The term was used by George H.W. Bush in his speech accepting the presidential nomination at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans. Written for him by Peggy Noonan and Craig R. Smith, the address likened America's clubs and volunteer organizations to "a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky."
In 1990, Bush spearheaded the creation of the Points of Light Foundation, the goal of which was to promote private, non-governmental solutions to social issues.
The foundation was criticized in a 1995 investigation by the Los Angeles Times for spending only 11% of its budget on grants to volunteer organizations, while spending $22.3 million on "promotions, consultants, salaries, travel and conferences," including "$5.5 million to produce a television advertising campaign and $1.4 million for a celebration of community service." The Times also noted that the foundation received more than half its budget from federal funds.