Become a Peer Reviewer
Background on Corporation for National and Community Service
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is a federal agency that improves lives, strengthens communities, and fosters civic engagement through service and volunteering. For more than 15 years, CNCS’s programs, Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and, more recently, the Social Innovation Fund have helped to engage millions of citizens in meeting community and national challenges through service and volunteerism.
On April 21, 2009, President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, the most sweeping expansion of national service in a generation. This landmark law not only expands service opportunities, but also focuses national service on key outcomes, builds the capacity of individuals, nonprofits, and communities to succeed, and encourages innovative approaches to solving problems. In line with the Serve America Act, CNCS’s programs will provide human and other resources to community- and faith-based groups to empower them to meet local and national needs with an emphasis on six Focus Areas: Disaster Services, Education, Environmental Stewardship, Healthy Futures, Economic Opportunity, and Veterans and Military Families. CNCS makes grants to organizations that use citizen service as a strategy to meet critical national and community needs, foster an ethic of civic responsibility, and strengthen the ties that bind us together as a nation. Each year CNCS seeks qualified individuals to serve as External Peer Reviewers and Panel Coordinators in evaluating applications submitted to CNCS for its grant review process.
What is a Peer Review?
CNCS engages persons with expertise from various fields to read applications and provide an analysis and rating of the quality of each grant application based upon published selection criteria. The opinion of External Peer Reviewers is considered by CNCS in making funding decisions and to provide feedback to applicants.
What are the responsibilities of Reviewers?
The primary responsibilities of Reviewers are to participate in the provided orientations and trainings, and to read, and provided an appraisal of applications. This is done utilizing worksheets, forms and documents prepared for the review, as well as participating in conference calls with fellow panel members, when applicable. Reviewers are often accountable to the guidance of a Panel Coordinator or a Staff Liaison throughout the review, thus a high-level of responsiveness and the ability to work well with others is required.
What are the responsibilities of Panel Coordinators?
A Panel Coordinator’s primary responsibilities are to guide and support the work of the Reviewers on his or her panel; to ensure the Reviewers produce thoughtful, fair, well-documented appraisals of all applications, to ensure that panelists are held accountable to the review schedule and standards, and to manage the writing responsibilities. Panel Coordinators also help resolve any conflicts among the panelists. Panel Coordinators participate in the provided orientations, trainings, and panel conference calls; and complete various forms for documentation during the review.
What are the qualifications of Reviewers and Facilitators?
We seek a diverse group of people with expertise (a minimum of 5 years) in a variety of relevant areas and ability to objectively assess the quality of grant applications. Both Reviewers and Panel Coordinators are held to high-standards of writing (a writing sample may be requested), and the paramount responsibility of preserving the integrity of the review (by omitting or reporting potential bias, or conflicts of interest).
Reviewers should be comfortable reading a large volume of material in a defined period of time and be capable of providing in-depth individual analysis, and/or participating in small group discussions about the applications. Panel Coordinators should have substantial skills managing individual and group activities and experience facilitating small groups. Panel Coordinators also need to be comfortable reading a large volume of material in a short period.
Current Reviewers include practitioners, educators, administrators/managers, analysts, researchers, funders, entrepreneurs, evaluators, and board members. Their expertise should include at least 5 years in one of the relevant areas such as national service, volunteer management, education, literacy and tutoring, human services, nonprofit management, grant making, philanthropy, program evaluation, public health and health services, disaster preparedness and response, and the environment and clean energy. In line with the agency’s Strategic Plan and in order to address the needs of several specialized programs, CNCS is particularly looking for individuals with backgrounds in the agency Focus Areas: Education, Environmental Stewardship, Economic Opportunity, Disaster Services, and Veterans and Military Families.
Some of the places Reviewers work or volunteer in are: community or faith-based organizations, national organizations, national or community foundations, national and local non-profits, municipal, state or federal agencies, higher education, or elementary, middle and high schools.
CNCS conducts its external peer reviews using its online/web-based *eGrants* system. Reviewers and Panel Coordinators must have access to a phone, computer and the internet throughout the review period.
Reviewers and Panel Coordinators are selected for competitions based on education and experience specific to a review. Once you have completed an application in eGrants, and your background is appropriate for a competition, a CNCS representative contacts you by e-mail to check on your availability to participate in that review. We often have more peer review applicants than we may need for a year, but we will maintain your application in our database for future reviews.
What is the time commitment for participating in a review?
CNCS’s peer review process is a time-intensive and time-sensitive activity. The components of a review and an estimate for the amount of time each item takes are as follows:
- Orientation conference calls and review of instructions for each review: 2 to 4 hours
- 5 to 7 hours per application reviewed (reading, completing all documents, entering assessments into eGrants, participating in panel discussions, and reviewing and certifying final forms)
- The time commitment ranges from 30 hours over a five day period to 60 hours over a fifteen day period.
What are other benefits of being a peer reviewer or facilitator?
Participating in a review is an excellent professional development opportunity, as well as a chance to serve. CNCS provides extensive training and preparation as well as individual support for each review. You will be exposed to new and innovative ideas in your field and engaged in the grant-making process of a major funder of service and volunteerism while meeting and networking with other experts in your profession. The review experience also provides an in-depth look at the work and efforts of a grant evaluation process; this provides perspective and skills that are applicable in other professional endeavors.
Most Reviewers and Panel Coordinators, with the exception of federal employees, receive a modest honorarium for their participation in the grant review. CNCS for some reviews may seek individuals to serve as External Reviewers on a voluntary basis.
Is there a deadline?
We invite Panel Coordinator and Reviewer applicants to complete the on-line Peer Reviewer Application in eGrants at any time. CNCS staff regularly review submitted applications and determine if your experiences match the expertise needed for specific reviews. You may want to review the funding notices to get a sense of when Reviewers might be needed.
If I work or serve in a CNCS-funded program or my organization is applying for CNCS funds, may I serve as a Reviewer or Panel Coordinator?
You may not serve as a Reviewer or Panel Coordinator in the type of program for which you work or serve. For instance, if you are part of an organization that is seeking an AmeriCorps National grant, you may not be eligible to review AmeriCorps State applications. However, you may review for a Senior Corps program or other competition. Inquire with CNCS staff to be sure, as each potential conflict of interest is determined on its own merits.
What happens next?
If you would like to be considered for an External Peer Reviewer or Panel Coordinator, complete the Peer Reviewer Application found at https://egrants.cns.gov/espan/main/newaccount.jsp. If you already have a profile, please select ‘Already have an eGrants account? Proceed to Login’. Please do not create a new profile if you already have one in eGrants as this may cause a delay in the processing of your account. Again, if your education and expertise align with a particular competition, a CNCS representative will contact you by e-mail to check on your availability.
Who do I contact if I have a question?
If you have specific questions about the content of the peer reviewer application, or additional questions about the peer review experience, please e-mail us at PeerReviewers@cns.gov.
As of FY2011, the names of all participating External Reviewers and Panel Coordinators for CNCS grant competitions may be made public after the close of the review.