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FEDERAL GOVERNMENT VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS

This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs at the federal level, including information for parks, justice, Internal Revenue Service, and more.

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Think Federal. Act Local

Most federal or central government volunteer programs are actually located in a community and pull volunteers from the surrounding geographic area for the US Forest Service, National Park Service, federal Bureau of Prisons, IRS VITA and many more. One key to building a strong volunteer corps for the program is in establishing ongoing partnerships.

Partnering with a local entity can provide a steady stream of potential volunteers. As paid staff change - move up and around in the department or division - there is "institutional memory" with the partners about the way projects or events are carried out. Partners are also effective supporters of federal programs at the local level. Here are some tips to make those important connections.

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  • Who cares about what your program does? Any of the outdoor or recreation programs have natural constituencies in local groups; Ducks Unlimited, Steelheaders (salmon), Audubon Society, and the like. Reach beyond those groups - groups who care about children and might use a park or recreation area, travel and tourism organizations who wish to promote activities including those in the outdoor or recreation areas are also potential partners. Broaden your definition of who might be a partner, it is only limited by your imagination of who can help you accomplish your organizational objectives.
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  • How can you get connected? Take a look at your current volunteers. Who might be a member of the organization with whom you wish to partner? The person might be a member or former member of that group. Ask the individual to help you get connected to the decision-makers in the group. If you are running a program where faith-based organizations might have an interest in volunteering, this could be a member of a specific congregation. For example, in a prison program you might have a variety of Christian denominations represented in volunteer activities, but would like to have volunteers from other faith groups. Ask the clergy who volunteer now if they know people from the Jewish community, or a Buddhist leader. Usually he/she can arrange an introduction.
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  • Know what you want. Suppose you are looking to up-date your recruiting material and you want to establish a partnership with a local organization that does design work for flyers, brochures and the like (and, naturally, you have no money to pay for these services). You have the name of the company president, and an introduction from a current volunteer. What are you going to ask for? Have a written outline of what your exact needs are. Be sure to have a nice copy to leave behind. Be sure to list specifics and about how long it will take to do this. Time is money in the for-profit world.
    • A hint: Start simple. A short, easily accomplished task is the ideal place to start. You want the partner to have a wonderful experience and be anxious to say, "yes" to the next request. Each request is a bit more of a commitment on the part of the partner. This is not "fund-raising," but "friend-raising."
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  • What is in it for the partner? Be sure to tell the partner what they will get from the experience. There is always the satisfaction of working to make a better community, but think of others - civic involvement with a business and a federal government program, publicity in local and national publications about the work of the partnerships (if that is true), working with other community volunteers who might also have an interest in the organization and its mission. Think hard of what could be a benefit, and they might not all be intangible. For example, a national park staff person might explore the availability of free passes to National Parks for a year for the organization. The partner might receive five of these, for example.
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  • Keep records of community partners. Make a partners notebook for your successor. Record the name of the organization, any projects they have done and the dates, contact person, phone and email numbers, mailing address, and number of volunteers and/or hours contributed.
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  • Create a recognition program exclusively for community partners. Do something to recognize anyone with whom you partnered in the last year. Make an award for the most outstanding partner. Say thank you to everyone, at least once per year. Make sure those partners are mentioned prominently in the volunteer annual report. Send the partners a copy. Let your supervisor and other staff know who is partnering with the organization. Make a partner bulletin board outside your office.

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Canada Has Help from Ministry to Grassroots

The Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration in Ontario, Canada has an excellent information page for those working with volunteers. This example of a government partnership (see above) with the nonprofit sector is a model that could be replicated in federal programs throughout the world. The Ministry's Web page has a site location exclusively for volunteerism. It includes information on awards given annually, statistics on volunteering in Canada, connections to a partnership with an IT organization to help volunteer programs, there is a public relations kit that is downloadable, and links to the federal government sites that help individuals apply to form a nonprofit corporation. Check out this lovely marriage of government and volunteerism, available in English and French, at http://www.gov.on.ca/mczcr/english/citdiv/voluntar.


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Got a Burning Question on Federal volunteer Program Management?

Question ImageAre you burning with a question about your volunteer program? There is a place exclusively for managers of volunteer programs that are based in government. Others are screened out. It is the GOV-VPM listserv. It is not an overly busy service - not gobs of unwanted emails, in other words. But, when a good question is asked there are lots of responses from people who actually do what you do. Very nice! To sign up contact Points of Light at: listserv@listserv.pointsoflight.org. Then type in "subscribe (your name) gov-vpm." You will get an automated response and be signed up. Then ask your question.


Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: "Megatrends in Volunteerism," by Sue Vineyard.Megatrends in Volunteerism Book Image

Margaret Styles has returned to school and is no longer writing for Volunteer Today. We wish her the best of luck! Nancy Macduff, managing editor and author of several Volunteer Today pages, is this month's author of the Federal Government Volunteer Programs page.
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