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

~ November 2011~


At the end of each day, my specialist and I debrief the happenings of the day.  Often, the common theme is how we don’t feel that we empower our volunteers enough.  We inhibit them from being empowered.  (Probably because we like to be in control.)  However, would it be better to empower volunteers to help you out so you can be more effective and efficient throughout the course of your day?

Case in point:
Many volunteers flood the volunteer office – timesheets need to be signed, assistance is needed to sign in hours on the kiosk, a volunteer needs that, a volunteer needs this.  The e-mails are adding up and sometimes, well, you just can’t keep up.  You run from meeting to meeting and get stopped along the way in the hallways because a volunteer has a question or a staff member has a need for (and I dare say this) more volunteers 

Then you have walk-ins.  Instead of perhaps scheduling time with the future candidates and handing out an application, we use time out of an already busy schedule to take care of the task in front of us.  Instead of deferring the routine questions to volunteer leaders in the office, we jump right in.  Why? 

Everything continues to add up. 

A volunteer comes in and continuously demands your ear to listen to what is going on in his life.  Another volunteer just can’t seem to remember the dress code.  You need to write the newsletter that you keep putting off.

I don’t necessarily think it’s a matter of time management.  As administrators of volunteers, we are the pros at multi-tasking.  Better yet, there are days that we even ask ourselves, “How did I do all of that?”

Here are some suggestions to perhaps implement or ponder empowerment…

brown bullet Which volunteers could use additional training to triage the walk-ins, routine questions, and phone calls?  Can these volunteers be leadership volunteers and give them this title? Or, perhaps a volunteer ambassador to represent the volunteer department?

brown bullet For the volunteer who continuously needs your ear, why is this happening?  He’s getting upset that you are multi-tasking while not listening to his story.  So, why not just schedule 5 minutes with him at the beginning or end of his shift?  Make it known that you have a lot going on, but would be happy to put him on your calendar.  Bet this would make him feel great!

brown bullet College students are a great source of re-organizing and redesigning systems and processes. We have one college student who loves to reorganize and she developed a system to help us track our donations more effectively. 

brown bullet Keep the best volunteers for your department!  Why should the volunteer, who has a great skillset in customer service and project management, go to another department?  Why assign the volunteer who is an English major to another department when she can draft, design, and edit your newsletters? 

At the end of the day, we will continue to do what we do either because it works or because that’s just the way we’ve always done it.  Take some time to evaluate who you can promote to a leadership volunteer position.  As the volunteer departments continue to be stretched leadership volunteers will become even more important to fulfill your organization’s mission.  Empowering volunteers benefits the department and the volunteers as a whole.  We want to trust them to do a good job.  We don’t want to take more time out of our already crazy day because we inhibit them.

Empower volunteers.  Inspire volunteers.  Motivate volunteers.


*The author of the Federal Government Volunteer Programs page is melissa.heinlein@va.gov, MA, MS, CAVS. Melissa is the Chief, 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 member of the Delaware Valley of Association for Volunteer Administration.  She is a member of the Pennsylvania Society of Directors of Volunteers in Healthcare, Inc. and held positions as education chair (state and local), vice-president (state), and member-at-large).  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 AHVRP. She is currently a doctoral candidate with her PhD in Human Development at Marywood University. She also contributed to the first textbook on volunteer administration.  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.

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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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