What is AmeriCorps?
AmeriCorps is a national community service program created to address the needs of local communities. AmeriCorps engages 75,000 Members annually who complete intensive service to meet community needs in education, health, public safety, security, and the environment. Since the program’s founding in 1994, over 1 million AmeriCorps Members have contributed more than 1.4 billion hours of service to their communities. CivicSpark Fellows are full-time AmeriCorps Members, completing a total of 1700 hours over 11 months, working to assist local communities while gaining valuable experience and training. For more information, visit www.nationalservice.gov.
How does CivicSpark help create sustainable projects?
Each year, CivicSpark recruits 90 Fellows—50 Climate, 20 Water, and 20 Opportunity Access—who contribute over 100,000 hours to help California communities respond to unmet community resilience needs such as: climate change, water resources management, and access to opportunities. CivicSpark Fellows implement a needed project with a public agency connection, while also building long-term capacity through volunteer engagement and transitional activities to ensure the work is sustained after the service year is completed.
Each project is defined by partners to address their specific needs, while also including four key CivicSpark components: (1) an initial gap assessment to determine specific project needs and finalize the project scope; (2) a service project (research, planning, or implementation-focused) targeting local needs and in connection with a public agency; (3) support for increased volunteer engagement by establishing new volunteer programs or enhancing pre-existing programs relevant to their project topic; and (4) transitional support in the form of stakeholder presentations and/or staff training to ensure that project deliverables and resources are adequately handed off to local government participants.
This approach offers a unique opportunity to accelerate local capacity in each community’s target resilience need (e.g., climate change, water resources management, access to opportunity).
What can CivicSpark Fellows work on?
CivicSpark Fellows will provide capacity-building support to public agencies through research, planning, and implementation project activities. CivicSpark Fellows can work on a wide range of initiatives relevant to their thematic track (i.e., Climate, Water, Opportunity Access) as long as the connection to the respective track goals is clearly defined, and the work can be completed by a Fellow within the service year.
Example Climate Projects:
- Educating community members about climate change.
- Benchmarking commercial building energy use.
- Conducting electric vehicle readiness planning.
- Inventorying greenhouse gas emissions.
Example Water Projects:
- Researching general plan options to incorporate groundwater language.
- Updating drought contingency plans.
- Implementing water efficiency ordinances.
- Implementing a water incentive program.
Example Opportunity Access Projects:
- Developing community broadband roadmap (speed and access).
- Demonstrating advanced technology options for agriculture.
- Developing pilot programs for first mile, last mile programs, EV charging.
- Increasing community awareness and utilization of accessory dwelling unit (ADU) options.
Regardless of the specific project focus, Fellows provide this support through a 4-step “intervention.”
- Gap Assessments: Review documents and conduct interviews with local government staff to determine current needs. Fellows will work with their site supervisor to confirm the project scope.
- Service Projects: Conduct a specific research, planning, or implementation project.
- Volunteer Engagement: Support increased volunteerism in the community.
- Transitioning Expertise: Provide transitional training to staff and/or share results with key stakeholders in order to transfer knowledge and build action throughout the community.
Projects generally focus on either research, planning, or implementation activities. Depending on the timeframe and beneficiary, a single project may include multiple stages of more than one activity type.
Can proposed CivicSpark projects include both mitigation and adaptation?
Yes, climate projects can be both adaptation and mitigation.
Partnering with CivicSpark
How do I apply to receive support from CivicSpark for a project?
The application for organizations interested in having a CivicSpark Fellow will open on our website on February 12, 2018. Learn more about the application timeline at civicspark.lgc/join-civicspark/project. The application consists of four main steps:
- The applicant completes a basic online application. This application provides us with information about the project scope and the public agencies the project will support so we can determine eligibility.
- LGC reviews the initial application. LGC staff will set up a call with the applicant to further discuss project scope and needs.
- The applicant and LGC complete a “Service Agreement.” The service agreement is a contract between LGC and the applying organization outlining roles and responsibilities and the terms for the fiscal contribution.
- Relevant public agency staff complete a pre-service “Capacity Assessment” survey. This survey will help to refine the local government’s goals for the CivicSpark project and set a baseline for capacity.
Approved projects for the 2018-19 service year will start mid September.
What is the difference between the Climate, Water, and Opportunity Access tracks?
All CivicSpark Fellows are part of a single combined cohort, complete similar types of projects, and must meet the same (or very similar) requirements. All three thematic tracks follow the same program model. The main difference between tracks is the topic or focus of the project work. There are some minor differences in program structure and cost. Each track is described below.
