Change Notes: Four Year Anniversary Reflections on Points of Light Institute

Sep 1, 2011

Anniversaries are always a good time to reflect upon the past – what we have learned and also what we want for the future. This month marks the four-year anniversary of the merger of Points of Light Foundation and HandsOn Network. I thought it would be a good time to share some of our achievements, lessons learned and plans for the future.

In August 2007, HandsOn Network merged with Points of Light Foundation to become Points of Light Institute. Our hope was to create an integrated, dynamic force in the volunteer sector. Both organizations entered the merger with unique histories, champions and assets – including, uniquely a Presidential legacy. As with any merger, there were both high aspirations and anxiety. Could we make our combined efforts create more impact than our singular efforts? What would we give up and what would be gained?

We believe we have answered these questions in the affirmative. We have broadened our impact, increased efficiencies and done more than either organization could have done alone. At this time of constrained resources, when nonprofits are being asked to do more with less, and organizations are looking at new forms of partnership and even mergers, we thought it would be helpful to share some of the things we have learned and achieved in our merger.

Our Accomplishments

Over four years, Points of Light Institute has grown, learned, innovated and found new ways to inspire, equip and mobilize volunteers. While this journey has had its challenges, we have emerged stronger.

Organizational Gains

  • We have found new models for fundraising and investment and we are no longer dependant on federal funding to sustain our operations. We have expanded and diversified our funding base to include investments from America’s leading companies, created innovative cause-marketing campaigns, and mounted a successful social enterprise and $30 million legacy campaign that was fueled largely by individual investors. This campaign was a terrific tribute to the enthusiasm that President George H.W. Bush has inspired with his call to a Thousand Points of Light and his own servant and civic leadership.
  • We have relocated our office headquarters to Atlanta, shaved millions off our expenses and made thoughtful choices around personnel consolidation. We have strong, diverse and dedicated board and staff teams made up of leaders in our sector who work effectively together.
  • Since its inception we have generated more than $241 million for the nonprofit sector through MissionFish, enabling people to designate portions of online purchases and sales to charities. We successfully spun this venture off to eBay in 2011, allowing for continued growth and dollars for the sector.

Programmatic Gains

  • We have implemented a comprehensive evaluation system with our HandsOn Network affiliates where none existed before. That measurement tells us that, from 2008 to 2010, we increased our annual volunteer engagement by 1.5 million people, and added more than 6,000 new partners and 21,000 Volunteer Leaders to implement high impact service projects for communities in need.
  • We have continued to grow important corporate partners, including executing exciting volunteer mobilization efforts like Disney’s “Give A Day, Get a Disney Day” with one million people activated, and Starbucks’ “I’m In” campaign that contributed more than one million service hours in communities around the country. We have strengthened our Corporate Service Council, a group of more than 50 corporations that are leading the way in volunteerism and employee engagement. This group is defining new models of global service, skill-based volunteering and shared corporate standards to measure the impact of employee volunteer service. We are also poised to take on a new threshold of leadership with our new Corporate Institute, designed to bring together and harness the power of companies. The Corporate Institute will provide a forum for businesses, create and share vital resources and consulting services and support on-the-ground employee volunteer activation around the world.
  • We merged the strong assets of three powerful youth service organizations – Children for Children, the League and Learning to Give – into generationOn, our new youth activation division that has the national scale to put kids, tweens and teens at the center of change. We have established a $5 million partnership with Hasbro, and have been building strong partnerships with organizations like Parade Magazine to fuel our work with youth. An example of the collective impact of generationOn and our Hasbro partnership was our 2010 Toys for Tots campaign where, within a week during the holiday season, more than 115,000 kids pledged an act of service in 2011 through the generationOn website and Hasbro donated a toy for each pledge to underserved children across the country.
  • The Points of Light Institute Civic Incubator has been established and laid a foundation for leadership around mergers and acquisitions and incubating promising ventures. The Civic Incubator completed the mergers that resulted in generationOn, and supported the post-merger integration, and program and website development to formally launch generationOn. AmeriCorps Alums is another incubating unit with new focus and strategy developed to take this unit to scale. Two critical ventures – global service and the Corporate Institute – have been launched and seeded with accomplished leaders. Finally, a new model of incubating early stage ventures by civic entrepreneurs was piloted with the launch of Fuse Corps – a fellowship program putting young executive talent at the center of community initiatives across the country.

Creating a Culture of Service

  • Our national days of service are providing a strong foundation and national leadership for volunteer mobilization across the country and throughout the year. The 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance, Make A Difference Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and National Volunteer Week mobilize more than four million Americans annually to find ways to address the challenges in their communities. Each of these days provides a moment in time for the entire sector to inspire both long-time volunteers and new audiences.
  • We have solidified and expanded our recognition programs, including Daily Point of Light Award, installed 13 medallions in the past four years in the Extra Mile monument in Washington, D.C., and distributed nearly 550,000 Presidential Volunteer Service Awards over the past four years. We have truly lifted up service and millions of Points of Light – with the nationally televised “All Together Now” celebration of service and tribute to President George H. W. Bush earlier this year, the Presidential Forum on Service with President Barack Obama at Texas A&M University in 2009, and a White House reception honoring President Bush’s leadership in volunteerism, among other national platforms. President Bush’s original vision for Points of Light continues to inspire and guide our work.
  • We helped support and lead a coalition of organizations to imagine and pass the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act – the largest extension of the federal investment in service since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Points of Light helped formulate several new dimensions of the Act including the Volunteer Generation Fund.
  • Finally, the National Conference on Volunteering and Service has become the marquee event for the service sector. The annual conference has grown to include more than 4,500 thought leaders bringing together grassroots, national and global nonprofit organizations, corporations, educators, youth leaders, faith organizations, national service members, community volunteers and national leaders including Presidents George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, First Lady Michelle Obama, former California First Lady and journalist Maria Shriver, actress and activist Ruby Dee, civil rights icons John Lewis and Andrew Young, musician Jon Bon Jovi, comedian John Oliver, and media personalities such as James Carville, Mary Matalin, Soledad O’Brien, Robin Roberts, Arianna Huffington, David Gergen and Joe Scarborough.

Lessons Learned

We have learned many lessons, a few of them painful. We have learned that while there is universal acclaim for consolidation, there are few funders or resources that are focused on the effort. It is important to get some up-front funding to support integration and that gives a runway to the merger efforts. It is critical to have expertise to assist on an often tricky path – we were lucky to have merger consulting support from Accenture, legal support from McKenna Long & Aldridge, and consulting around restructuring our finances from Deloitte – all of this was pro bono and we could not have done the work without these resources. With our subsequent mergers and acquisition efforts, The Kellogg Foundation was a valuable partner and funder to make the emergence of generationOn possible.

We learned that however long you think it will take, it will likely take longer to realize full integration, and that while there are long-term efficiencies, there are also up-front costs. We also learned that culture is extraordinarily important and creating shared agreements around values and direction is critical to minimize disruption down the line.

Our Plans for the Future

As a sector, as we face increasing challenges and limited resources, I think it is incumbent upon all of us to think creatively and embrace risk and even failure in pursuit of transformation. We are excited about the future of the organization and are at the end of a strategic planning process to chart out our next three years. We look forward to sharing our plans in the coming months.  As we have been looking forward in our planning, we have also been looking back and reflecting upon our lessons and the many champions who have been a part of our work. We are grateful to all the essential partners and stakeholders who have helped us on this journey and we look forward to working together to make service central to meeting the critical issues of our time in the coming years.

Yours in service,

CEO, Points of Light Institute

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