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

~ October 2011~


At the end of each day, I find myself asking more and more “how do we get it all done?”  I have one staff in my office, including me, with a workforce of _____ volunteers.  I intentionally leave the number of volunteers blank for you to fill in because I’m confident you would say the same thing, no matter the number of volunteers.  How do we get it all done?  Some of you may even be a staff of one in your department.  Or working part time managing volunteers.person at desk under mountain of paper

Yet, somehow, someway, you run your department effectively, efficiently, and leadership and department heads keep coming to you for more.  I often wonder if it’s our personality, our work ethic, our drive to please, our skill set.  I’m left to believe it’s a combination of many things.

In September, my staff and I continued to operate in a small office and we may not even speak to each other until we lock the door for lunch.  Volunteers flood the office.  Phones ring off the hook.  E-mail takes over our inbox.  Departments request you to be in meetings and you can’t figure out why.  We multi-task more than we give ourselves credit for.  We challenge ourselves to do better the next day and streamline any process and system that can be adjusted to be more effective.

I raise these questions and scenarios because we are now in a new fiscal year.  Do you know what the future will hold for your department?  I purposely created a BUDGET HIT REQUESTS folder in July with the anticipation that since the budget will be tight, who is the first department that gets hit?  The volunteer department.  And we are the smallest department in any organization.

I streamlined our interview process, intake process, and orientation.  I am gracefully saying “I’m sorry, but we have to put you on a wait list for volunteers” for departments who want last minute requests to be filled.  Why?  Because we can only do so much.  I also go through each application.  If I call a candidate once then e-mail for an interview with no response, I remove them from my candidate file and place in my never interviewed/never placed folder.  I’ll hold these for three years.  We don’t have the time to chase people.  In June, I triaged all of our volunteer assignments and assigned levels to each one.

Level I:  
High priority, high volume department – top volunteer assignment.  In my hospital, this may include areas such as the emergency department, family lounge, and information desk assignments.

Level II:
High volume department, currently has volunteers, but volunteers are not needed
every day.  This may include assignments in our outpatient clinics.

Level III:
Department can be sustained with one volunteer a week, low maintenance, ongoing volunteers are not needed.  In addition, this may also be a department who utilized volunteers in the past but did not use them appropriately.  The department needs to be re-trained.  This may include assignments in administrative departments.

I encourage each of you to prepare yourselves.  Review your processes, systems, and responses.  You will need to practice how to say “no” gracefully and you have to remind yourself everyday that if you don’t do this, you will continue to run in circles.

And at the end of each day, you’ll ask yourself “how do we get it all done?”  Instead, because of an effectively and efficiently run volunteer department, you should say “we got everything done because . . . ” (and you fill in the blank).  Don’t stress yourself out.  Breathe.  Take charge.


*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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