Making a Sound Investment

As you know, we completed Class 23 of VM AmeriCorps members last week.  With their completion, we saw some pretty substantial results for Maryland communities.  For instance, our 29 Volunteer Maryland Coordinators managed 8,805 volunteers who served 65,061 community members and the natural environment.  Their service, based on the value of a volunteer hour determined by Independent Sector, is worth over $1.9 million!

That got me thinking about something – return on investment.  Maybe it’s all the news about the federal debt and the stock market; maybe it’s because I just received our AmeriCorps grant award notice for Class 24; maybe it’s because I’m deep in budget development for 2013.  It’s probably a combination of factors that led me to do a little math.  Here’s what I found out:

For every dollar that the State of Maryland spends to support Volunteer Maryland, we provide over $8.00 in services to Marylanders.

That kind of blew my mind.  What kind of investment can get you that kind of return?

Slightly giddy, I did a little more math.  When I took into account our entire budget (which includes a federal AmeriCorps grant and private funds), I found that we generate $2.33 for every dollar spent.  That is still a heckuva lot better than anything I get from my personal savings account!

And none of that takes into account the long-term investment that we make in our VM Coordinators, partner organizations, and communities.  Let’s look at the AmeriCorps members.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the challenges facing Millenials as they attempt to enter the workforce.  Now, to be clear, our program is not all Millenials.  We’ve had members as young as 17 and some well into their 70s.  But, in this most recent class, we did have significantly more young people than in the past.  Why?  Because our program offers an opportunity to gain professional skills at a time when professional positions are harder and harder to come by.  And we invest in those members.  They leave us with over 100 hours of training in volunteer management – training that earns them Continuing Education Units.  They leave with quantifiable accomplishments to add to their resumes.  They leave with a professional network that most recent graduates can only dream of.

It’s still not going to be easy for them.  Millenials are unemployed at a higher rate than other generations and the long-term impact of this delayed career start is scary.  But our alumni have an edge because of what they accomplish in this program.

In the 1930s, when unemployment was incredibly high, President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Civilian Conservation Corps members planted trees, built fire roads, installed telephone lines, improved state and national parks, fought fires, provided disaster relief, and more.  Just as significant as that impact is that the enrollment of about 3.5 million CCC members made a real dent in unemployment.  It just made good economic sense and the return on investment was sound.

Now, AmeriCorps and Volunteer Maryland are not “jobs programs,” but we can serve some of the same purposes as the CCC.  Did all of our members in Class 23 want AmeriCorps as their first choice?  No.  Will all the members of Class 24?  No.  Neither did those men in the CCC.  But they’ve all recognized it as a great opportunity – and the country recognized it as a great investment.

It’s fair to say that our country is facing lots of challenges; we were also facing a lot of challenges in the 1930s.  The CCC helped us through some of those challenges and I see AmeriCorps as doing the same.  For a small investment, we provide services where the needs are ever-increasing, professional training to help those who need it, and a year of a small paycheck for individuals who might otherwise be unemployed or underemployed.

$2.33 for $1.00?  If I can find that sort of return anywhere else, I’ll be sure to let you know.

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