Public Papers

Remarks at a Briefing on the Points of Light Foundation


Thank you very, very much. A warm welcome to the White House. Merry Christmas! Happy holidays! We're beginning to get the spirit around here. And may I salute the Attorney General and thank him for his leadership and for his keen interest in the subject that you've been discussing, that I'm about to discuss. Because I am really delighted to be here to help introduce the Points of Light Foundation to this impressive group of nonprofit organizations and State leaders and to announce three initiatives designed to reduce barriers hindering voluntary service efforts.

Since our founding, America has been distinguished among nations for the extraordinary degree to which our people have voluntarily banded together to help those among us in need. And today we're faced with perhaps more pressing needs than at any time in our history -- needs that many of your organizations, the organizations represented here today, strive to meet year in and year out.

The needs of our nation are so great that the Points of Light Foundation seeks to make direct and consequential service aimed at serious social problems central to the life and work of every American. To achieve this goal, most institutions will need to adopt a new way of thinking. They must come to see solving these social problems as not just the responsibility of government and nonprofit organizations. Institutions will have to refine their missions to include the engagement of all of their members in community problem-solving.

Of course, service to others is and has been the mission of much of the nonprofit community. But your challenge is to find a way to engage all of your members in service. To help engage all of your members in service, the foundation is urging every institution to appoint Points of Light representatives. And to ensure that every community has multiple places to which individuals and institutions can turn for counsel about how to serve others and where to obtain service, the foundation is calling on a wide variety of institution to become what we call Points of Light centers.

As part of my commitment to advance the Points of Light movement, I'm determined to help remove barriers to service. Now, no obstacle -- no obstacle is more chilling than the fear of personal liability and the high cost of insurance to protect against liability. Often programs are curtailed or those contemplated are not undertaken because of the fear of personal liability -- outrageous claims, often, about personal liability. And I'm aware of the genuine interest that volunteer leaders in this room have expressed in limiting exposure to the risk of liability and the high cost of insurance.

And therefore, today I am announcing three new initiatives that will bring about much-needed change. First, I call on the nonprofit community to support a private, nongovernmentally controlled national volunteer risk management center, a central place to which volunteer organizations can turn for advice and for assistance. A task force has been formed to report on June 1st on the progress being made toward achieving this objective.

A second major initiative is the promulgation of a model State statute to protect volunteers who work with 501(c) nonprofit organizations and volunteers who work with local and State governments. This statute encourages volunteers to contribute their services for the good of their communities. And at the same time, it provides a reasonable basis for the recovery of damages which may arise from volunteer activity.

We have several distinguished State legislators with us today who are eager to support the effort of volunteers. And I call on you and other State legislators here across America to pass this legislation during the next session.

In addition to these two important initiatives, I will send to the Congress amendments to the Federal Risk Retention Act that will make it easier for organizations to form purchasing groups to obtain liability insurance at affordable rates.

With these three initiatives I am confident that voluntary community service can be encouraged, increased, and strengthened. I've often said that from now on in America any definition of a successful life must include serving others. By working together, we can -- I really believe that we can achieve our goal of making community service central to the life and work of every individual and institution, and in the process redefine the meaning of success in America.

I really popped in here to thank you for coming by today, to thank you and your organizations for what you're doing, to encourage the State legislators to take that extra step to guarantee to do their part, as I will try to do mine, to free up the volunteer from needless fear on a personal liability account. And we've got to do it. We've got to be successful. And I'm confident we will.

Thank you all. And I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:55 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.