Corporation For National And Community Service Gets New Boss

Wendy Spencer, chief executive officer of the Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service in Florida, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to head the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The appointment must be approved by the U.S. Senate, which is generally a formality.

The CNCS engages more than five million Americans in service through Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America, and leads President Obama’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve.

She replaces Patrick Corvington who resigned this past April after just 15 months on the job. Corvington was appointed after Maria Eitel, a Nike Foundation executive, withdrew her nomination for personal health reasons. He is now senior vice president for volunteer and institutional engagement at Habitat For Humanity in Atlanta, Ga.

Acting CEO Robert Velasco II has headed the agency. Velasco was previously the chief operating officer of CNCS and will return to that position.

She walks into an agency that has been a punching bag for members of Congress. The House of Representatives has drafted legislation that appropriates $280 million for the agency, which has a budget of $1.08 billion. The U.S. Senate’s version of budgeting gives the agency a slight boost, to $1.09 billion. President Obama’s original budget proposal had $1.4 billion in it for the CNCS.

Spencer had held the position in Florida since 2003. Her 28-year career includes work in nonprofits, such as the United Way, as well as in marketing, public relations, community development, major event planning, and management. She has raised more than $35 million for communities throughout her career, and has delivered more than 1,000 speeches and presentations, according to her official biography.

Prior to assuming leadership at Volunteer Florida, Spencer was director of the Florida Park Service, Campaign Director for United Way of the Big Bend, and several other management positions in the nonprofit and private sector.

As CEO of Volunteer Florida, she is responsible for the management of federal, state, and local grants annually that engage citizens in volunteer activities. The primary program Volunteer Florida manages is AmeriCorps, through which members dedicate a year of their lives to service in communities across the state.

Volunteer Florida is the official statewide coordinating agency in times of disasters for volunteers and donations. During Florida’s record-breaking 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, Volunteer Florida coordinated more than 252,000 volunteers, as well as donated items totaling more than $85 million in value, which was the largest mobilization of volunteers in the history of U.S. natural disasters at that time.

Spencer was elected by her peers in 2010 to chair the Association of State Service Commissions for a two-year term. There are 54 state service commissions with similar missions linked to Governors’ offices across the nation.

The nomination was widely praised, particularly through the national service community.

“She’s a fabulous leader,” said Michael Brown, CEO of City Year, headquartered in Boston. “It’s a tremendous step forward for national service.” Brown said Spencer has experience administrating federal CNCS programs and understands the process.

“Wendy Spencer is a terrific choice to lead the Corporation for National and Community Service at this critical time. She brings deep experience in mobilizing national service resources and volunteers to meet the critical needs of our communities,” said Michelle Nunn, CEO of the Points of Light Institute in Atlanta. “Her energy and dynamism and history of working across the political divide will serve the Corporation well as it makes its case for continued and extended funding.”

Nunn said that Spencer is “enormously respected” in Florida for getting things done and she has played a vital role as a national leader for the service movement. “I have admired Wendy Spencer for many years and I look forward to continued partnership in working with her in her role as CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service,” said Nunn.

AnnMaura Connolly, president of Voices for National Service and campaign director of Save Service in America in Washington, D.C., released a statement praising the choice. “Ms. Spencer has worked across the public, private and nonprofit sectors to mobilize citizens to address problems facing their communities, and she is uniquely qualified to lead the Corporation for National and Community Service … At a time of economic crisis, when national service organizations are being heavily relied upon to provide vital services to communities throughout the country, growing numbers of citizens are looking for opportunities to serve their country, and lawmakers continue to threaten to cut the funding for this vital support for organizations that are serving families and communities in need, it is essential for the sector to have strong and effective leadership at CNCS.”