Climate Fellows are placed individually or in teams with partner organizations. Fellows serve with local leaders responding to statewide climate priorities such as greenhouse gas inventories, alternative transportation, renewable energy, and adaptation.
Water Fellows are placed in teams of two in regions across the state. Fellows serve with local leaders responding to statewide priorities in water management, such as implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and the California Water Action Plan.
Opportunity Access Fellows are placed individually or in teams with partner organizations focused on helping build local government capacity to address barriers to opportunity for community members through projects focused on increasing affordable housing, improving rural broadband access and improving multimodal transportation options.
I am not a local government, but I am interested in applying for support. Is this allowed?
Yes, but with some constraints. CivicSpark’s mission is to support capacity building for public agencies to respond to unmet needs in specific areas (climate, water, opportunity access). Within this framework, we have the following guidelines regarding who we partner with:
- CivicSpark Fellows can be placed with (i.e., have a Fellow under the supervision of) public agencies, NGOs, or state agencies. CivicSpark Fellows cannot serve directly with a for-profit organization.
- Regardless of the project partner, the project scope must have a clearly defined connection to an eligible local public agency (or agencies). This agency serves as the project “beneficiary.” See eligibility criteria below.
- Defined target public agency beneficiaries can be local, county, or regional governments. These include counties, cities, towns, special districts, school districts, MPOs, COGs, JPAs, etc. They cannot be state agencies (although as noted above, a state agency can be a partner, just not the target of the service).
- LGC can work with private companies who want to sponsor CivicSpark to deliver capacity building services to eligible public agencies. For more information on sponsorship, visit our Support Page.
Can CivicSpark partner with Tribal governments?
Yes, CivicSpark is happy to work with tribal governments and encourages any interested agencies to complete our Local Government Application. For the purposes of CivicSpark, a Tribal government qualifies as a local public agency. LGC and CivicSpark fully recognize and respect the Tribal governments as sovereign nations.
We are working on a project with a consortium of agencies benefiting multiple communities. Am I eligible for support through CivicSpark?
Yes! We are happy to work on larger projects that will create lasting impacts for multiple local governments. To effectively deliver our defined services, each public agency served must complete all 4 steps of the CivicSpark service process, as well as the pre- and post- Capacity Assessment surveys. Each agency should receive at least 200 hours of service. In cases where the project scope spans a large number of communities, consider identifying a “regional agency” who can be the beneficiary for the collected set of constituent local governments.
What makes a public agency eligible?
Public agencies receiving support from CivicSpark must demonstrate a “capacity need.” CivicSpark has identified capacity needs for each thematic track below. Capacity need is measured by the absence of 1 or more criteria from the respective track (i.e., if you are lacking one of the four items listed for your selected track, then you have a “capacity need” and thus are eligible to receive CivicSpark support.
- A full-time dedicated sustainability staff,
- A formally adopted climate action plan or similar document, or
- Robust mechanisms to track climate action progress.
- Tracking mechanisms will vary from community to community, but should be established systems and processes that allow the local government to 1) monitor implementation progress on all measures in the Climate Action Plan or similarly formal climate action policy 2) document GHG reduction results from implementation of each measure, and 3) update the inventory and revise targets and measures as needed to adjust to changing conditions. Tracking activities should be completed at least on an annual basis, and should include council/board level as well as department level reporting that allows for discussion of outcomes and formal discussion of any needed changes.
- Dedicated staff responsible solely for cross-sector & inter-jurisdictional collaboration, or coordinating water & land use;
- Not actively participating in an IRWMP (Integrated Regional Water Management Plan);
- Not actively participating in GSP development (Groundwater Sustainability Plan);
- Not currently equipped to meet ALL data, research, planning, engagement, and coordination needs to adequately meet all local water sustainability goals and all state water management priorities.
Opportunity Access Track
- CNT housing cost burden over 45%;
- 2017 Distressed Community Index of 50.0 or higher;
- Underserved or unserved broadband status;
- An All Transit Score of 6 or less;
- CNT transportation cost burden above 20%;
- Top 40% Disadvantaged Community; or
- Unemployment above state average.
What are the eligibility criteria for nonprofits?
If you are a nonprofit interested in applying for a CivicSpark project, the project must benefit a public agency (or multiple public agencies), and the agencies served by the effort must meet the criteria as defined. When you complete the application and enter eligibility information, please use the information of the public agency beneficiaries that your work will support.
What are my responsibilities as a partner?
- Establish a project scope with a clearly defined connection to eligible local governments (specific agencies, or departments or initiatives within a single agency) that can be completed within the term of service.
