Category Archives: corporation for national and community service

Call the White House: Avoid a sad day for service

President Obama and Speaker John Boehner agreed to $37.6 billion in cuts for FY11.  Details are now leaking out of where those cuts will come from.  Apparently while they would largely save AmeriCorps, they would completely defund Learn and Serve America, which is the arm by which the government encourages service learning.

Service-learning integrates community service into school curricula so students learn about scientific measurement by measuring the pollution in a local streambed, or learn about the Depression or WWI through oral history projects with shut-in seniors.  The projects obviously vary depending on the underlying tie to the curriculum and the age of the students, but service learning is effective for students as young as kindergarten or as old as college-aged.

Defunding service learning ignores the fact that it is a highly cost-effective “four-fer”.  First, studies show that students learn skills better where the underlying skills that teachers want to teach are inherent to a task that students need to perform; what is called an “educational pull” rather than “educational push” approach to teaching.  Second, service learning is very inexpensive; students don’t need to be stipended, and teachers are already paid, so it is usually just the cost of materials or transportation or a part-time organizer/coordinator.  That is why the $40 million in savings from defunding Learn and Serve America represents just 3% of the Corporation for National and Community Service’s budget but generates 70% of the community service participants! Third, it gets valuable service accomplished (feeding the homeless or turning an abandoned lot into a playground).  And finally, it pays life-long returns.  Studies show that youth who engage in community service at a younger age are much more likely to be actively engaged in volunteering and other forms of civic engagement throughout their whole lives.  In that sense, down the road it likely leaves less of a need for future government since more of it is being done by active citizens; consider it preventative community maintenance.  As the maxim goes:  “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”

For more information on the cuts and what you can do see YSA’s page.

For more information on the benefits of service learning, see the National Service Learning Clearinghouse or this Kellogg Foundation report.

New: quality social capital data available online

Rating of large cities in Group Participation 2008-2009, CNCS data

The Corporation for National Service (CNCS) several years ago started making volunteering data available online through Volunteering in America , with a research brief, rankings and profiles for all states and big cities, and even downloadable summary data.

The Corporation has now released comparable social capital data.  See: Civic Life in America website.

They have an Issue Brief describing their overall results across 5 dimensions (service which includes volunteering, group participation,  connecting to civic information, social connectedness,  and political action).

One can see the ranking of states or large cities across these dimensions (volunteering, voting, working with neighbors or group participation).

And one can see geographic profiles of states (here’s NY) or communities (here’s the Twin Cities for example).  And summary data can be exported (to a PDF, Excel table, etc.).

These data, in addition to being a great boon to scholars, are highly useful for local leaders.  For example, Governor Schwarzenegger used the California volunteer data to develop new public polices around volunteering, state legislative support for those efforts, and ultimately created the first cabinet-level position on service and volunteering in the state.  Driven by public discussions about the low level of volunteering in New York City, highlighted through CNCS research releases, Mayor Bloomberg launched a new civic initiative for the city including launching a Civic Corps, further buttressed with borough-level data from CNCS.  Many press outlets help spread the word about how cities and states are doing against one another and encourage friendly competition for citizens to become more actively engaged.

Well done and keep up the good work.  With thanks to CNCS for their leadership on this issue.

See earlier post on advances in social capital measurement.

See later post on “US expands social capital measures

Great day for national service

Community Service Graffiti (look closely)-by EgoAnt

Community Service Graffiti (look closely)-by EgoAnt

The number of Americans annually participating in national service programs will triple under legislation approved today by the House of Representatives and approved last week by the Senate, from 75,000 a year to 250,000 by 2017.  Especially heartening, given my experience as a senior policy advisor in the Senate on the enactment of the National Service Trust Act of 1993 was the level of bipartisan support.

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, passed the House 275-149 with almost all Democrats supporting it.  While a clear majority of Republicans were opposed, it still garnered 26 Republican votes.  The Senate had passed the same legislation last Thursday in a 78-20 vote, including 22 Republicans.  It is expected that  President Obama, who campaigned on this issue will sign it into law shortly.

The legislation creates  four new corps to address needs in low-income communities: a Clean Energy Corps (CEC) that deals with energy efficiency and conservation; an Education Corps to increase student engagement and achievement; a Healthy Futures Corps to improve access to health-care; and a Veterans Service Corps to help veterans get needed social services.  The CEC will build energy-efficient low-income housing, provide clean energy-related services designed to meet the needs of rural communities, and work with schools and youth programs to educate students and youth about ways to reduce home energy use and improve the environment.

