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This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs at the federal government level.

~ May 2011~


I recently attended a workshop at a local college on “Evidence-Based Volunteer Management.”  While many organizations are being stretched to make every dollar count, I figured it would be beneficial to see what I can do to convince leadership and staff that with tight budgets, the volunteer department will become even more important to meet the mission of the organization.

According to the United Nation’s mandate, “we must put our volunteer work on the map of the world.”  How are you putting your volunteer department on the map in your organization?  Which statistics are you reporting beyond the traditional calculations such as the total number of volunteers and hours?

The workshop by Lynn Connolly, adjunct professor at Chestnut Hill College (Philadelphia, PA), outlined five steps to consider when providing evidence for your volunteer department and programs:

  1. Convert information requests into answerable questions
  2. Track down the best evidence to answer your program questions (literature, research)
  3. Appraise information to fit with your program
  4. Apply the results of your review to every day practice
  5. Evaluate performance of new evidence based management

For me, steps 1 and 2 are very important.  With all of the requests which flood the office, my staff has to filter what is practical and what is off the wall.  The requests that come in rapidly vary, but the question is now becoming “can departments request supplemental, non-paid support (volunteers) when a paid position cannot be filled?”  We all know the answer to this question.  So now, we are looking at the literature to back up the answer to the question because we WILL be challenged.  And challenged. And challenged.

For additional evidence, I look to ARNOVA (Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action) and IJOVA (International Journal of Volunteer Administration).  In addition, I look to websites such as e-volunteerism (hosted by Energize, Inc.) and Independent Sector.

With tight budgets coming down the pike (if not already), prepare yourself now for the times which are to come.  Prepare your 30-second answer which will probably result in a long meeting of explanations for the proper, legal, and ethical uses of volunteers.  You also need a copy of Volunteer Administration Code of Ethics at hand in any discussion. The volunteer department will be on the radar to provide supplemental support for organizations which are in a hiring freeze.  Be strong.  Obtain your evidence.  Use the evidence to cite the justifications for why you can and cannot do something with regards to volunteers. It is also your role to protect volunteers and the organization from a lawsuit.

There will be times for you, as the administrator of volunteers, when you will need to consider collapsing a program due to insufficient staff and means to continue.  If your department cannot hire additional staff, you will need to make tough decisions now and be prepared to justify them through the evidence.  Remember, that many departments within your organization have more paid staff than you. We know this. We feel this.  The volunteer department is the ONLY volunteer department in the organization and while we do make things happen, tight budgets will (temporarily) put things on hold.  Budget and hiring freezes impact volunteer programs as well.

As stated in the workshop, “there are new pressures and demands for additional program information.”  Are you prepared to back up your department…with or without staff?  With or without more volunteers?  The time is now to make our profession known even more.  Even though we are the volunteer department, we still need resources as much as everyone else.

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The author of the Federal Government Volunteer Programs page is melissa.heinlein@va.gov, MA, MS, CAVS. Melissa is the Chief of Voluntary Service at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, (215) 823-5868. Before venturing to the nonprofit sector, Melissa Heinlein spent time working for financial, IT, and pharmaceutical companies. With her business and marketing background, she took those skills and worked for Junior Achievement and structured a formal volunteer program at Hope Springs Equestrian Therapy before going into healthcare at Abington Memorial Hospital as the Assistant Director of Volunteer Resources. Her latest adventure is Chief, Voluntary Service at Philadelphia VA Medical Center. Melissa is past president and current board member of the Delaware Valley of Association for Volunteer Administration and current member-at-large for PSDVS, Eastern Chapter. She serves as an advisor for a grassroots organization “Spark the Wave” to encourage youth volunteerism. She holds a MA in Communications from West Chester University, MS in Administration of Human Services from Chestnut Hill College, and is a certified administrator of volunteer services through ASDVS. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Human Development at Marywood University. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, writing, sports, and exploring the outdoors. She prides herself when she talks about interacting with volunteers 5-99 years old – horses and dogs included.


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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