Connect service with outcomes to get results

Vanessa Kirsch

A citizen movement is brewing among us.

On September 27, nearly 20,000 citizens participated in more than 2,700 service events to demonstrate the impact that service can have on our country and communities.

Our nation’s leaders are also presenting new initiatives to harness citizen service to solve our toughest challenges, such as the Serve America Act recently introduced in the Senate by Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democrat Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

An exciting element of this national spotlight on service is the focus on impact and results.

In addition to national service being about volunteers “getting things done,” the current movement underway underscores the importance of investing in what works and concentrating volunteer resources on outcomes.

Today, organizations led by social entrepreneurs, many of which rely on volunteers and national service programs like AmeriCorps, are getting results in communities
across the country.

With their innovative approaches in education, workforce development, public health and other areas, these organizations are solving problems and making a difference where it’s needed most.

This twin engine of citizen service and organizations with proven solutions is a powerful formula for results, but it’s not yet happening at the scale we need.

For example, Teach For America, which recruits talented young leaders to teach in low-income communities, has a tested model that improves education outcomes for our kids.

This year, 25,000 people applied to fill 4,000 positions.

Thousands of our most talented college graduates who wanted to serve through teaching couldn’t.

That’s a missed opportunity.

Imagine the impact we could have on education and other challenges if we invested in proven solutions like Teach For America and focused our volunteer resources on
achieving outcomes.

The best solutions could reach even more people, and citizens would have more opportunities to direct their service where it’s needed most and can create measurable impact.

The good news is that both presidential candidates, and many of our nation’s leaders, understand the powerful connection between service, solutions, and scale.

The two presidential candidates, Senators McCain and Obama, both have sponsored the Serve America Act and support policy ideas that would inspire service and scale
proven innovations to new communities.

Nonprofit leaders must work to ensure that these ideas become reality.

In this time of increasing economic uncertainty for our country, Americans are even more stirred to action through service.

We must connect their desire to serve with the best solutions — and at a scale that can truly make a difference.

Vanessa Kirsch is president and founder of New Profit Inc., a national venture philanthropy fund, and co-chair of America Forward, a coalition of more than 70 nonprofit organizations led by social entrepreneurs that is working to present policymakers with new ideas for solving persistent social problems.

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