How will I determine if my agency or organization is an allowable placement site for MEO VISTA?

In order to receive the services of a VISTA member through the MEO program, an agency or organization must be:

  • Classified as a public organization such as a nonprofit group, Indian Tribe, and state and local government agencies;
  • Able to direct the project, recruit and supervise the VISTA member, and provide the necessary administrative support to accomplish the goals of the project;
  • Insured, with general liability coverage for employees and volunteers;
  • Provide space and resources needed for VISTA member.

Under what circumstances will a proposed service placement be denied?

Rural Dynamics reserves the right to withhold, reduce or cease support of any partnering agency or community organization, based on the following criteria:

  • Unavailability of AmeriCorps VISTA member slots;
  • Failure to comply with grant provisions;
  • Misalignment with the mission, values and acceptable services activities of CNCS or Rural Dynamics;
  • Inadequate supervision of members and/or VISTA-related service activities

What are host site participation fees?

Montana’s AmeriCorps VISTA placements are made through intermediary organizations like the Rural Dynamics. In order to provide support and training to VISTAs and host sites, a participation fee is assessed of each partner organization. These funds are used entirely to support the AmeriCorps VISTA program. The full dollar value of placing an AmeriCorps VISTA member is approximately $32,000/year, which includes a living allowance, Education Award, health insurance, ongoing member support, program administration, training, and service-related travel costs.

Part of the annual Host Site Participation Fee commitment includes an administrative fee*, which must be paid prior the member’s start date. This fee is used to cover training, travel and administrative costs associated with MEO’s oversight of the VISTA project. The subsequent payment due upon member’s start date is for partner cost share, which supports living allowance and member costs, such as health insurance.

What are “un-met community needs”?

Community needs are considered ‘un-met’ if current efforts do not address, or do not adequately deal with, community problems. First, think about challenges your community faces: poor access to safe affordable housing, below average employment rates among disadvantaged workers, a lack of financial education in the community, etc. Secondly, determine what is currently being done to address these challenges and decide whether AmeriCorps VISTA is an appropriate solution.

Questions to consider:

  • What specific community need would the proposed program address?
  • Who and how is the program designed to help? Does this align with the focus areas?
  • How many will be affected by the outcomes of the program?
  • What are the causes of the problem? How does this program intend to rectify those causes?
  • Is the need based on documented data and how is it documented? Local expertise? A national study? A statewide study? Statistical data is very helpful when developing the VAD (VISTA Assignment Description).
  • What specific actions will the program take to resolve the need?
  • What are the short-term and long-term outcomes of the program?
  • Are there other similar programs in the local area to address the need? What makes this program unique?

Example: According to the FINRA National Financial Capability Study, 53% of Montana study participants answered three or fewer questions covering aspects of economics and finance encountered in everyday life correctly. In addition, 16% of Montanans spent more than their income, 67% have medical bills that are overdue, and 62% have no rainy day fund for emergencies. The unmet need that has been identified is a lack of access to financial education in the state. VISTA members will work with community organizations and businesses to establish local financial education opportunities. Short-term outcomes include conducting a community needs assessment and creating an advisory group made up of community organizations and business partners. Intermediate outcomes include developing a volunteer engagement and retention plan and recruitment strategy (Year 1) and increasing the number of volunteers engaged (Year 2). The long-term outcome will be an increase in financial education knowledge and a change in financial behaviors of participants participating in financial education opportunities. (Year 3 and beyond).

What activities are appropriate for AmeriCorps VISTA members?

As a rule, VISTA members do not provide direct services, such as tutoring children or building homes. Instead, they focus their efforts on building the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of organizations that fight illiteracy, improve health services, foster economic development, and otherwise assist low-income communities. VISTAs develop programs, write grants, and recruit and train volunteers. Example VISTA activities:

  • Organizing a veterans center and expanding support for homeless veterans;
  • Assessing financial education access and success efforts in a community;
  • Supporting post-secondary education and certification efforts to unemployed workers;
  • Creating a safe housing awareness campaign and recruiting volunteer mentors;
  • Setting up affordable afterschool programs;
  • Developing a back to work campaign for disadvantaged or displaced workers;
  • Expanding programs to help low-income families navigate out of debt and build assets;
  • Recruiting onsite mentors for low income housing developments;

In each case, the VISTA is tasked with strengthening an organization so it can continue to serve the needs once the VISTA’s service has ended.

What is the VISTA Assignment Description (VAD)?

A foundation document of a VISTA program is the VISTA Assignment Description (VAD), which we refer to as a VAD. The VAD is a document that describes what each of your members will do over the course of one service year. Basically, it is an outline of the program actions, outcomes, and timelines.

The VAD takes the goals identified with the program and translates them into the organizational and community capacity-building activities VISTAs will perform to help achieve those goals. The anti-poverty mission of the program should be apparent in the VAD as well.

