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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.

Send questions to cpirtle@compuserve.com

May 2000 Questions

Dear Connie:
I am in the process of revitalizing our volunteer program. At present we use a limited number of volunteers to help in the office. I am sure there are other areas where we could utilize volunteers. Is there a generic needs assessment form out there somewhere that would assist in assessing and planning our volunteer program?

Kelly at a Canadian Youth Services Agency

Dear Kelly:
There is a national organization here in the U.S. that trains and utilizes volunteers to speak for the best interests of abused and neglected children. It's the National Court Appointed Special Advocates Association (NCASAA). Their "Nuts and Bolts" web site at www.casanet.org/nuts/volunteer_management/index.htm is packed with information that I know you'll find useful.

Of particular interest to you will be the section called "Staff Worksheet: Planning a Volunteer Position" by Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch. It addresses potential job areas, the volunteer job design, scheduling the volunteer job, and assessing managerial readiness. You can access this section at www.casanet.org/nuts/volunteer_management/worksht.htm.

I would also encourage you to convene a small group of your staff colleagues from different departments or program areas. A discussion focused on how you can utilize volunteers to deliver your products and services more effectively can yield a long list of volunteer opportunities.

Dear Connie:
I have been a Big Brother for almost six years. Our program has more than 100 children waitlisted. As an adult graduate student I am doing research on why this waiting list is so long in an affluent county like Chester County, PA. I am looking for comparative information on other organizations that experience recruitment challenges similar to ours. Any direction would be appreciated.

John C.

Dear John:

One of the best resources for academic information on the nonprofit sector is the ARNOVA-L listserv (Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action). I suggest that you join the list and post your question there. You can get information about ARNOVA and how to join the list at their web site at www.arnova.org.

Also, there are four scholarly journals on volunteerism that you may wish to check: Journal of Volunteer Administration, Nonprofit and Volunteer Sector Quarterly, Voluntas, and Nonprofit Management and Leadership.

Finally, I would contact the headquarters of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America at www.bbbsa.org to see if they have any comparative information among their programs across the country. You'll also find a link there to the National Youth Development Information Center that contains research and statistical information that may be helpful.

Dear Connie:
Do you know where I might find examples of "code of ethics," or something similar, for volunteers? Thanks!


Dear Kim:

Webster's defines ethics as "the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation; a set of moral principles or values; a theory or system of moral values; the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group." A code of ethics for a volunteer program is a set of broad-based principles that allow for diversity while also establishing clear and acceptable guidelines of conduct ­ conduct that is agreed upon by the majority of those affected by the standards set forth. These agreed upon standards then provide a means of measuring our behavior as it applies to our duty to be accountable. Once you have defined the values that are core to your volunteer program, you can put in writing the standards of conduct (code of ethics) that are based on the core values.

Having said all that, here are a few examples of "generic" standards of conduct:

* We provide training that adequately prepares volunteers to support our mission.
* Our staff and volunteers value human dignity in our relationships with each other.
* We involve staff and volunteers in program decisions that affect them.
* We respect the privacy and confidentiality of volunteers and staff.
* We work at enhancing the relationships of volunteer/staff teams.

For more information on Volunteer Program Ethics, contact Mildred L. Smith, ACBSW, at rsvp@crossnet.org. She has written a book on "Volunteer Program Ethics-Defining Standards of Conduct."

Dear Connie:
My question involves accountability. How do you keep volunteers accountable, act respectable, come on time, and give the true time commitment we all seem to be searching for? I hope you have some lifesaving advice.

Lee in Boston


Dear Lee:
Accountability in a volunteer program usually starts with stated expectations, which are often part of the volunteer handbook/manual, orientation, and training. In the absence of written program standards of conduct, it's left to the individual volunteer to interpret what are reasonable and acceptable standards of behavior. While this allows lots of latitude and flexibility for volunteers and staff alike, it may also create an environment for behavior that isn't acceptable.

Your question tells me that some or all of your program volunteers aren't "acting" as you want and need for them to act. If this behavior is program-wide, I suggest that you create an ad hoc group of volunteers to help you identify and document the behavior that is acceptable. By involving them in the process they will be your best advocates for the new standards of conduct.

I've listed a few examples below so that you get the idea. Expectations are sometimes more easily accepted than "rules" or "guidelines."

Volunteers can expect:

* to be trained for the tasks they will do
* to understand how their work fits into the organization
* to be thanked for their efforts
* for their staff partners to be courteous, kind, and thoughtful

Staff members can expect:

* for volunteers to show up on time for assignments
* for volunteers to be respectful of the demands on staff time
* to be thanked for their efforts
* for their volunteer partners to be courteous, kind, and thoughtful

Dear Connie:
I am interested in volunteering in National Parks, but don't know what I need to arrange and if it is possible to apply as non-US citizen. Thanks in advance.

A Belgian Student


Dear Belgian Student:
The National Park Service provides many wonderful volunteer opportunities at every National Park in the U.S. According to their web site at www.nps.gov last year alone more than 89,000 people gave their time and skills to assist the NPS in its mission.

You must complete a volunteer application and mail it directly TO THE PARK where you wish to volunteer. The NPS has created a National Park Service Volunteer Opportunities System that lists current volunteer opportunities throughout the NPS system. Log onto the web site at www.nps.gov/volunteer/opportunity.htm and you will see (1) the list of current volunteer opportunities; (2) the online volunteer application; (3) who volunteers for the NPS; and (4) their links to other volunteer opportunities.

According to the Oregon Caves National Monument Park, international volunteers must meet the insurance requirements listed on their site at www.nps.gov/orca/v-insure.htm and have a J-1 Visa, which you can also apply for online at that site. Good luck and enjoy!


Dear Readers:
National Volunteer Week is an excellent opportunity not only to recognize the volunteers who support your organization, but also to raise awareness of your volunteer program among staff and the community you serve. Mark your calendar now so that you don't miss it in the coming years!

2001 - April 22-28
2002 - April 21-27
2003 - April 27-May 3
2004 - April 18-24
2005 - April 17-23

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 1998 by Nancy Macduff.