- Submit required eligibility information and complete a pre- and post- service Capacity Assessment survey.
- Agree to follow all AmeriCorps requirements and prevent Fellows from participating in prohibited or unallowed activities.
- Provide a dedicated workspace (desk, computer, phone, etc.) and direct project supervision for Fellows (at least 1 hr / week).
- Partners provide overall Fellow supervision as well as some professional development training support.
- LGC Regional Coordinators provide program support, member development training, and serves as a local liaison to the partner.
- LGC Program staff provide additional sector-specific support for partners and training for Fellows.
When do Fellows begin their service?
The 2018-19 service year will begin mid-September 2018 and will be completed by mid-August 2019. Specific start-date has yet to be determined.
How many hours of work will a Fellow be able to complete during the service year?
Each Fellow serves for 1700 hours over 11 months.
- At least 1300 of those hours are dedicated to project service work.
- Approximately 250 – 300 hours are assigned to professional development and program service activities.
- Approximately 150 hours are reserved for community volunteer engagement.
Do I have to provide the CivicSpark team desk space and office resources?
Yes. All host agencies must provide a dedicated work space and office resources (phone, computer, etc.) for their Fellows. This does not need to be a full private office; it can be a cubicle, shared work space, or other arrangement, as long as the Fellow has a designated place to work on a daily basis.
How do I know I will receive good value from this service?
With a strongly defined program structure that includes oversight by the Local Government Commission, and clearly documented performance expectations, this program is designed to deliver local results. In a previous case, the PG&E-funded Small Cities Climate Action Partnership used a similar AmeriCorps based team to implement technical services for local governments. The “value” of that service (based on outcomes and services provided) was estimated to be equivalent to private-consulting services that can cost upwards of $100/hour.
Who provides funding for CivicSpark?
CivicSpark is an AmeriCorps program administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) through the California Commission – California Volunteers. Established in 1993, CNCS is a federal agency that engages more than 5 million Americans in service through its core programs — Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and the Social Innovation Fund. AmeriCorps engages more than 80,000 Americans annually in intensive service at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country. Since the program’s founding in 1994, more than 800,000 AmeriCorps members have contributed more than 1 billion hours in service across America. California Volunteers is the state office that manages programs and initiatives aimed at increasing the number of Californians engaged in service and volunteering.
How is the fiscal contribution paid?
The contribution is paid with a 10% deposit when the Service Agreement is executed; then the remaining balance is due in equal monthly installments over the course of the service year.
Does a participating local government have to pay the fiscal contribution?
No, it can come from a third party who is supporting the service project.
What is the value of CivicSpark services not covered by the local fiscal contribution?
Approximately $14/hr is provided through a combination of direct funding, education award, available food stamp benefits. This estimate does not include state contributions of in-kind support and services, nor does it include the value of other benefits such as loan interest forgiveness or free childcare for qualifying fellows.
If we do not have funding in hand, do you have suggestions about how to fund the fiscal contribution?
CivicSpark is a great resource to leverage for outside funding. Because of its flexible design, there is an opportunity to focus the service on a suite of projects that align with available resources. For example, a regional foundation interested in supporting public health might support a vulnerability assessment. Local utilities might support a business energy audit project. If there is an open RFP for climate related work, CivicSpark could be built into responses as a supporting mechanism for completing the project.
Our agency has applied for a grant and assuming we are awarded the grant, we would love to use the funds to pay for a CivicSpark project. We will not find out about the grant until after CivicSpark service year starts. What should we do?
We can accept your application and engage with you on a tentative basis, but we also have to fill our cohort and will prioritize those organizations that have funding secured.
Can I use my CivicSpark team to apply for additional grants to pay for the match?
No. CivicSpark Fellows are not allowed to work directly on grant writing or fundraising, as outlined by AmeriCorps regulations. CivicSpark Fellows are allowed to help local agencies identify possible future funding sources though, and work completed by CivicSpark Fellows may be used to better prepare an agency to access existing funding sources.
Can I use federal grant funds to pay for the fiscal contribution?
AmeriCorps has a policy of deferring to other federal agencies with regard to commingling of federal funds. If the funding agency approves the use of funds for AmeriCorps it is allowable.
Does the fiscal contribution directly go to the CivicSpark Fellow?
No. It is a contribution to the whole program that is also bringing in resources from the federal government to support the whole program operations.
Does a participating local government have to provide workers compensation or liability insurance?
No. CivicSpark Fellows are covered by the Local Government Commission’s insurance.