National Conference on Volunteering and Service

The National Conference on Volunteering and Service is getting a lot of buzz this week in San Francisco. Michele Obama is the keynote speaker and Maria Schriver, the first lady of California is speaking as well.

What’s interesting to me is that there are a number of sessions on the relationship between philanthropy and services. Kari Dunn Saratovsky of the Case Foundation is organizing some of these sessions and she writes today about the philanthropy/service connection.

There’s been a lot of buzz this year about a renewed opportunity for collaboration between philanthropy and government. At the conference, I’ll be speaking on a panel along with Sonal Shah, director of the White House Office of Social Innovation & Civic Participation as well as representatives from Public Allies and the Points of Light Institute. We’ll have a conversation about the potential for collaboration, but I’ll be keeping in mind the comment made after the Council on Foundations conference by Kristin Ivie (also from the Case Foundation), when she wrote, “As with any partnership, we know that working with Uncle Sam may not always be sunshine and lollipops…”

I’ve been given some sample questions that we’ll be discussing for the panel and I’d like to post them here to solicit your input. Your answers will help me formulate my own thoughts and I may very well quote some of your responses as I did when I solicited input for my panel at the Center for Effective Philanthropy conference. Remember, the session is tomorrow afternoon, so get your answers in fast. Thanks!

  • What stands in the way and what opens the path to fully realize the vision for service and civic engagement?
  • How can interests of government and philanthropy be better aligned? What’s the low hanging fruit for aligning philanthropic resources with the provisions of the Kennedy-Hatch Serve America Act or the Social Innovation Fund specifically?
  • What is the mechanism for achieving maximum impact with scarce resources? How do we go from conversation about this alignment to strategic philanthropy/investments?
  • What does a merged strategy mean for the sector’s short-term and long-term goals? What do we lose? What do we gain?
  • Are we taking advantage of social innovation as we look toward the future? Do things like social media and other innovative tools change our paradigm for understanding what works or how to best leverage resources? Is our view of philanthropy taking into account the democratization of philanthropy? Self-organizing? The information revolution?
  • Does this work ensure that the endgame means changes in the lives of the most vulnerable in our society? Do our investments ensure participation from diverse groups and do so in equitable, accessible ways? How do we measure success for children, families, and communities?


  1. Salerno says:

    National Service needs to do 2 things well, 1)actually deliver services (it is not just about youth/leadership training)and 2)find ways to scale high quality training to those serving and leading. I like model of technology cos in the 90’s with certification and training delivered by wide range of providers.

  2. Board members should keep their business heads on when making policy and providing direction, and not lose the common sense and business acumen they’ve acquired in their day jobs. The difference is that the bottom line is not profit, but mission. The rest should stay the same — strategic planning, cost/benefit analyses, hiring, investments.

  3. Kira Campo says:

    I would be interested to learn how multi-disciplinary design thinking and creative thought could be encouraged and built into the fabric of service initiatives.
    Programs such as Stanford’s K-12 initiative come to mind

    Thank you.

  4. robert egger says:

    Sean…there seems to be a big push for numbers (lots of volunteers) without two important discussions–“what do we want them to achieve (more painted shelter walls)?”, and “how will an already strapped nonprofit sector (CA nonprofits in particular) manage all these well intentioned volunteers, so that when they leave they feel like they had a real experience, versus…a bad one?”

    Nonprofits are like migrant farm workers in this discussion. Everybody loves fresh fruit…but nobody is asking about those who ultimately have to get it to our shelves.

    Without capacity support, which seems to also be missing from this dialogue, it will be VERY difficult for any group to really focus all this energy.

  5. I underscore Robert Egger’s comments.

    I’d also like to suggest that with government involved, the definition of volunteering and service becomes way to narrow. I think of service as the full range of civic engagement activities that are vital to our communities and our democracy. I want a definition of service that includes showing up to testify at the public hearing, participating in the neighborhood association to watchdog zoning regulation enforcement, being a neighbor who routinely watches out for the elders next door, bearing silent witness, actively writing letters to protect individuals whose human rights are in danger, campaigning for your favorite candidate, volunteering in your professional association, servings as a little league coach, and all kinds of vitally needed professional expertise, professional services and management and administrative support services (from the board president or treasurer to marketing and pr support, etc).

  6. Greg Baldwin says:

    I think to get underneath the questions you need a clear vision for how government and the nonprofit sector differ? What are their unique roles in society? With that you can begin a discussion of how can they work together to identify the ideas that generate the greatest impact most efficiently and effectively.

  7. Thanks to all of you for your suggestions. I’ve used your thoughts to plan out what I intend to say and I’ll definitely be quoting from a couple of your comments.