Ten Steps For The Next Peace Corps Director To Take To Save Money, Improve The Agency, and Make All PCVs & RPCVs Happy!

In a gesture to help the new Director so she or he can ‘hit the ground running’ I am outlining over the next two weeks 10 steps to be taken to change the Peace Corps, save the agency, and make a difference overseas and here at home. I invite everyone to add to the conversation with their suggestions about what can (and should) be done. Just add your ideas in the comments section below this entry. Many thanks.

Step #1: Close The Regional Peace Corps Recruitment Offices

To save money, and meet a budget crunch, two years ago the Peace Corps closed two regional recruitment offices. Now the new Director should close all of them.. Close the offices in New York, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle San Francisco and Los Angeles. These regional offices have been replaced (like newspapers) with the Internet. We are a wired nation, from applying to college, getting a job, to finding someone to date. Add to that listing, joining the Peace Corps.

The truth is that the first information 90% of all PCVs have about the Peace Corps is in Middle School. Ask almost anyone serving overseas and she or he will tell you that they decided to join the Peace Corps when they were in Middle School and their teacher brought in slides from overseas. Sitting quietly in their decks these kids promised themselves: someday I’m going to be a Peace Corps Volunteers.

That hope and dream and aspiration was tucked away until sometime in college it came back and they typed “peace corps” into their laptop and up popped the government site. The Peace Corps website is increasingly more useful and sophisticated since it was developed in the mid-nineties by little Mikey Chapman, a political appointee in the Clinton years. While the site looks too much like a “boy scout” site–it needs  less ‘feel good’ stories and more hard edge information on life and work overseas–the site has come a long way.

Meanwhile, the Peace Corps Regional Offices were an outgrowth of the days in the 1970s when the Peace Corps was deeply buried in the bureaucracy of the Action Agency. In those years, Action’s recruitment offices were as numerous as peapods, and as attractive and as inviting as any army recruitment office. In fact, the New York Office was in Time Square, cheek to jowls with tourists, the army own recruitment center, and street walkers.

So, the next Director needs to close down the regional offices and move the  effort back to D.C. Appoint an Associate Director to supervise a new recruitment initiate for the agency.

One more change. Move World Wise School into recruitment.

The Peace Corps should foster and encourage the nascent interest of young teen agers Because of the Five Year Rule, because of the shell game of rotating staff, there is no real “history” within the agency and from one generation to the next, good ideas and programs disappear, forgotten and considered “old news.”

However, if you institutional World Wise Schools within the recruitment office, it is possible to expand the program, promote more knowledge about service with young people, and connected the desire to service with the Peace Corps.

As Jesuits are fond of saying, “Give us a child by the age of 6, and he will be ours for life.”

We’ll take the middle school kids and made them all PCVs when they finish college!!

[Tomorrow, Step # 2] Meanwhile, send me your ideas to improve the Peace Corps.


Leave a comment
  • Happy Father’s Day, John.
    Step One had me teary for some reason. Perhaps it’s because I’ve got two middle schoolers in my life and they’ve begun asking me about the Peace Corps.
    By Step 10, I fgure you’ll having me joining up again.

  • Fabulous idea, John! The Regionals should have been shuttered years ago. Wonder what the annual savings would be? I look forward to reading the remaining 9 ideas.
    Bob Graulich (Malawi, Malaysia)

  • “Putting the nail in your own coffin.”.I thought regional recruiting was buried when you left as Northeast Regional Director in the 90’s!!!
    and add to your “ask anyone list ,” the idea to join the Peace Corps is always reinforced by sharing the personal experience with a prospect,..After 48 years ,I still have a high “sign up ” rate of people that I speak to about the Peace Corps..

    Why not have a lsit of 100 reasons to join the Peace Corps on the website..the Boy Scouts do!!!

    Dennis Grubb ( Colombia)

  • John
    If Grubb can convince people to join the Peace Corps then anyone can do it. My suggestion, ease off on finding the perfect person for the right job. Try putting a good person with motivation in a reasonable experience. He/she doesn’t have to be a brain surgeon in a country without basic santiation. He/she can be a person who can show people how to follow basic sanitation rules such as washing hands, fresh produce, and such. Don’t believe me, the latest major “development” activity in Haiti, a country in which I have lived, is building new style latrines. Surely it doesn’t take specific training to lead such work.

