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MILITARY VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS

This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs at the military level, including information for all branches of the armed services.

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~December 2003~ Topics

Getting the Commander’s Attention for Your Volunteer Program

Ear ImageJust like the CEOs of major corporations, base and post commanders are so busy with day-to-day operations that it might be difficult for them to give as much attention to service programs, such as your volunteer program, as they might like. Volunteer programs on military installations have well-deserved reputations for being well-run, with minimal conflicts or problems – but, those very attributes may mean that your program is not catching the eye of your commander as much as you’d like.

A few simple, and more importantly, little-to-no-cost suggestions, might help:

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The involvement of commanders’ spouses has long been a valuable asset for service organizations on military organizations. If you have a Volunteer Advisory Board or Council and the commander’s spouse is not already participating in some form, ask if he or she would be willing to join it. His or her presence alone will provide valuable two-way feedback – letting the commander know what wonderful things your program is doing and letting your program know where his or her priorities lie.
Create a business card and nametag for your volunteer program manager. Your manager should wear the nametag at any activity where base leadership is present. Later, when the commander pulls your business card out of his uniform pocket or wallet, it might trigger an inquiry about specifics about your installation program.
One of your volunteers might be willing to publish a one-page newsletter, highlighting “what our volunteers did on base this month” or plan for next month. Send your commander a colored copy and black and white copies to other offices – it might get attention for your program and more volunteers!
Host an “open house” for new commanders, NCOs, and First Sergeants and their spouses. One of the most successful Family Support Centers I was ever associated with hosted a semi-annual wine and cheese gathering after hours to welcome new leadership and their spouses. The staff willingly gave personalized “tours” of their programs, and attendees were delighted with the opportunity to get first-hand knowledge of the volunteer, as well as other, programs.
If you have provided volunteers for a successful event, and the event planner thanks you for your volunteers’ help, ask him/her to write that thanks in a note addressed to the commander. The commander will take great pride in your program’s contribution to another successful activity – and attention will be drawn to it.
If your installation has a homepage, ask about developing a drop-down and link to a website for your program. You probably have or can find a volunteer who is savvy at web development and could design an on-line page for your program.

It is difficult to market and personalize a program when you have no budget to do it with; but, then, isn’t that one of the pre-requisite skills of a volunteer program manager?


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Establishing a Cooperative Environment for Volunteers in a Military Organization

It is not unusual to have a blurring of the distinction between volunteers and paid employees, regardless of the location of the work environment. This can present a number of problems for agencies. An “us and them” dynamicLightning Image can occur, creating the danger of the agency losing volunteer staff. Military organizations utilizing volunteers as a regular part of their daily workings are certainly not immune to problems involving staff/volunteer working relationships.

Uniformed military members and civilian employees may not have previously been in a work environment that relied on volunteers. There may be a propensity to treat the volunteer as a paid employee, as well as a lack of understanding or appreciation for why the volunteer is there. Draw downs, outsourcing and funding cuts can put military service organizations in the same position as their non-government brethren – not able to keep pace with need unless they themselves seek some volunteer help. That relatively new and growing phenomenon requires adjustments to the way we think about who constitutes “staff.”

Volunteers may come to the agency with specialized training or experience that paid staff members do not have. Paid staff may not understand why volunteers are willing to do just that – “volunteer” versus looking for a “paying job.” Still, given the itinerant nature of the military lifestyle, most active duty members and civilian employees fully understand how difficult it is to find a “paying job” in a new community, particularly when you can provide the employer no guarantee for how long you’ll stay.

If you direct a military organization that is new to the inclusion of volunteers, it is important for Gavel Imageyou, your staff members, and your incoming volunteers to be clear about Federal laws and standards for the use of volunteer manpower. For example, you cannot ask a volunteer to assume work activities in a position that is temporarily vacant and awaiting a new paid employee. Your volunteer may be seeking a pathway to paid work, but he/she needs to be aware that their service will not make it easier to obtain a job with the Federal government, given that positions are filled through a competitive process.

We all recognize that orientation processes are critical for any new staff member, volunteer or paid. Volunteers in a military organization may not completely understand the lines of authority. Just as they need to identify those from whom they are to take directions, within the agreed parameters of their tasks, the organization’s leadership needs to understand clearly that volunteers are just that – volunteers – and not in the same sense as our “all volunteer” military members.

Volunteers on a military installation may be placed in an agency that is involved in an activity that could generate intellectual property. Intellectual property can be written material, artistic work, data, even research. If you have any questions about whether your organization should address this issue with volunteers, contact your base legal office.

Confidentiality is a consideration in many locations using volunteers, and any orientation should include information about maintaining it. In a military agency or program it might also be prudent to limit the volunteers’ potential exposure to confidential or sensitive information. Again, check with your base legal office to see if you need a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement signed.

Any Four Hands Together Imageperceived inequalities or misconceived expectations could create a variety of management problems that can be costly to your program, particularly in terms of morale. Even without formal, specialized training, your staff can be encouraged to recognize and support the motivation that draws people to volunteering, and your volunteers can view unpaid “government work” as an opportunity to further enhance their skills, make a lasting contribution, and develop knowledge in an area removed from their previous experience.


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