Sunday, September 21st, 2014

The Obameter

Create an office to help improve nonprofits


"Will a create an agency within the Corporation for National and Community Service dedicated to building the capacity and effectiveness of the nonprofit sector. The agency will be charged with: improving coordination of programs that support nonprofits across the federal government; fostering nonprofit accountability; streamlining processes for obtaining federal grants and contracts, and eliminating unnecessary requirements; and removing barriers for smaller nonprofits to participate in government programs. The agency will make grants to build the infrastructure of the nonprofit sector and capacity of nonprofit organizations, including their ability to ensure accountability, manage volunteers, and improve outcomes."


Updates

Two programs were created, but only one remains

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "create an agency within the Corporation for National and Community Service dedicated to building the capacity and effectiveness of the nonprofit sector.”

When we last looked at this promise, in November 2009, Obama had signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which included a range of provisions to boost volunteerism and community service.

We looked at two funds that addressed some of the issues raised in the promise -- the Social Innovation Fund and the Volunteer Generation Fund.

As we noted, the Social Innovation Fund was charged with providing funds to existing grantmaking organizations, which were tasked with making grants to nonprofit groups that engage in philanthropic projects, including youth, anti-poverty, health, conservation and crime-reduction efforts. At both the grantmakers' level and the nonprofit groups' level, the federal money has to be supplemented by funds from foundations or other private donors according to a predetermined formula.

The second fund, the Volunteer Generation Fund, was intended to improve how volunteer efforts are utilized. It would provide funds to "states and nonprofits to recruit, manage, and support volunteers and strengthen the nation"s volunteer infrastructure."

Obama initially asked for $50 million for the Social Innovation Fund and $10 million for the Volunteer Generation Fund. We held off on moving this promise beyond In the Works until we saw whether those two funds were given all or most of the money requested.

In recent years, the Social Innovation Fund has been funded at a level pretty close to $50 million -- specifically, $49.9 million in fiscal 2011 and $44.8 million in fiscal 2012. The president"s fiscal 2013 budget requested $50 million. (Here is a link to some of its grant recipients.)

The Volunteer Generation Fund, by contrast, has struggled. It received $4 million in both fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012 -- and for fiscal 2013, the president recommended zeroing it out. In its budget proposal, the Corporation for National Service said that the cuts affecting the Volunteer Generation Fund and other "lower-priority” programs because "tough choices have to be made in order to preserve funding for core national service programs, for our state partners, and for IT modernization.”

So one of the two key programs supporting this promise has been sustained at close to full funding, but the administration has decided to eliminate the other. On balance, we rate this promise a Compromise.

Sources:

Corporation for National and Community Service, congressional budget justification for fiscal 2013, accessed Oct. 25, 2012.

Philanthropy News Digest, "2012 Social Innovation Fund Grant Recipients Announced," Aug. 2, 2012

New law boosts volunteerism, community service

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, signed by President Barack Obama on April 21, 2009, included a range of provisions to boost volunteerism and community service. In the process, it created two funds that address some of the issues raised in Promise 378.

The two funds -- the Social Innovation Fund and the Volunteer Generation Fund -- are run by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal entity created in 1993 that is best known for running the AmeriCorps service program.

Generally, the Social Innovation Fund will provide funds to existing grantmaking organizations, which will, in turn, make grants to nonprofit groups that engage in philanthropic projects, including youth, antipoverty, health, conservation and crime-reduction efforts. At both the grantmakers' level and the nonprofit groups' level, the federal money has to be supplemented by funds from foundations or other private donors according to a predetermined formula.

The effort will "fund promising nonprofits that have demonstrated outcomes," the corporation says. "It will provide nonprofits with growth funding and other support to scale and spread their impact." Final guidelines are expected by the end of the year, with the first awards likely to be made in late spring or summer 2010, corporation officials told reporters in October.

The second fund, the Volunteer Generation Fund, is intended to improve how volunteer efforts are utilized. It would provide funds to "states and nonprofits to recruit, manage, and support volunteers and strengthen the nation"s volunteer infrastructure," the corporation says.

The president's budget included $50 million for the Social Innovation Fund and $10 million for the Volunteer Generation Fund. Those numbers are subject to approval of both chambers of Congress; already, the House has voted to cut the Social Innovation Fund to $35 million.

It's arguable whether these two funds constitute an "agency," as Obama promised he would create within the Corporation for National and Community Service. In addition, it's not clear how much these funds will work to streamline the process of obtaining federal grants and contracts, as the president promised.

Obama is close to fulfilling this promise, but we'd like to see how much money Congress provides and how the agency will work. So for now we rate this In the Works.

Sources:

Corporation for National and Community Service, " Highlights of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act ," March 30, 2009

Corporation for National and Community Service, Frequently Asked Questions list for the Social Innovation Fund, August 2009

Corporation for National and Community Service, " President Obama's National Service Budget Request for FY 2010 ," May 7, 2009

America Forward, " Details on the Social Innovation Fund from the Serve America Act ," May 8, 2009,

Chronicle of Philanthropy , " Social Innovation Fund Guidelines Expected by End of the Year ," Oct. 15, 2009