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

~April 2009~

Economics and Volunteers

Listening to President Obama’s State of the Union last week on my way home from class really gave volunteer administrators something to think about.  In these times of economic challenges that individuals, families, businesses, corporations, schools, etc. are facing, the role of the volunteer administrator becomes even more important.  We are savers for our organizations.  We recruit quality volunteers to fulfill a mission.  In turn, we contribute to the economic savings an organization would have to pay if it was not for volunteers. 

Recently, I was approached to continue serving on a committee – a committee in which I co-chaired for two years and then was suddenly overlooked.  This committee won an award when I was co-chair and then with new leadership, my department and its contributions (volunteers and gifts-in-kind) became invisible.  During this meeting, I knew that my pocket was going to be picked to make financial contributions to the goals of the committee in order to improve the quality of life for our patients.  But I pushed back, clearly stating all the contributions made over the last two years.  If my department was going to be asked to raise donations for the goals, then I was to be put back on the committee.  A fair bargaining chip. 

Because I also handle donations in my department, I do not consider my department to be a true volunteer department, but one in which I can contribute perhaps even more to the organization through volunteers and donations.  But why are we realized now?  Why are we important now?  Why is our department only mentioned as an option when there is a reduction in force, a cut in budget, or positions to fill on hold?  For example, “we have a hiring freeze…let’s call the volunteer department.”  Or “we have to cut our budget, let’s get a volunteer.”  Why are volunteers not recognized any other time?  Why are VOLUNTEER ADMINISTRATORS not recognized any other time for our leadership to organize one of the best human workforces around?

I push back and try to make my department known throughout the entire year and not just when crisis hits.  We know we save the organization many FTEE’s through our volunteer workforce.  We know we have volunteers who come in when the weather is bad because they are dedicated.  We know we do more and more as each day passes because that is just what we do.

Market your department the best way you can – annual reports, quarterly reports, and presentations to management.  Don’t have time to write a newsletter?  It is a perfect assignment for a college student.  Hold an in-service for your volunteers and give them the tools they need to make their assignments even better – such as customer service.  But most importantly, educate your paid staff supervisors about your department.  Lunch n’ learns are a great way to go if you are short on time.  Host them once a quarter.  See what happens.  You will be amazed at what staff will find out from one-on-one time with you. 

Know that your volunteer department contributes more to the bottom line.  You are priceless and so are your volunteers.


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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