What is AmeriCorps?
AmeriCorps is a 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 70 fellows—50 Climate Fellows and 20 Water Fellows—who contribute over 65,000 hours to help California communities respond to climate change and water management needs. CivicSpark Fellows implement a needed climate or water-focused 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.
While each project is defined by partners to address their needs, all CivicSpark support includes four components: (1) an initial gap assessment to determine specific project needs and finalize the project scope; (2) a service project (research, planning, or implementation projects) targeting local climate needs and in connection with a public agency; (3) support for increased volunteer engagement by establishing new volunteer programs or enhancing pre-existing program relevant to climate change or integrated water management; 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 climate and water action efforts.
What can CivicSpark fellows work on?
CivicSpark Fellows will provide capacity-building support to public agencies through research, planning, and project implementation activities. CivicSpark Fellows can work on a wide range of climate or water initiatives as long as the connection to climate or water goals is clearly defined, and the work can be completed by a Fellow within the service year.
CivicSpark Climate capacity-building projects can include:
- Educating community members about climate change.
- Benchmarking commercial building energy use.
- Conducting electric vehicle readiness planning.
- Inventorying greenhouse gas emissions.
CivicSpark Water capacity-building projects can include:
- Researching general plan options to incorporate groundwater language.
- Updating drought contingency plans.
- Implementing water efficiency ordinances.
- Implementing a water incentive program.
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 climate change and water resource management 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 sustainability 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 will likely focus on either research, planning, or implementation, though depending on the timeframe and beneficiary, it is plausible that a single project might include multiple stages of more than one.
Can proposed CivicSpark projects include both mitigation and adaptation?
Yes. We work on both adaptation and mitigation projects.
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 is now open and available on our website. Learn more at civicspark.lgc/join-civicspark/project. The application consists of four main steps:
- The first step is to complete 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.
- The second step is LGC will review the initial application and set up a call with the applicant to further discuss project scopes and needs.
- The third step is to complete a service agreement with LGC. The service agreement is a contract between LGC and the applying organization outlining roles and responsibilities and the terms for the fiscal contribution.
- The fourth step is to have 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 2017-18 service year will start mid September.
What is the difference between the climate and water track?
Climate Fellows are placed individually or in teams with partner organizations in eight regions across the state. Fellows will serve with local leaders responding to statewide climate priorities such as greenhouse gas inventories, alternative transportation, renewable energy, and adaptation. Fellows are supported by a local Regional Coordinator who provides partners with program level support and coordinates Fellow professional development activities.
Water Fellows are placed in teams of 2-3 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.
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 urgent climate and water issues. So within that framework, we have the following guidelines about who we partner with:
- CivicSpark Fellows can be placed with (i.e. have a Fellow placed 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). See eligibility criteria below.
- Defined target public agencies can be local, county, or regional. They can be cities, towns, special districts, school districts, MPOs, COGs, 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. For more information on sponsorship, visit our Support Page.
Can CivicSpark partner with tribal governments?
We are working on a project with a consortium of agencies benefiting multiple communities. Am I eligible for support through CivicSpark?
We are happy to work on larger projects that will create lasting impacts for multiple local governments. However, to effectively deliver our defined services each public agency served will need to complete each step of our 4-step service process as well as the pre- and post- Capacity Assessment surveys to document outcomes from our work, and 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 CivicSpark serves must demonstrate a “capacity need,” measured by the absence of 1 or more criteria:
- 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.
Participating public agencies must demonstrate a “capacity need,” measured by the absence of 1 or more criteria:
- Agency does not have dedicated staff responsible for cross-sector & inter-jurisdictional collaboration, or coordinating water & land use;
- Agency is not a member of an IRWMP (Integrated Regional Water Management Plan);
- Agency is not actively participating in GSA formation (Groundwater Sustainability Agency) or GSP development (Groundwater Sustainability Plan);
- Agency is not currently equipped to meet their data, research, planning, engagement, or coordination needs to adequately meet local water sustainability goals and state water management priorities.
What qualifies a public agency as ‘exceptional high need’?
CivicSpark also wants to track service to those communities we determine to be have “exceptional need” for capacity building. Generally speaking, we have a goal that half (50%) of our target public agencies meet the criteria for exceptional need.
Public Agencies are considered to have exceptional climate capacity need if they meet 2 of 4 of the following criteria:
- Community unemployment is above the state average for the current recorded year.
- Key climate indicator (e.g. energy, water, waste) unimproved from the previous year.
- Local tax revenues lower than the previous year.
- CalEnvironScreen rating in the top one-third(score of 23 or greater).
Public Agencies are considered to have exceptional water capacity need if they meet 3 of the following 6 criteria:
- Are within one of the 24 counties designated by the state as most severely impacted by the drought.
- Are within a medium- or high-priority basin experiencing critical overdraft, as defined under Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
- Are noncompliant with California State Groundwater Elevation Monitoring (CASGEM) system.
- Have a majority of organizational service area or jurisdiction (>50%) with CalEnviroScreen Impaired Waters score in the top 1/3 (67% or above).
- Have a majority of organizational service area or jurisdiction (>50%) with CalEnviroScreen Drinking Water score in the top 1/3 (67% or above).
- Have a majority of organizational service area or jurisdiction (>50%) with CalEnviroScreen Groundwater score in the top 1/3 (67 or more clean-up sites).
What are the eligibility criteria for nonprofits? Is it that the agencies served by the effort meet the criteria as defined?
Yes – If you are a nonprofit interested in applying for a CivicSpark project, the project must benefit a public agency (or multiple public agencies). When you complete the application and enter eligibility information, please use the information of the public agency or agencies that your work will support.
What are my responsibilities as a partner?
- Define a project scope with a clearly defined connection to an eligible local public agency (or agencies) that can be completed within the term of service.
- Provide needed eligibility information and complete a pre- and post-service Capacity Assessment survey.
- Provide space (e.g. desk, computer, etc.) and direct project supervision for fellows (at least 1 hr / week).
- For CivicSpark Water Fellows, partners provide overall Fellow supervision as well as some professional development training support. This additional supervisory role is subsidized (see costing below). LGC Water Associate provides additional support for partners and training for fellows.
- For CivicSpark Climate Fellows, partners provide project supervision only, an LGC Regional Coordinator provides program support, member development training, and acts as a local liaison to the partner.
- Agree to follow all AmeriCorps requirements and prevent fellows from participating in prohibited or unallowed activities.
When do fellows begin their service?
The 2017-18 service year will begin mid September 2017 and will be completed by mid August 2018.
How many hours of work will a Fellow be able to complete during the year?
Each fellow serves for 1700 hours over 11 months, at least 1300 of those hours are dedicated to project service work. Approximately 150 hours are focused on community volunteer engagement, and the remaining hours are focused on professional development and program service activities.
Do I have to provide the CivicSpark team desk space and office resources?
Yes, you should plan to have dedicated space and office resources for your Fellow.
How do I know I will get good value for 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 10% as a deposit; then the remaining balance is due monthly.
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 don’t 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 won’t 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?
CivicSpark fellows are not allowed to work directly on grant writing or fundraising, as outlined by AmeriCorps regulations. CivicSpark fellows are able 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 comingling 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.