Our country faces mounting public health, economic, and educational crises, as well as a nationwide reckoning on racial injustice — challenges that require thoughtful solutions to move the country forward. When it comes to addressing these critical issues, there are few solutions that have both bipartisan support and can be a true antidote in helping to rebuild in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a proud member of the Nonprofit Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Group (NIIAG), convened by Independent Sector and KABOOM!, Service Year Alliance is thrilled to see NIIAG lifting up national service as a way to strengthen our country’s civic infrastructure.
As we determine how best to address each of these individual challenges, we also must confront the growing lack of trust in our institutions and the hyperpolarization that threaten the civic fabric of American society. If we are to truly tackle these issues, it will require a solution that unites Americans around a common cause in order to knit our communities back together.
Service Year Alliance is proud to be working with NIIAG and our partners to prioritize robust and reliable federal funding for an expanded vision of national service in America. NIIAG’s vision for national service — from lifting up the work of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service, to ensuring people of all backgrounds and abilities are able to serve, and allowing nonprofits of all types access to national service corps members — reflects many of the same goals of the Serve America Together campaign’s policy platform, which lays out our vision for making national service part of growing up in America.
America’s civic infrastructure is the foundation on which our country was built. Nonprofit organizations are the institutions driving change in local communities. Specifically, they are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response supporting public health workers, they are providing much-needed human capital and volunteers in response to the growing number of natural disasters taking place across the country, and they are the engines running our food banks and providing extra support to our schools and teachers during unprecedented and challenging times. They are also the ones that fuel our culture through the arts, education, and community building, keeping Americans uplifted in these difficult times.
In order to be successful, nonprofits need strong, sustained capacity. Rigorous independent evaluations have demonstrated that national service programs help nonprofits build their capacity in different areas, including volunteer management, leadership, fiscal management and fund development, evaluation and learning capacity, collaboration, communications, and technology. National service corps members power nonprofits in local communities across the country and improve an organization’s ability to deliver on their mission and achieve their desired impact.
Investing in national service, as proposed by NIIAG, can build upon a strong, existing national service infrastructure and ensure that nonprofits — critical components of America’s civic infrastructure — have the support and human power they need to be successful.
But in order to meet this moment in American history, we must consider how best to expand national service so that people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to serve. We must do more than just create additional national service positions — we must make these positions more accessible, particularly among young people, by increasing the living allowance and other benefits so that this is a more equitable opportunity for all. This will help us to develop a generation of future leaders who represent a more diverse and culturally competent America.
Finally, to best strengthen our civic infrastructure, we need to ensure that nonprofit organizations of all types have access to national service corps members. NIIAG proposes a fellowship model that Service Year Alliance has long supported — the creation of “fellowship programs within the federally funded service programs to make service at any type of vetted nonprofit, including community-based and culturally-based organizations, possible.” Fellowships have the potential to swiftly deploy corps members across the country, give people choice in where they serve, connect national service more directly to local and state needs, and to provide additional support to organizations in order to help address the devastating impacts of COVID-19 and meet other community needs. NIIAG is also proposing that when we think about expanding national service, we think “big tent” and incorporate all corners of the sector through programs like Artist Corps.
National service has the potential to rebuild America’s civic infrastructure at a time when our country is dependent on our nation’s nonprofits and community organizations to quickly and effectively address critical crises that are resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. We are honored to be a part of NIIAG’s efforts to strengthen America’s civic bonds and build a better, more equitable nation.
Jesse Colvin is the CEO of Service Year Alliance, an organization relentlessly pursuing a bold vision — making a year of service a common expectation and opportunity for all young Americans as a way to tackle important challenges while transforming their own lives.