capacity-building grants to:
- expand the capability of local organizations and agencies to successfully attract and engage the service of volunteers both virtually and in-person
- accelerate the transformation of the nonprofit sector with greater access to technology, data, and research
- scale the non-commercial digital backbone for effective cross-sector volunteer mobilization and collaboration in America
Coming Together to Serve
New threats and old policies have weakened the culture of service that make justice and democracy possible. America needs bold new national policies to help communities divided by conflict, and devastated by crisis, come together through a shared commitment to meaningful service. It needs to make opportunities to serve more relevant, accessible, and enduring for all Americans. This is a defining moment for a generation of Americans looking to us for leadership. Together, we must find the courage to challenge the status quo and create new possibilities for our communities and our future. Together, we must defend and lift up the virtue and value of service in America at a moment when our country needs it most.
Greg Baldwin, CEO, & Laura Plato, Chief Solutions Officer, VolunteerMatch.
VolunteerMatch is an Oakland-based nonprofit public benefit corporation serving over 130,000 nonprofits and collaborating with communities across the country to create better ways to put the time and talent of volunteers to good use. VolunteerMatch is a NIIAG member.