Points of Light Institute

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Bush, George H. W.
The nonprofit organization Points of Light (POL) inspires, equips and mobilizes people to take action that changes the world. POL grew out of the vision expressed in President George H. W. Bush's inaugural address of "a thousand points of light" and plays a leadership role advocating public policy to enhance service and volunteering. (Points of Light 2019)

By Erin Wuertz


Points of Light (POL) inspires, equips and mobilizes people to take action that changes the world. POL embraces service and civic engagement as fundamental to a purposeful life and essential to a healthy world. POL envisions a world where everyone discovers the power to make a difference, which will create healthy communities in vibrant and participatory societies. POL has the history, the scale and reach, the leadership and the strategy to mobilize millions of people to tackle concrete, significant challenges. POL is the largest organization in the world dedicated to volunteer service and recognizing those that are performing outstanding volunteer service. With more than 30 years of history, a bi-partisan presidential legacy, and the largest national volunteer footprint in the nation, Points of Light has the vision and strategy to solve some of the world’s greatest problems. (Points of Light 2019) 
Historic Roots
1989: President George H. W. Bush’s inaugural address invokes the vision of a "thousand points of light." 
1990: President Bush establishes the Daily Point of Light Award for individuals making a difference. On the initiation of this award, President Bush awarded more than 1000 individuals with the award. President Bush stated that those receiving this award demonstrate how “a neighbor can help a neighbor.” The award is now administered by Points of Light Institute. In response to President Bush’s call to action, the Points of Light Foundation is created as an independent, non-partisan, nonprofit organization to encourage and empower the spirit of service. The foundation was founded under the understanding that “what government alone can do is limited, but the potential of the American people knows no limits.”
1991: The Points of Light Foundation merges with the National Volunteer Center Network.
1992: CityCares (later named HandsOn Network) is established as a national umbrella organization to provide a national network for sharing resources.
1994: The Corporation for National and Community Service was established to connect Americans with opportunities to give back to their communities. At its inception, the Corporation was directed to manage three main programs: Senior Corps, AmeriCorps (created by President Bill Clinton), and Learn and Serve America.
1997: At The Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future, Presidents Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and First Lady Nancy Reagan unite to discuss the nation’s pressing social issues and discuss what their role is in meeting the needs of the country and world through voluntary action. 
2001: Proclaimed the Year of the Volunteer, Points of Light joined nearly 1000 national and international partners participating in the Year of the Volunteer. It engaged its large network of corporate partners, groups, and individuals to serve others.
2002: President George W. Bush creates USA Freedom Corps in his 2002 State of the Union Address to build on the countless acts of service, sacrifice, and generosity that followed the attacks on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001.
2003: President George W. Bush announced the formation of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation to recognize American's important contributions through service. The Council also created the President's Volunteer Service Award program as a way to thank and honor Americans who inspire others to volunteer. Points of Light Institute is the administrating entity for the awards.
2004: CityCares changes its name to HandsOn Network and grows its national affiliate base and expands to international communities.
2005: HandsOn Network Corporate Council is established with 29 founding corporate leaders of Fortune 500 companies. The council has grown to include more than 90 companies representing our nation’s most powerful businesses and industries. Volunteers from around the globe mobilize after Hurricane Katrina. Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush engage Americans in disaster relief and recovery. HandsOn Network establishes HandsOn Gulf Coast (now HandsOn Mississippi) to act as an action center for recovery efforts.
2007: Points of Light Foundation and HandsOn Network merge to become Points of Light, creating the largest volunteer management and civic engagement organization in the nation.
2008: ServiceNation is established – an unprecedented coalition of service and volunteer leadership to inspire a new era of voluntary citizen service in America. Organizing committee members include Be the Change Inc., City Year, and Civic Enterprises.
2009: President Obama signs the historic Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act heralding in the next phase of the nation’s renewed call to service. President Obama also announces United We Serve campaign to engage more Americans in service. Members of his administration participated and advocated service as a solution to our nation’s most pressing issues. Points of Light celebrates it’s 20th anniversary of President Bush’s invocation of a thousand points of light. 
2010: Points of Light Foundation and Children for Children, The LEAGUE, Learning to Give, and Kids Care Clubs merge to become generationOn, the new youth division of Points of Light Institute. Volunteers around the globe come to the aid of Haiti following a deadly earthquake.  
2011: President George H. W. Bush is honored by President Obama with the United States highest civilian award - the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
2013: The 5,000th Daily Point of Light was Awarded to Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton of Union, Iowa. The award was presented by President Barack Obama and President George H.W. Bush along with several other service leaders from throughout the county. Michelle Nun steps down as CEO of Points of Light to run for the U.S. Senate from Georgia. Tracy Hoover is then appointed as Points of Light’s new president.  
2015: Points of Light Board Chair Neil Bush announced Tracy Hoover as the organization’s new chief executive officer. Michelle Nunn returned to the organization as a member of its board.  
2017: Points of Light board of directors appointed Natalye Paquin to the role of president and CEO. 
2019: At the 2019 Points of Light conference, the new “Civic Century” is revealed going into the 21st century. Points of light vows to be a cultural catalyst, working in partnership with organizations and individuals to build a society where it is impossible to sit on the sidelines. Points of light announces that the 21st century will be one that calls on people to give their time, talents, voice and resources in service to build a brighter future for all.  