  • Thanks , Leo…

    John… ideas for your Director top ten list…

    I am serious about checking the Boy Scout website for ideas ..they have a list of 100 reasons to be a Scout..What about 100 reasons to be a PCV??? BTW, the Boy Scouts celebrate 100 Years in 2010, PC 50 in 2011.

    If the Jesuits ( celebrating a couple of centuries )didn’t get them by six maybe they became Boy Scouts ( another organization filled with pedophiles’ ) at 7– the starting age for Cub Scouts.

    One of the reasons for my selection in Colombia I ( as I was a young 20 year old who had not finished college ) was the fact I was an Eagle Scout and had the qualities to be a truly great American!! ( The selection staff actually said PC was about ethics, values, honesty…) Your California Lt. Governor buddy, John Gramendi is also an Eagle Scout and he is listed on the website , along with Mike Bloomberg and Jerry Ford as a famous Eagle Scouts.. I am only a infamous Colombia I volunteer!

    Of course, core to changing the Peace Corps is that old Shriver idea…Volunteers at the top of the organization !!!!

    and tighten the commitment …enough of this excuse you can go home early if you don’t like it…they are getting people who say I’ll give it a go and than leave…if you want to go home, institute pay your own way penalties or something..( or the firing squad!)

    I’ ll dream about it over the next week.. I’ve been hired to solve the financial crisis here in Kiev this morning…

  • Keep it up, John. “Babbles” and the other blogs that have blossomed and reached a growing audience under peacecorpsworldwide are contributing to rising awareness among RPCVs and others. I believe they were a critical factor in the recent budget victory in the house. The demonstration would not have occurred without them. The internet has obviated the need for the regional offices (huge cost savings), and the new, improved internet platforms are spawning the increased participation of the Peace Corps community. Excellent!

  • If I am to assume that a new Director will take the time to read ideas from RPCV’s…then I recommend that he or she read and really understand the importance of the Three Goals, always keep them at hand! I am concerned how few Staff and current Volunteers know about the Goals and why they are so very important. As we get ready to celebrate our first 50 years these Three Goals mean so very much to our next 50 years! And while the next Director is at it…buy a copy of Barbara Joe’s excellent presentation of life as a Volunteer in Honduras, though in her 60’s, the book is about life in any country as a Peace Corps Volunteer…her book is “Triumph & Hope”…golden years with the Peace Corps in Honduras! This book should be required reading for and PCV and Staff, a must!
    Bob Arias
    Colombia 1964-66
    Panama 2009

  • There are a number of assumptions that I find troubling with this. As well, there is totally inaccurate information. It is not true that 90% of current PCVs first heard about PC in middle school. As someone well acquainted with PC applicants, I am familiar with the statistics.

    Furthermore, who cares when they first heard about PC? The fact is that most people in middle school also learned about becoming doctors, lawyers, astronauts, policeman and many other professions. Is middle school the only time when individuals should be exposed to career choices?

    Additionally, many applicants type “Peace Corps” on the internet after being exposed to it from a recruiter on campus. So, while many PCVs may have first hear of PC in middle school (though i know its not 90%), it was probably a recruiter’s influence on campus that caused them to revisit the PC years later, and, most importantly, actually apply. No doubt about it, recruiters play a pivotal role in an individuals decision to hit the submit button on the application.

    Most applicants need some assistance during the application phase. And, they often simply want somebody to talk to that’s done the PC before applying. When PC offers representatives that prospective volunteers can talk with, they are far more likely to join PC. The period after college is the most ideal time as well to take a break from the obligations of the “real life.” Therefore, PC recruitment efforts should be aimed at colleges. Given current budgets, there is no way to increase the size of the PC without recruitment efforts.

    I’m not sure what advantage there is to centralizing all recruitment in D.C. Nor is an advantage clearly spelled out by John. Heck, even the recruitment office in D.C. was moved from the HQ building due to confusion over the roles of the different offices.