The bill creates new programs for a wide range of age groups. A new Summer of Service program for middle- and high-school students encourages them to volunteer in their communities by allowing them to earn $500 to be used toward college costs. Students will be eligible to participate in two terms, earning up to $1,000. The Silver Scholarships and Encore Fellowships are two programs that offer Americans age 55 or older post-career service opportunities, as well as a way into new careers in the nonprofit or public sector. The federal education reward that volunteers receive for their service, rises to $5,350 starting next year, from the current $4,725 and is then indexed to increases in Pell grants.

The bill also dramatically strengthens service learning — using community service projects as a vehicle to strengthen and enforce academic learning in schools.  [Studies have found that service learning can be an especially effective way to teach since the service projects often require underlying academic skills which students are more motivated to learn or practice if they understand their relevance, and which students remember better afterwards.  An example might be teaching students about scientific measurement by measuring pollution in a river and sharing these results with local environmental groups or officials.]

National service has huge ripple effects on volunteering.  The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that oversees the AmeriCorps program, estimates that the 75,000 AmeriCorps members who served last year  supervised 2.2 million community volunteers.

Interest in volunteering is rising amid the worsening economy, the sheen that President Obama has given to this issue, and the coming of age of a more altruistic generation, many who got exposure to volunteering in school.   But the economic downturn has also hit the younger generation harder.  Of the 1.2 million jobs lost last year, 60% were held by workers under the age of 25, according to the office of U.S. Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.).

There were 9,731 applications submitted to the AmeriCorps online system last month, over triple the 3,159 submitted in February 2008.  In 2007, more than 61 million Americans spent over 8 billion hours volunteering. More than a quarter of young Americans 16-25 have volunteered. And nearly 65,000 college students prepared to do volunteer work for spring break this year, up 11% over last year.

“The silver lining of economic downturns is that more Americans, especially Millennials, are flocking to public-service positions,” said Sandy Scott, CNCS spokesman.

Investing in service also leverages impressive economic returns. In 2007, volunteers generated $158 billion worth of economic benefits. A cost-benefit analysis of AmeriCorps, for example, showed that every $1 invested produced returns of $1.50 to $3.90 in direct measurable benefits.

As Patrick Kennedy said on the floor of the House before passage: ” There’s an old saying that reads, ‘The most sacred thing one person can give another, outside of their love, is their labor.’  That goes to the core of why supporting programs that promote volunteerism and community service is so important..”

Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee noted on the floor of the House:

History has shown that in times of crisis, Americans turn to service and volunteering for healing, for rebuilding and for hope. The spirit and generosity of the American people is one of our nation’s greatest assets….We see this every single day. In the past week, North and South Dakota have been in a state of emergency, with communities facing severe flooding as the snow melts. As they have in so many other times of disaster, Americans showed up to help. Officials estimate that there are tens of thousands of volunteers who have already been on the ground for days, lining the shores of the river with over 1.5 million sandbags to help stop the flooding. In Fargo, a city with a population of 90,000, 80,000 volunteers showed up to help.They’ve driven through treacherous conditions from Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and beyond, ready to serve and ready to help….This legislation is just what we need, at this pivotal moment, to get our nation back on track.

President Obama commented: “”I call on all Americans to stand up and do what they can to serve their communities, shape our history and enrich both their own lives and the lives of others across this country.”

A summary of the legislation is available here.

A summary of the service learning provisions is available here.

In the run-up to the bill being passed there were also strong editorials or op-eds:

Bruce Reed and John Bridgeland , Volunteer to Save the Economy, NYT op-ed (1/23/09), noting that since those doing national service cost far less, they could provide an outsize economic stimulus per dollar invested.

The Moment for National Service, NYT Editorial (1/26/09)

Colin Powell, Let’s Renew America Together, WSJ Op-Ed (1/17/09), discussing the importance of USAservice.org

[I]n times of need…, [t]his is not a time to retreat to our homes and wait until it’s safe to emerge. It is the time to give more, to step forward and serve our fellow citizens, and to reach into the reservoir of this nation’s unrivaled capacity for good….You don’t have to wear the uniform of this country to serve others. You don’t have to work in government. And you don’t have to start a foundation. At a time when so many of our countrymen are in need, everyone has the power to help.

Read previous Social Capital blog posts on the importance of national service.

Advances in social capital measurement (UPDATED 4/12/12)

Here is an update on our great progress on social capital measurement.

