Voices for National Service

Voices for National Service (VNS) is a diverse coalition of national service organizations committed to expanding opportunities for Americans of all ages to serve their communities. The VNS coalition was formed in 2003 to unite the many diverse stakeholders in the national service community in an effort to increase funding and support for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

A recent study by Columbia University found that for every $1.00 invested in national service programs, communities see a $3.95 return on investment in terms of economic growth, higher earnings and other community-wide benefits. Armed with data like this and other winning strategies, VNS mobilizes its vast grassroots network to educate our nation’s leaders and the public about the incredible power, potential and impact of national service.

The Challenge

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act was passed with bipartisan support in 2009 to increase funding for CNCS and expand opportunities for all Americans to serve. Despite its passage, CNCS saw its funding drastically reduced by across-the-board sequestration budget cuts in addition to mortal threats by the “Paul Ryan House Budget” proposals which, if successfully enacted, would have zero-funded the CNCS budget. The threat to CNCS funding continued in 2015, when Congress proposed severe cuts to the agency.

The Process

At the start of the partnership, TSG worked with VNS to create a strategic calendar of engagement, building upon its robust coalition infrastructure, to track the twenty-four-month budget cycle. This work focuses on operationalizing a comprehensive federal advocacy toolkit—creating budget justification documents; directly advocating for CNCS programs with Members of Congress, at the White House and with the Office of Management and Budget; and through grassroots communications and demonstrations of support—which has allowed VNS to successfully advocate with a unified voice across all branches of government.

In 2015 VNS made the decision to activate its field after drastic funding cuts to CNCS were proposed by Congress. TSG partnered with VNS to establish grassroots working groups in states represented by members of Congress with strong influence over funding for CNCS. These groups, coached by TSG and made up of nonprofit organizations, state service commissioners, and local elected officials, deployed a range of advocacy tactics to engage their representatives in Congress. These included in-district site visits, letters to the editor, op-eds, and the activation of key community leaders.

The Result

After less than six months, this work paid off for VNS: not only did Congress reverse its originally proposed cuts to national service, but it increased funding for CNCS in Fiscal Year 2016. VNS heard directly from congressional offices that this local outreach made a huge difference.
Based on the success of this mobilization, TSG and VNS have expanded working groups to three additional states who are continuing to educate and influence key members of Congress on the importance of national service.

Throughout its partnership, TSG has worked hand-in-hand with VNS to help activate its strongest supporters in Congress to protect vital CNCS funding. Because of its aggressive advocacy strategies, VNS has added several Republican members of Congress to the Congressional National Service Caucus, successfully advocated for overall funding increases to CNCS in the President’s recent budget requests and secured subcommittee report language that included $1.065 billion for the Corporation for National Service—a number higher than what was requested in the President’s FY15 budget and enacted in FY14. VNS’s success is proof that change can be achieved if it is built upon the foundation of a strong, unified coalition of many organizations speaking with one voice.