    Panama 04-07

  • Panama 04-07–thanks for your comment. I am not troubled by your troubles about your assumptions. Having seen quite a few Apps in five years running the New York Office, I still believe it is worthwhile to link World Wise Schools to our recruiting. True, kids at that age want to be doctors and lawyers, but they link that ambitious to Peace Corps service.

    I agree that the personal service by the Peace Corps staff in Recruitment is extremely important, but in our NY office, Recruiters were often handling 90 Apps at a time, and once the paperwork was done, the Apps were moved to Selection in DC, and a new RPCV took over the file. So, the truth was that once nominated, the NY Recruiters had little contact with the person, unless there was a ‘problem’ with the file.

    I still believe in the Recruiter on campus, as you point out. While the personal impact of these visits are limited. Recruiters are usually on a campus for two days, sometimes less, and make one or two presentations at most. Not a lot of quality time.

    Now, I agree that many, many PCVs join just because they do want to take a break after college. Today, more are applying because they can’t find work! At the height of the Vietnam War, they went into the Peace Corps to avoid the draft. It takes all kinds, and for all reasons.

    Moving the Recruitment effort back into the HQ building is for many reasons which I’ll to spell out in Step # 2. Meanwhile, many thanks for your ideas.

    Oh, by the way, the reason that the Peace Corps Recruitment office was moved out of the DC HQ the building, I’m told, was because the other Recruitment Offices felt that they were put at a disadvantage. Not sure really what story, if any story, is true.

  • I agree that a lot of the work that recruiters do that in the end is all for naught. I agree that other PC offices could do a considerable amount in regards to processing an applicant. I wish they would because that would allow me more time to do what I think is of most value to the agency: recruit. You offer no reason to believe we are not effective at this.

    I’m not familiar with your campaigns, but, they are clearly quite different than what I’ve done over the last two years in different regions of southern CA. At large producers in our region, they are visited a minimum of twice per month by recruiters! Small schools do warrant perhaps only 4 visits per year. I’m sure there are many reasons for the discrepancy in campus visits in our respective regions. But, most importantly, we have compiled data to confirm that our visits and presentations our helpful. Of nearly 900 people surveyed, 70% have found our presentations helpful.

    I suppose you can say that you might be able to accomplish the same thing through virtual information meetings. But, I doubt you have much evidence to support this claim. Furthermore, this would seem contrary to the emotional impact recruiters have on potential applicants that you don’t credit. Every recruiter I know is all too familiar with random phone calls or emails from someone not content to just talk to a recruiter, rather, they want more “talk with someone who’s done the PC.” We offer this to them and think it most important to their decision to eventually join.

    Finally, in this digital/virtual age, the PC presents itself as a humanitarian organization that puts an American face and soul in communities around the world. Shouldn’t we as an agency put more, not less, of a human element in the application process and public outreach? Do we really want an agency that creates an additional barrier to applying due to a lack of interpersonal connection? Do you really want to send applicants into the field without having ever met them face to face? While this may be attractive to you, it is not the agency I would want. We clearly disagree on this.

    There are many things I would change about a recruiter’s function. However, I think I speak for the majority of applicants in our region when I say that our efforts have not only been important, but critically important in their decision to join PC. Again, I’ll wait for you to support your claim with some facts about how you would attract more applicants with less feets on the streets.

    Thanks for the opportunity to rant about some aspects of my job that are important.

    Panama 04-07

  • Thanks Panama 04-07 (aka Yes2reg offices) I left a comment on Hoqueway you might want to read too. Thanks again for your good suggestions. The human element is very, very important. I know that from my experience and from the comments of others, including my own Recruiters in NY from 1996-2000. As you know, we have many PCVs who have not met anything from the Peace Corps when they arrive at Staging. We have other Apps who are all over the office. They wash out at the same rate. We had 6 references in the 90s; now, I think, it is 4. Back in the 70s a study was done by the Peace Corps that showed the recommendaton/reference from a PCVs Mom was the one that was ‘dead on” on the success or failure of a PCV.

    The $$$ aren’t there to increase the numbers overseas until some cutting of 1) offices; 2) staff. So you have to make hard choices. I think the answer lies with RPCVs, and I’ll try to spell that out in the next blog.
    Again, good ideas and comments and I appreicate them, as do others.

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