What Americorps Has Learned From Silicon Valley

In the new world of community service, simply reaching lots of people with volunteers is not good enough.

Community service has become more sophisticated, targeted, and data-driven over the last several years, according to the director of AmeriCorps.

The national service program, founded in 1994, now measures the outcomes of its programs instead of just the number of people it serves; that's a major shift within the world of community service and an inspiration taken from start-up culture. "Part of it is to know where to make the investment and what are the best interventions," said Bill Basl, the director of AmeriCorps, at an Atlantic Media event in Denver on Tuesday, presented with support from Allstate.

Basl spoke about local innovations, nonprofit and corporate partnerships, and the best strategies for volunteerism to an audience at the Alliance for a Sustainable Colorado. The event marked the launch of "The Renewal Series: Celebrating America's Local Innovators," a partnership betweenAtlantic Media and Allstate. At a time when national polls suggest that Americans are fed up with Washington, the Renewal Series will spotlight grassroots entrepreneurs and change-makers.

Basl highlighted some of the best AmeriCorps programs, including one in Minnesota that places volunteers in school classrooms to help boost students' reading skills. He also highlighted the increasing trend of nonprofit organizations and community programs partnering with corporations as a way to not only gain more funding but also recruit additional volunteers and strengthen communities.

But the most effective way for communities to increase volunteerism and encourage innovation at the local level, Basl said, is to make sure that each community program has a "defined outcome." "What do we expect to see at the end of this experience?" Basl says, whether it be boosting high school graduation rates or reducing pollution. "It's not enough to put individuals out there. You have to have a goal."