Because the VAD describes the VISTA’s service activities, it is essentially a position description and therefore a very useful document for recruiting people who are well suited to an organization’s and community’s needs.

Once the VISTA is in place, the VAD clarifies his or her roles and maps a course of action in the long and short term. The VAD cannot replace the guidance of a supervisor, but it can help frame the early conversations between a supervisor and a VISTA. It indicates the program’s priorities, organizational and community challenges, and of course, the purpose of the program. The VAD is also a resource to monitor performance and to keep the program on track. Rural Dynamics staff will work with host sites that receive a VISTA resource to develop VADs for their programs.

What are capacity building activities?

The Corporation for National & Community Service defines capacity building as, “a set of activities that expand the scale, reach, efficiency, or effectiveness of programs and organizations.” Capacity-building activities may include program planning, developing training or outreach materials, cultivating partnerships or creating systems to measure impact, to name a few. Activities may also leverage resources for programs and/or organizations. Capacity building is considered indirect service and does not involve the one-to-one provision of services or benefits between an AmeriCorps member and the beneficiary community. This differs from direct service, in that direct service activities involve working directly with individuals or groups of individuals to bring about personal change, while capacity-building activities involve working behind the scenes to bring about systematic or organizational change.

Direct service activities such as teaching, tutoring, mediating, counseling, case management, coaching, managing volunteers, or providing direct client care are not considered capacity-building and are therefore not allowable for AmeriCorps VISTA members.

Capacity building is measured by Corporation for National & Community Service, therefore is an integral piece of the program development and instrumental in gauging the effectiveness of the VISTA’s service. A valuable resource in selecting the Capacity Building performance measure that best suits the proposed program can be found here: https://www.nationalserviceresources.gov
Once at the website, choose the performance measurement option under the heading “Other Networks” to locate the measurement guidelines. You will find helpful information such as definitions of key terms, how to calculate, measure, and collect data, and useful links to other related websites.

For more information on capacity building vs. direct service, please read over our Core Principles document.

What are performance measures?

Performance measures are the method of assessment for AmeriCorps VISTA programs and they are used to determine whether or not a sponsor (such as Rural Dynamics) is meeting its programmatic goals over time. These measures comprise the ‘what’ of our program by providing specific targets and details about service activities.

Host sites must select at least three performance measures for their program. These measures – outputs and intermediate outcomes – will be collected monthly/quarterly to monitor the program’s progress and effectiveness. Please see the measures below and select the most appropriate reporting options for your program.

CNCS’ Performance Measurement framework provides a common focal point for CNCS’ work across all programs and initiatives. CNCS has a focused set of agency-wide Priority Measures derived from the annual Strategic Plan.

CNCS Program will contribute to the Priority Measures. Projects report on Goal 3 to maximize the value we add to grantees, partners and participants.

How are Rural Dynamics’s MEO priorities determined?

As a grantee of the Corporation for National & Community Service, RDI receives funding based on alignment with service priorities and key focus areas dictated by the federal funder. RURAL DYNAMICS also has an organizational strategic plan that serves as a guide for merging current funding priorities with state and national priorities.

Examples of program objectives that are tied to Rural Dynamics’s MEO priorities include: eliminating gaps in financial education access and veteran resources; providing resources for low income and disadvantaged populations; and expanding programming, with a particular focus on serving rural and tribal communities throughout the region.


Agency-Wide Priority Measure:
One of a set of 16 National Performance Measures aligned with the 2011- 2015 Strategic Plan that allows us to assess the individual and collective results of programs, continue to enhance program effectiveness, and tell the national story of service.

Capacity Building:
A set of activities that expand the scale, reach, efficiency, or effectiveness of programs and organizations. Activities may also leverage resources for programs and/or organizations. For example, capacity building activities may expand services, enhance delivery of services, or generate additional resources. These activities achieve lasting positive outcomes for the beneficiary populations served by CNCS-supported organizations.

Complementary Program Measure: A standardized National Performance Measure that allows us to measure results of important programmatic activities not collected in the Agency-Wide Priority Measures, and also to assess the individual and collective results of programs and continue to enhance program effectiveness.

Focus Area: One of a set of 6 core priority issue areas identified in the Serve America Act where we focus national service and measure its impact.

Objective: A more specific focus and action plan within each Focus Area.

Outcome: A type of measure that indicates progress toward achieving the intended result of a program, which usually represents a change in the situation of beneficiaries of service, such as educational achievement or housing.

Output: A type of measure that tabulates, calculates, or records the actual products or services delivered by a program, such as students receiving tutoring or houses built.

Performance Measure (PM): A value or characteristic that measures progress toward goals, and also used to improve progress, reduce risks, or improve cost-effectiveness.

VISTA Assignment Description (VAD): A foundation document of a VISTA program. The VAD is a document that describes what each VISTA member will do over the course of one service year. Essentially, it is an outline of the program actions, outcomes, and timelines.

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