We should begin with a word about the concept of social capital measurement in general. Since social capital refers to the value of social networks, in principle if you were going to measure social capital, you’d ask everyone to detail all their friends, contacts, acquaintances and then ask them all sorts of questions about these folks (the demographics of each friend, how frequently they contact each person, for what purposes, what they could use these ties for, etc.). It is an interesting approach employed by social networks academics and practical for a business work group, or a university class but far too time-consuming for a city or a country. [One interesting area, on which I have blogged before in “Life In The Network” and “Life In the Network II” is the emerging field of digital traces, where digital footprints like one’s e-mails, call logs, locations recorded through GPS/bluetooth devices in cellphones, etc. might collectively reveal our social networks on a grand scale without requiring such detailed surveying. It raises lots of privacy concerns, but it is certainly an area to watch. In principle, one could watch them dynamically change over time, and with demographic information about each person could figure out which links are social bridges across various dimensions or how social patterns differed by demographic groups. Some interesting work of David Lazer has at least found that one can use some of this information to quite accurately gauge who work and social friends are. But these data are not generally available.]

Thus, for now, we have gathered social capital data at the individual level by gathering proxies for social capital: volunteering, religious involvement, neighborliness, trust, participation and leadership in voluntary associations, philanthropy, political participation, etc. For more on the dimensions of social capital, click here. One can then aggregate random individual-level social capital data at a neighborhood, or town or city or state to understand social capital strengths or weaknesses of places and which places have overall greater connectedness. Of course, since there are differential benefits of being in the networks (job leads, lifetime earnings) from the spillover benefits of networks to isolated individuals (lower crime in areas, better performing governments, lower corruption rates, higher public health, etc.), not all the residents in a community with high social capital will necessarily get the same benefits if they are relying on others’ social capital rather than their own.

One of the things we’ve been pushing (given the strong connections of social capital with so many of these public goods), is government measurement of social capital.

The good news is that the US government has started annually measuring social capital on the Current Population Survey (the largest government survey other than the Census). While we’ve been urging this for a while among high level government contacts, the 2 key breakthroughs were a meeting of Robert Putnam with President George W. Bush where he personally committed to make this happen, and then the extremely diligent work of Robert Grimm and Nathan Dietz at the Corporation for National and Community Service, working with the folks at the Bureau of Labor Statistics with background help and reinforcement from the Saguaro Seminar. It is a terrific step forward for policy makers, civic leaders, academics and citizens.  [We’re also grateful to the Ford Foundation and a consortium of about 3 dozen community foundations that partnered with us to measure social capital in 2000 and 2006 as the lessons learned from those surveys helped provide the answers to many of the questions that CNCS and the Bureau of Labor Statistics had.]

The US government began measuring volunteering annually (on the Current Population Survey September supplement in 2000), included questions on attending a public meeting and working with neighbors to fix/improve something (starting in 2006), but are now expanding the list by some 20 items starting with Fall 2008. This CPS is the gold standard as far as measurement and has a national sample size of about 57,000 households annually (although they obtain approximately 110,000 responses since they ask about other folks 15+ living in the household). The data is primarily used to construct monthly unemployment rates and has oversamples of larger cities. They plan to ask about volunteering and social capital every year (volunteering on the September CPS supplement and social capital mainly on the November CPS supplement).

As to the questions they are asking beyond volunteering, they ask about attending family dinners, working with neighbors to fix/improve something, attending a public meeting, talking to neighbors, talking to friends/family via the Internet, exchanging favors, and participation in various types of group (school, religious, service/civic, sports/recreation, other). The survey does NOT contain some key social capital items (like religious attendance, generalized social trust, inter-racial trust, subjective wellbeing, etc.). These may be asked in future years, but no guarantees.

Much of this past social capital data has been made available on the Corporation for National and Community Service-sponsored website Volunteering in America [See blog post on that terrific new resource here.] or on the Civic Life in America website.

If you click on Select a City/State and then choose *All*, you can see all the cities that they have enough volunteering data on which to develop reliable estimates. Over the next several years, they will have reliable social capital measurement for similar middle sized cities, states, or regions of states.  This will function, as Robert Putnam calls it, as a “social capital seismograph”, always going in the background, that will be very useful to researchers who want to produce natural experiments:  seeing how baseline levels of social capital affect the ability of two similar communities experiencing different events (a major plant closing or a hurricane or…).

For those of you dealing with smaller level geography (rural areas, cities with populations of under 100,000), I’m not positive that the CPS data even when 3-4 years are lumped together will produce reliable estimates for you. You may, if you want to measure your social capital, have to figure a way to band together with some other community foundations or other local groups to commission social capital surveys in your community and to commission a national survey to compare these data to. You can also always e-mail the Corporation for National and Community Service and make a request for a lower level of geography if they have it. They might be able to provide you with data they have already run but didn’t put on the website.

