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Ask Connie

She is an experienced volunteer manager, consultant and trainer. If you ask her...she will answer ...read below for questions and answers related to volunteer management and administration.

December Questions

Dear Readers:

Last month I referred to the September issue of the Community Risk Management & Insurance newsletter for more information on two bills currently before Congress related to volunteer screening. Here is a summary of both bills:

HR 4424 - Congress is considering legislation that would affect the availability of criminal history record information for use in volunteer screening. The first bill, HR 4424 ("Volunteer Organization Safety Act of 2000"), was introduced by Texas Congressman Pete Sessions. This legislation would provide temporary authorization for the FBI to perform name-based background checks on volunteers who work with children, the elderly, or individuals with disabilities. Under current law, the FBI cannot perform criminal history record checks unless they are fingerprint-based checks. The name-based criminal history record checks that HR 4424 would permit are similar to those conducted on gun purchases under the Brady Bill. HR 4424 was introduced in May 2000 and there has been one committee hearing on the bill. Congressman Sessions invites your comments on this proposed legislation. For additional information, you can contact Elan Liang in the Congressman's office at 1-202-225-2231.

HR 4244 - Another piece of legislation, HR 4244, would create a National Center for Volunteer Screening. The Center would serve as a clearinghouse to process criminal history record checks of volunteers for qualified organizations. The checks would be provided at no cost to the organizations or to the volunteers. This bill was introduced by Congressman Lewis of Georgia and has the support of a number of national nonprofit voluntary organizations. It would permit qualified entities to go directly to the Center for national criminal history record checks. The Center would perform the records check using FBI files and send the results back to the requesting entity.

You may track the current status of these bills or any pending legislation online at http://thomas.loc.gov/.

Dear Connie:
I am a middle school teacher, and my class is looking for a great service oriented project to work on this year. Have you heard of any projects that would be great for this age group?



Dear S.C.:
I suggest that you contact your local Volunteer Center and ask the same question. Someone there should be able to give you a variety of volunteer opportunities appropriate for your class.

If you're not sure that you have a Volunteer Center in your community, visit the Points of Light Foundation web site at http://www.pointsoflight.org. They have a listing of all Volunteer Centers in the country. While you're at the site, cruise around for information about service learning, other resources (such as America's Promise), etc.

Also, check with the executive directors of your local cultural institutions (orchestras, theaters, dance companies, museums, etc.) and explore the possibilities for your class to do a project on their behalf. Remember that service learning projects aren't limited to social services agencies.

Finally, here's another resource you should check out - http://www.tenet.edu/volunteer/. It's described as "resources for involving volunteers in schools."

Hi Connie!
I am a member of a nonprofit organization and we are planning an Appreciation Banquet. I would like to know a format for this type of program. When is the proper time to introduce the Honoree?

Crisfield, Maryland


Dear Crisfield, Maryland:
I'm fond of the bell curve format that builds toward the purpose of the banquet ­ honoring the award recipient(s):

  1. welcome by a master/mistress of ceremonies
  2. guests allowed to eat luncheon/dinner in peace (no speeches, presentations, etc.)
  3. brief entertainment if appropriate (some performing arts organizations do this)
  4. award(s) presented
  5. acceptance speech(es) if appropriate (multiple awards don't usually call for acceptance speeches; single awards do)
  6. conclusion and thank you's (to sponsors, donors, hosts, etc.)
  7. guests go home and...

A good time is had by all!

Dear Connie:
I have been searching everywhere and can't find what the law requires regarding keeping volunteer records. How long must a volunteer's original application be kept by the organization? How long must the volunteer's time sheets be kept by the organization? How long must the volunteer's file be kept after leaving the organization? Any help would be appreciated.

Bobbi, City Wide Volunteer Coordinator in California


Dear Bobbi:
Good question! To my knowledge there aren't any Federal employment laws that apply BECAUSE volunteers aren't employees. (In fact, volunteer program managers are always careful to make that distinction in all things related to volunteers.)

Just to be safe, I'd check your state fair labor/employment laws to make sure that there isn't anything on the books relating to volunteer "personnel" records. It's easy to find out about your state's laws. Use the http://www.yahoo.com search engine. Type the words "state laws" in the search box and presto! You'll be given links to every state judicial system in the country. Then you can search your state's site to see if there are any specific state laws on volunteer record keeping.

If you find nothing, I'd follow the policies for city personnel AND use common sense. Volunteer applications are easy to fill out again if they are lost or tossed out. Timesheets are harder to re-create, but I probably wouldn't keep them for more than two years maximum. I might keep individual volunteer files for 3 years before tossing out in case someone misses your program so much that they return sooner than expected.

Of course this all depends on the size of your volunteer program. If you have 50 volunteers and very little turnover, it's easier to keep records for almost as long as you wish. On the other hand, if you have 250 volunteers and the program is growing at a rapid pace, you'll need to use your best judgment and good common sense about how long to keep the paperwork.

Do you have a question? Now you too can ask an expert!

Connie Pirtle, of Strategic NonProfit-Resources, has 15 years' experience in working with volunteers. She has consulted and/or trained for such organizations as the Washington National Cathedral, Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Music America, and the Association for Volunteer Administration.

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Copyright 2000 by Nancy Macduff.