Points of Light plays an important leadership role advocating public policy to enhance service and volunteering.  POL strives to advance innovative civic strategies to shape national policy, to achieve impact through service and to build an engaged citizenry. POL is dedicated to engage a wide range of people in order to build an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for all.  

Points of Light Institute is one of four Co-Conveners of Service Nation (servicenation.org), a coalition of more than 200 national and local non-profits, dedicated to the proposition that every American should have an opportunity to serve. Points of Light mobilizes organizations and individuals in more than 250 cities across 37 countries around the globe to use their time, talent and resources to change the world. 

With the active support of organizations such as the Points of Light and its affiliate base, HandsOn Network, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act passed both houses of Congress in the spring of 2009 and was signed into law by President Obama on March 31, 2009. The Act includes both expansions of existing national service programs such as AmeriCorps and authorizes several new programs including the Volunteer Generation Fund. 

The Volunteer Generation Fund provides competitive grants to volunteer connector agencies and state service commissions to expand the supply of volunteers and to improve the capacity of nonprofits, faith-based and other organizations to utilize these new volunteers. This provision authorizes a total of $360 million over the next five years to invest exclusively, and for the first time, in volunteer infrastructure—a proposal which Points of Light and HandsOn Network has championed. 

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
Through its three business units, Points of Light Institute helps people get involved in solving some of the world’s greatest challenges.
  • HandsOn Network, the volunteer-focused arm of Points of Light Institute, is the largest volunteer network in the nation and includes more than 250 HandsOn Action Centers in 37 countries. HandsOn includes a powerful network of more than 5 million volunteers through nonprofit affiliates, community partners and corporations that are answering the call to serve and creating meaningful change in their communities. Annually, the network delivers approximately 20 million hours of volunteer service valued at about $500 million. (Energ!ze INC, 2007)
  • The Civic Incubator (now the Civic Accelerator) was a business unit of Points of Light Institute with the purpose of creating innovation in civic activation. The Incubator brings together and supports emerging civic solutions and new ideas through social enterprise, mergers and joint ventures. The projects they have incubated include AmeriCorps Alums, a youth service division called generationOn, global volunteerism (international HandsOn organizations), and corporate strategy and volunteerism. The Civic Accelerator joined +Acumen in 2019. (The Acumen Civic Accelerator, 2019)
  • Service Enterprise, an organization that strategically leverages volunteers to achieve operational efficiency and greater social impact started in 2010. Points of Light brings this program to nonprofit organizations all around the world to help them strengthen their capacity through the fundamental and strategic use of volunteers and skills to address the needs of the community. Becoming a service enterprise gains an organization access to a comprehensive diagnostic of their organizations, volunteers engagement trainings, coaching, certification, a network of peers to offer peer-to-peer support, and research and resources.
Key Related Ideas
Year-round signature programs and events celebrate the power of volunteers as change agents and direct public attention to the many ways people can become involved in their communities.
  • National Volunteer Week 
    National Volunteer Week, Celebrating People in Action, is a call to action for Americans to volunteer and a week to inspire by example. For more than two decades, Points of Light Institute has provided resources to enable nonprofits to commemorate this signature week of volunteer recognition. (Points of Light - National Volunteer Week 2019) 
  • Points of Light Conference 