Three researchers at Penn State University (Anil Rupasingha, Stephen Goetz, and David Freshwater) developed county-level social capital measures that are reasonably good based on the density of civic and non-profit organizations, voting turnout, and census completion rates, among other factors. [You should note however that we found higher correlations, r=.37, between our social capital measures in 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey and RGF county measures than the Corporation for National and Community Service did in their analysis of their own social capital measures with RGF data at the MSA level.]
– These data are available for 1990, 1997 and 2005.  If you want the RGF data, you can download these county-level data here:

A note to the wise: I would urge that you NOT try to compare local social capital data that you gather to these CPS measures. CPS numbers are typically far LOWER and LESS civic than what you would get in a phone survey (both because the government survey is not about community or civic engagement and because they garner a far higher response rate, they hear more from people who are uninterested in civic engagement). The CPS numbers are probably more accurate but thus hard to compare with what you would get from the phone survey.

If you are interested in doing your own survey, you can, as always, find a copy of our Short Form Social Capital Survey on our website. We ask you e-mail us if you do use the Short-Form so we can keep track of who is using this.

The latest Social Capital Survey we administered was the 2006 social capital community survey. The national benchmark banners (what proportion of total, men, women, etc. gave various answers to the questions) is also available.  We also asked a lot of social capital questions (with lots of questions on religion) in our 2006 Faith Matters Survey, available here.

For more information on social capital measurement in general, visit here.

See related blog post “US expands social capital measures

Find out where you stack up volunteering-wise

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) revealed the new report on volunteering which shows that nationwide about 26.2% of Americans volunteered in 2007, a bit below the rate in 2006 of 26.9% and below the higher levels seen from 2003-2005 of 28.8%

CNCS also released new city rankings of volunteering (Miami gets the dubious distinction of now being the lowest in volunteering nation-wide with a 14.5% volunteering rate, beating out Las Vegas for bottom-of-the-barrel; Minneapolis-St. Paul, with a volunteering rate of 39.3% is in the #1 slot.

Among 75 mid-sized cities, Provo, Utah, was the #1 volunteering site with an impressive 63.8 percent volunteer rate, followed by Iowa City, Iowa, Madison, Wis., Greenville, S.C. and Ogden, Utah. CNCS noted that “For the third year in a row Utah was the top volunteer state with a volunteer rate of 43.9 percent, followed by Nebraska, Minnesota, Alaska and Montana.” After Minneapolis St. Paul, Salt Lake City, Portland, Oregon, Seattle and Austin were ranked #2 through #5 respectively.

Accompanying their rankings CNCS revealed a neat new website (Volunteering in America) that lets one explore these various volunteering statistics at the national, state or city level, with data on all 50 states and 162 cities. You can even customize a profile for a specific city by clicking on “Find a City/State” and then when you choose the state or city, select “Customize a Profile” and you can choose along what dimensions you want to look at the city or state’s civic performance. CNCS explains that the new site: “allows nonprofit leaders, policy makers and others an opportunity to get under the hood of volunteering and retrieve data and assemble unique customized reports which include both volunteering and national service data for their cities and states. The site also provides tools, tips, effective practices, and webinars to help nonprofits, communities and civic leaders strengthen their volunteer recruitment strategies, and deepen their volunteers’ commitment to service.”

CNCS data that compared volunteers and non-volunteers with the Census Bureau’s American Time Use data found that the biggest predictor was amount of television watched. Volunteers watched an average of 8 hours less of TV a week (15 hours for volunteers v. 23 hours for non-volunteers). This adds another nail to the coffin on the corrosive impact of commercial entertainment television on civic engagement from the evidence that Bob Putnam marshaled for Bowling Alone.

This is CNN’s story on the data: “Blame it on the traffic. Or the number of new immigrants. Or the allure of the beach. Whatever the reason, Miami, Florida, has secured the bottom spot — No. 50 among major U.S. cities — in new rankings of the percentage of adults who volunteer.

Volunteers sort through cereal boxes at a food bank in Washington.

Volunteers sort through cereal boxes at a food bank in Washington.

“Nationally, the volunteer rate fell in 2007 for the second year in a row, to 26.2 percent, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is releasing its report Sunday. It showed Miami with a volunteerism rate of 14.5 percent, replacing Las Vegas, Nevada, in last place among major metropolitan areas.

“To be fair, the study found 620,000 volunteers were recruited in Miami last year, more than 60,000 over the previous year. And many local nonprofits say they have more volunteers than ever. But there’s no denying how far Miami lags behind other cities, particularly No. 1 Minneapolis-St. Paul, with a 39.3 percent rate.

“The study notes that Miami’s poverty rate and average commute times are slightly higher than the national average, while other factors influencing volunteerism — home ownership and education level — are slightly lower.”