"As long as the messages are natural and organic to the shows, you have the ability to impact millions of people," he says.
Still, Leslie Lenkowsky, former head of the Corporation for National and Community Service and now professor for the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, notes past political and Hollywood efforts to promote volunteerism have fallen flat.
"I don't want to pour cold water over what the entertainment industry is trying to do, but we shouldn't set our sights too high," he says. "This may lead to episodic volunteering — coming out for a day of service. But the real question is, how long will it last? It's a matter of individual motivation and (non-profits) making good use of their time."
The EIF's Paulsen insists TV's short-term effort will be bolstered by a broader, but less intensive, four-year campaign, eventually branching into movies and music, along with separate efforts by the Obama administration; the president signed bipartisan legislation that expands federal support for service and volunteer programs.
Websites such as iparticipate.org and service organizations such as the AARP will track interest. "I'm confident that a year or two from now, you'll see we've moved the needle," Paulsen says.