    A conference for nonprofits, government, business and civic leaders to learn about volunteering and connect about how to change the world. This conference is geared towards leaders who wish to collaborate and connect with other people doing good all over the world. (Points of Light Conference 2019) 
  • Good Deeds Day 
    A celebration that connected people from all over the world to do good deeds. Good Deeds Day is usually held at the end of March and showcases how people can come together to benefit others and our planet. (Points of Light - Days Of Service 2019) 
  • Daily Point of Light Awards 
    The Daily Point of Light Award honors individuals who are helping to meet critical needs in their communities and creating change every day. More than 6500 individuals have been honored with a daily point of light award. (Points of Light - Daily Point of Light 2019) 
Important People Related to the Topic
  • President George H. W. Bush brought to the White House a dedication to traditional American values and a determination to engage the country in becoming "a force for good." In his Inaugural Address, President Bush called on Americans to engage in hands-on, active service to their country and communities. He called the individuals and groups doing this kind of work “points of light.” On November 30th, 2018 President George H.W. Bush passed away. (Nunn 2018) 
  • Neil Bush is the third of five children of President George H. W. and Mrs. Barbara Bush. This former governor of the State of Florida is Chair of the Points of Light Board.  
  • Michelle Nunn former CEO of Points of Light and Co-Founder of HandsOn Network. Michelle stepped down in 2013 and now sits on the board of directors.  
  • President Barack Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009 and awarded President George H. W. Bush the United State’s highest civilian award the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. 
  • Natalye Paquin current CEO and president of Points of Light. 
Related Nonprofit Organizations
  • The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that 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. https://www.nationalservice.gov/ 
  • Senior Corps mobilizes people over 55 as coaches or companions to people in need, or to contribute their job skills and expertise to community projects and organizations. Conceived during John F. Kennedy's presidency, Senior Corps links more than 500,000 Americans to service opportunities. https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corps/rsvp 
  • AmeriCorps offers opportunities for adults of all ages and backgrounds to serve through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups. AmeriCorps members address critical needs in communities all across America.  https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps 
  • ServiceNation is a campaign to increase service opportunities and elevate service as a core ideal and problem-solving strategy in our society.  https://www.servicenation.org/ 
  • GenerationOn is the global youth service movement igniting the power of all kids to make their mark on the world. GenerationOn is the new Points of Light youth division. It was formed by joining Children for Children, The LEAGUE, Learning to Give and Kids Care Clubs. https://www.generationon.org/ 

Points of Light is connected to more than 485 nonprofits that are certified as Service Enterprises.

Reflection Question: Why is it important for organizations like Points of Light to drive volunteer opportunities in America and all around the world? 
  • Points of Light Institute website, accessed December 9th, 2019 at https://www.pointsoflight.org/ 
  • Historical Context of the Merger Between POL and HO article in Energ!ze INC. https://www.energizeinc.com/hot-topics/2007/appendix 
  • The Acumen Civic Accelerator (formally known as The Civic Incubator) website. https://cvcx.org/ 
  • CNN article “Points of light: Why service to others was the real hallmark of President Bush’s life”, written December 2nd, 2018 at https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/01/us/iyw-president-bush-service-nunn/index.html 


This briefing paper was updated by a student taking a philanthropic studies course in 2019 at The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.