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

~December 2009~


As the holidays approach (quickly, I’m afraid), we get many inquiries for donations for the organization.  The community assumes that my organization (a hospital) needs certain things, but in essence, our needs list states what we need and for whom. How do you communicate to potential donors what your clients need?  How do you gently let them know that what they just dropped off in your office is not what is needed?

In a time of economic challenges, are we supposed to accept everything that comes through the door?  Or are we supposed to be grateful for whomever donates? 

The answer?  Communication, education, and recognition.

On our website, we are updating our donations page to reflect what our clientele needs.  This is not for donors to give us what they think is needed. 

Holiday cards are a big hit for our patients.  We created a small postcard, “card requirements” which communicates and educates teachers and groups such as the Girl Scouts on the size of the cards, first name only, no glitter or candy, etc.  Organizations appreciate the guidelines so they can meet our needs rather than getting a letter of thank you and “oh, by the way, here are our card requirements…”

If donations are dropped off in the office and there is no use or need for it, we have a referral list of local organizations who may be able to accept the donation.  We contact the donor and let them know we found a home for their donation.  This also helps to build partnerships with surrounding organizations.

Does your staff organize their own donation?  As a federal agency, we know that donations must be streamlined through the volunteer department. We recently contributed to our weekly announcements about donations – monetary and gifts-in-kind – which must be coordinated through our office.  Would you believe how many staff contacted us and asked “is this something new?” 

Donors – whether internal or external – want to feel they have a home, some place to go to make a donation.  Whether it is a check to buy tokens for public transportation or a box of microwave popcorn for an evening program, donors want to know their generous gift is being used and taken care appropriately.

It is not easy to work with donors.  We know there are some who can be demanding and difficult, but it is the gift for your clients that counts. You never know how that donor may help you down the road.  Treat each donor’s gift – no matter how small – as if there donation will change your organization. 

So, it is not just the season to be giving…tis the season to also be grateful in these times of economic hardships.  If people are still giving, they are giving you a wonderful gift as they chose your organization to make their donation count.

If you would like sample thank you letters for monetary and gift-in-kind donations, or card requirements, please contact melissa.heinlein@va.gov.

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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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