Volunteerism and National Service – Defining the IS Policy Agenda

Every opportunity that I get, I like to say that there are three measures that are of particular importance in assessing the vibrancy of our sector and of civil society. In a healthy civil society, we should see ever-growing numbers of people donating their dollars to their favored charities, using their voice and their vote to advocate for policy change, and giving their time though volunteering or national service.

As you read frequently in our Voices for Good newsletter, the trends and headlines around each of these indicators are often worrisome.

Independent Sector has long had, and will continue to have, a robust public policy agenda around charitable giving. And, in recent years, we have sharpened our focus, and dedicated new resources, to getting advocates the tools and the research findings they need to make the case for needed policy changes.

And as you may know, we do share the updated average value of a volunteer hour on the national and state level each April as we celebrate National Volunteer Month. Nonetheless, as IS Public Policy Committee member and CalNonprofits CEO Jan Masaoka recently reminded us, Independent Sector does not really have a forward-looking policy agenda on the issues of volunteerism and national service (they are, of course, quite different things). So, with Jan’s impetus and some self-examination, we decided it was the right time to go back to our Public Policy Committee and issue experts from the sector to explore where and how IS could best play a meaningful role in shaping this policy landscape.

On October 11, we began that conversation with our committee and a panel of outside experts. The first order of business was to get an overview of the current state of volunteerism and service in America, examining some of the trends that are in play and what they might mean for organizations dependent on volunteers and members of national service programs. The second half of our day was devoted to an initial exploration of policy approaches – tax and non-tax – that might hold promise for addressing some of the challenges and the opportunities we identified.

This is a learning process for Independent Sector. And it is one that I would like each of you to join. Over the next several months we look to continue this conversation about where and how IS can best lend its leadership and its voice to this critical set of issues. I have asked each of our guest panelists to offer an essay or two to keep pushing and expanding our thinking, and I expect we will have other authors who were not on the panel but have important insights to share. By mid- to late spring (likely by the time of our next Public Policy Committee meeting), we will have made some initial determinations about where we can and should be pointed with this piece of our policy agenda.

I truly hope you will take us up on the invitation to be a part of this conversation by leaving a comment below, or tagging @IndSector and using the #VoicesforGood hashtag on Twitter. Our first guest blog essay will appear in an upcoming issue of Voices for Good, and it will come from Jan Masaoka. We want to again thank Jan for taking her role as IS member and Public Policy Committee stalwart so seriously. She put an important question to us – and we are doing our best to learn with the community so that we can respond in a way that brings value. I invite each of you to engage, challenge, and encourage us in similar ways! It’s what a membership community is designed to do.

I hope to see many of you at Upswell Chicago Nov 13-15. There will be more of this conversation there, particularly among the presidential campaign representatives we have invited to join us for the Presidential Campaign Forum on the Nonprofit Sector on November 14. We have been hard at work contacting each and every campaign, Republican and Democrat, to join this discussion. There is never a guarantee that they show, but we have some very promising signals. We hope to see you there. And as always, thanks for spending time with this issue of Voices for Good.

Types: Blog, Policy Update
Global Topics: Civil Society, IS Member, Public Policy, Upswell, Voices for Good