Following my previous and optimistic post of a new era for community service, I’m now going to flip the argument.  While I straddle both U.S. and Canadian philanthropy in this financial downturn and watch as both governments “turn on the taps” and run deficit budgets for this year – I’ve become curious at how long the taps will stay turned on, how effective the spending will be, and what happens when they are suddenly shut off – if community service ceases to be the little darling it appears?

Already the articles and blogs are flying in both directions – arguing fundamental points: is government spending more effective than private innovation or is the reverse true?  Or a better question, does someone know how we can do both?

While this NYT Op-Ed thinks that more national and community volunteer opportunities could help save the economy, Pablo Eisenberg writing an Op-Ed for the Chronicle of Philanthropy debates whether a Public Service Academy would create results and be worth the expense?  The blogs are also elucidating on the theme – from providing debt/loan relief for graduates who spend time in the sector to the importance of the Administration to engage non-profits in their planning.

From this perspective, I’m still optimistic that government support is the right way forward.  But I think there are limits and the sector should not start over-relying on its sudden popularity.  There has been amazing innovation in the sector over the past eight years – because there had to be.  The sector certainly deserves this attention from a new Administration, but more importantly, it deserves continued attention from the citizens.

Let’s be honest, the volunteer and service opportunities have always been there – you just had to take the initiative to look.  Greater engagement, for whatever reason, is certainly a reason to celebrate, but quantity does not ensure quality. Government is helping to kick-start interest, but the sector must continue innovation to maintain this new momentum.

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