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This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs at the local level, including information for cities, counties, boards, commissions, and districts.

~ July 2007 ~ Topics

A Dynamic Volunteer Program Takes Cooperation and Work

If you manage volunteers in a city or county governmental organization or agency, there is a workshop sponsored by National Association of Volunteer Programs in Local Government on Sunday, July 15, 2007 from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For more information, click here.

A Dynamic Volunteer Program Takes Cooperation and Work

The City of Plano, Texas, has enjoyed the benefits of a dynamic volunteer program for two decades. Why? Well, there are many reasons, but the two that stand out are: 1) cooperation from staff and, 2) hard work by the volunteer team. Recruiting volunteers does not seem to be the problem here in Plano; we have found that most people volunteer at some time in their lives. Whether or not a person wishes to provide volunteer services is not based on demographics, income, or education. Rather, the deciding factors are commitment to family and job constraints. Volunteering time seems to depend on where people are in their life cycle.

Cooperation, dialogue, and rapport between the volunteer manager and staff seem to be what is essential. Conversations on assessing needs, creating job descriptions, and placing volunteers have to demonstrate a direct benefit to the employee supervising the volunteer as well as to their department.

Since municipal government volunteer programs are not meant to take the place of government, but rather to enhance services while building a spirit of community, it is our job as volunteer managers to help identify where volunteers can and should be placed. With a shared vision of sustainable communities, city employees can lead volunteers in a myriad of activities that will help make your city a better place to live, work, and play. We need to help staff see that volunteers can improve the quality of life by:

¢ Complementing paid staff and expanding community services.
¢ Providing resources and expertise at no additional cost to the city.
¢ Enhancing and expanding services provided to the community.
¢ Giving departments an opportunity to test new ideas and initiate new services.
¢ Promoting citizen understanding of municipal problems, issues and programs.

In Plano, volunteers have proven to be a valuable resource for most City departments. When evaluating the need for additional personnel, many department heads consider the use of volunteers first to help with work overload, events, and special projects. Here are some steps to consider when:

1. Conducting a Needs Assessment:

  • What projects have been put on the back burner due to lack of time or personnel?
  • List job activities during past week, starting with activities that can be broken into parts where a volunteer could be assigned.
  • List activities you would accomplish if you had all the resources and talent you needed.

2. Designing a Volunteer Job

    A volunteer job can be designed by answering the following questions:

    • Is the work to be done meaningful?
    • Is it useful to the department or does it improve quality-of-life?
    • Can the work be done by volunteers, (i.e., confidential)?
    • Can it reasonably be split into tasks that can be done in 4-hour periods?
    • Is it amenable to a part-time situation?
    • Can a volunteer be easily trained in the knowledge and background required?
    • Will the department spend more time, energy, and money to recruit, orient, and train volunteers than it would if it used staff?
    • Are you looking at volunteer use on a long-term or short-term basis?
    • Is it a rewarding and interesting job or have you simply tried to get rid of work that no one would really want to do, paid or unpaid?
    • Is the department committed to the use of volunteers or is this a "quick-fix" solution?

    The answers to these questions will aid in the preparation of the volunteer job description, or a Job Request Form, as we call it. The description must be detailed enough to help recruit the right volunteer and to provide us with an understanding of skills needed and training requirements. It is also important to note if volunteer background checks and confidentiality statements are needed.

3. Designating a Volunteer Supervisor

    The department must designate someone to supervise each volunteer. This person should see the benefit the volunteer will provide to the department and have a good knowledge of the position being filled.

4. Recruiting Volunteers

    Recruitment is usually done by the volunteer manager, along with an initial interview and potential placement.

    Placements of volunteers are unpredictable and uncertain. Contrary to the impression of some, there is not a "pool" of volunteers to draw from instantly. A request for a volunteer may be filled in a week, or it could take months.

5. Completing the Application Process

    Potential volunteers will complete a Volunteer Application.

    The first interview is with the volunteer manager and then with the department supervisor: Using the Job Request Form, the volunteer manager will meet with the applicant to discuss his/her interests and qualifications in order to determine the motivation, values, and competencies of the volunteer. This will help identify the proper volunteer for the position.

    The volunteer manager will then contact the department to arrange for the volunteer's departmental interview.

6. Placing Volunteers

    The City of Plano maintains a policy of never replacing paid employees with volunteers. The matching of city staff and qualified volunteers allows staff to enhance and expand city services without additional cost to the community.

    The department interviewer should then inform the volunteers if they are selected for the position. The interviewer could then schedule a start date, set up a schedule with the volunteer, and introduce the volunteer to his/her supervisor and co-workers. The interviewer will notify the volunteer manager of the volunteer's placement.

    If the volunteer is not selected or does not accept the assignment, he/she should be directed back to the Volunteer Office for other placement considerations.

Since we are not a non-profit organization dependent on volunteers, we have the added duty of reminding staff that volunteers do add value to our workforce. Employees and volunteers working together are our greatest resources. We, as volunteer managers, exist to serve both our internal and external customers, and the cooperation we give each other will lead to productive and retentive volunteers.

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Short description of this series: "Organizations are successful at achieving their mission when volunteers and staff are a team. Evaluate the elements of the relationships in your organization and outline the strategies to make things better."

Purchase this package by clicking on either of the following links, which will redirect you to a secure shopping site. Evaluation Only $25.00 and Evaluation & Consultation Package - Best Deal! $99.95 (Resource List not available on this package.)

The author of the Local Government Volunteer Programs page is Robin Popik. Robin has been the Volunteer Resources Supervisor for the City of Plano for over 17 years. Under her direction, the Volunteer Resources Group now has grown to encompass 3 programs. The original program VIP has grown to approx. 5000 volunteers per year, with an average of 1000 individuals a month, with a value of over $1.2 million a year. The program has been recognized as a model and has won numerous awards including the Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Volunteer Administration, the Civic and Leadership group award and the Texas Governors Leadership Award. Robin is President of Collin County VOAD (Volunteer Organization Active in Disater) and is the Citizen Corp Council representative for Plano. She has been a trainer and has written articles on many topics related to Volunteer Management. She is the past president the National Association of Volunteer Programs in Local Government, and member of ARNOVA, an international membership organization dedicated to fostering through research an understanding of the nonprofit sector, philanthropy and volunteerism. She has a Masters in Management from the University of Texas at Dallas and a certification in Volunteer Management from the University of Colorado, and in the past few years, has taking numerous courses in Emergency Volunteer Management including FEMA courses: 1) Emergency Operation Center; 2) Incident Command Systems; 3) Donations Management; 4) Volunteer Management in Disaster; 5) CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) Program, 6) Public Information Officer course (4/04) and Integrated Emergency Management Course at EMI (8/04), NIMS 700, 100, and 200 and American Red Cross Shelter Management.


The National Association of Volunteer Programs in Local Government (NAVPLG) is an association of administrators, coordinators and directors of volunteer programs in local government. Its purpose is to strengthen volunteer programs in local government through leadership, advocacy, networking and information exchange. NAVPLG is an affiliate of the National Association of Counties and is seeking affiliate status with the National League of Cities. Cost is $20 for individuals and $75 for group local government membership. An affiliate membership is $25 and is intended for those who are not local government members but may have an interest in the group. There is a quarterly newsletter, national network, and access to NACo's Volunteerism Project. For more information contact Robin Popik, who is a Volunteer Resource Supervisor. She can be reached by phone at 972-941-7114. Be sure to mention you read about this in Volunteer Today.

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