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

~ October 2012~


When I first entered corporate America after graduating from college, my father always told me “document, document, document.”  “Why?” I asked.  “Because you never know when something will pop up” he said. Fifteen years and several jobs later, this lesson has helped me support decisions made, correct situations that may not have gone well, and remember sequences of events that needed to be written down or else forgotten. 

Recently, this lesson of documentation was more important than anything.  It was regarding a volunteer and his assignment.  I won’t go into the details of what happened, but will tell you that documentation of situations saved me.  In our office, we keep almost every e-mail, every note on all of our volunteers, including the good and the bad.  We keep copies of letters of recommendations, e-mails about a change of schedule, hand written messages about the great work a volunteer did on his shift from a paid staff member, and the list goes on.  We also keep (and I hope you do too) documentation of counseling sessions, next steps, and outcomes.  We also keep a copy of the signed volunteer agreement and volunteer assignment (the volunteer gets copies of both) in the file.

lined paper

What information do you keep in your volunteer’s file? 

Lee and Catagnus (1999) write about documentation in their book What we learned (the hard way) about Supervising Volunteers: an action guide for making your job easier.
Lee and Catagnus (1999) suggest knowing your organization’s policies regarding documenting performance problems and warning volunteers.  What does your volunteer department policy state on counseling volunteers…and termination?  Are volunteers to be suspended? What kind of support will your supervisor provide you? 

Here are some corrective strategies when there are problems:

  • Re-vitalize
    • If a long-time volunteer’s performance is unsatisfactory, perhaps they need a rest or change of pace.
  • Re-assign
    • Try the volunteer in a new setting. Their skills and interests may have been incorrectly assessed or there may be a personality conflict in the current environment.
  • Refer
    • The volunteer may need to be referred to an entirely different agency that is a better fit with their skills, interests, or style.
  • Retire
    • A volunteer may simply no longer be able to do the work and, in fact, may be a danger to him/herself or others.  It may be time to suggest retirement, giving them the opportunity to depart with dignity.

Published in Lee and Catagnus (1999) with original material from 101 Ideas for Volunteer Programs by Steve McCurley and Sue Vineyard. 

It is important to keep notes on your challenging volunteers.  Don’t think that taking five minutes to jot down something the volunteer said or did is too miniscule.  This will help you defend your case if you have to terminate a volunteer, particularly one that may become irate when he/she is dismissed.  Finally, stick to the facts. Don’t make it personal even if you may not care for the volunteer.  Keep things in chronological order and always for the safety of those you serve. 
While it is fun working with volunteers, it is not always easy. 

*The author of the Federal Government Volunteer Programs page is melissa.heinlein@va.gov, MA, MS, CAVS. Melissa Heinlein-Storti 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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