In FY18 over 2,500 volunteers donated 69,181 hours of service to Mount Rainier National Park, a contribution valued at $17 million. Volunteers are vital in our efforts of protecting and preserving the resources we steward here at Mount Rainier as well as in serving our visitors. Incorporating volunteers is also a service Mount Rainier provides to the community by providing opportunities for training, building jobs skills, networking, and provides an avenue for people to practice stewardship and make meainingful connections with the park.
However, volunteers are not always an appropriate option and mismatched or poorly organized assignments can cause more trouble than they are worth. Here we break down the process of creating a successful volunteer program and include best practices for managing volunteers. Specific forms and detailed procedures can be found on the park's Intranet page under the Volunteer tab and on the shared drive under 'VIP forms'.
The Mount Rainier Volunteer Program encourages supervisors in all divisions of the park to consider how volunteers might fit in to their operational practices and are here to support you every step of the way. Whether you are just starting to entertain the idea of involving volunteers or have been working with them for years, don't hesitate to contact us. Thank you for your partnership!
So You've Got a Job for Volunteers...
As a supervisor, you have a project that needs completed, your staff has other things to be doing, and you’re thinking this would be a great time to bring on a volunteer (or group). You may be right, but you should consider these questions first:
After your time of reflection, you still believe bringing on volunteers is the right course of action. Great! Now you need to write out a detailed position description.
Clearly define the task the volunteer will work on and all associated duties. Make sure to include secondary tasks such as driving a government vehicle, using a government computer, interacting with visitors, etc. Determine the time commitment of the project, how long the volunteer will be involved, and create a projected schedule for the position that includes start and end dates.
This will help you with the remainder of the process including recruiting and selecting the right volunteer, providing the volunteer with adequate direction and support, and evaluating the volunteer’s work and determining if the volunteer was acting within assigned duties should an incident occur.
Now that you know exactly what the volunteer will be doing, it’s time to identify any potential hazards or dangerous activities associated with the job as you would for a paid position. Will the volunteer be using any machinery or special equipment? Will the volunteer be driving a government vehicle? Will the volunteer be doing any physical labor or a task that requires a specific level of fitness? Does the environment the volunteer will be working in pose any inherent hazards (use of a ladder, icy conditions)? Will the volunteer need specific training or experience to do the job safely?
Identifying these hazards will not only help you think about how to mitigate them and create a safe work environment for your volunteers but will also serve you well when deciding what type of volunteer you need.
Use your position description and safety analysis to help you picture your ideal volunteer. What skills do they already have? What is their availability? Are they local (do they need housing)? What is the ability range you are able to accommodate? Is this a suitable job for students or teens? When will the job begin and how long will it take?
Now you are ready to recruit. You should create an announcement with the position description and any desired qualifications or restrictions. There are many ways to spread the word about your vacancy. If it is a long term or full time position it can be posted on volunteer.gov which will also appear on the volunteer page of the Mount Rainier website. These postings will ask interested volunteers to apply and you can specify what you would like included in the application. For smaller projects we can post the opportunity to the Volunteer Facebook Page and blog and include it in our newsletter. If it is a group project or internship opportunity reaching out to our partners may be appropriate. The Volunteer Program also recieves a number of general applications or inquiries from a variety of people looking to volunteer in the park so ask us about potential leads. Contact the Volunteer Program for help with recruiting.
Hiring a volunteer should be approached with the same care as hiring an employee. You are investing resources in turn for work and you want to make sure the relationship proves mutually beneficial. We suggest you check references and host interviews while considering an applicant’s qualifications as well as proven dependability. We encourage you to consider the staff culture of the division your volunteer will be working in and the personalities of your applicants. You should ask volunteer applicants the same questions you would for paid positions but keep in mind that volunteers are different than paid employees when it comes to motivation and perception of roles.
Once you have done the foot work and found an appropriate match, it is time to start the onboarding process and take care of any logistics.
Onboarding and Logistics
Funding to host volunteers may be available through the Volunteer Program. Supervisors will need to submit form A-560 to the volunteer program manager the winter before the season for which you are requesting the funds. The volunteer program manager will then prioritize funding requests based on predetermined criteria.
All volunteers must have a service agreement signed by the volunteer and the supervisor prior to doing any work. This form legally enrolls the volunteer in the Mount Rainier Volunteer In Parks (VIP) program and protects the volunteer and the park in case of an injury or tort claim. A clear position description outlining all assigned duties and associated risks should be attached to the service agreement. If the volunteer is under 18, make sure both the volunteer and the legal parent or guardian completes the permisson section of OF-301A. Keep in mind situations where the parent or legal guardian may not be accompanying the youth, in which case you need to distribute the waiver before they come to the mountain.
If you are hiring a group, the group leader will sign the OF-301A and each member will sign a sign in sheet. Sample sign in sheets can be found on the park Intranet page under the Volunteer tab or in the shared drive under 'Volunteer Forms'. Even volunteers participating in a group have the right to read the full position description, so please coordinate with the group leader to make sure it is available to everyone.
Although basic emergency contact information is collected on the volunteer agreement form, recurring volunteers should fill out the Mount Rainier Emergency Contact Form which will be kept on file by Dispatch in case of emergencies. This form is the same one used by employees and can be found on the park’s intranet.
As you know, safety is our number one priority here at Mount Rainier. Please be mindful of skill sets your volunteers are coming in with and provide them with adequate training and safety procedures for their assigned tasks. Long term volunteers should also be made aware of standard park emergency and evacuation procedures and participate in parkwide safety trainings.
International volunteers who are not U.S. citizens must have a J-1 Visa if they are going to receive anything of monetary value in return for their service (i.e. housing, food, uniform, transportation). The process can take about 6 weeks and the volunteer will have to demonstrate proof of health insurance. For arranging for an international volunteer to join your division, contact the Volunteer Program Manager or go to see NPS guidelines on international volunteers.
Interns hired through partners like SCA have their own special requirements. For specific guidelines go see “Signing Up Volunteers” on the volunteer page of the Mount Rainier Intranet.
Volunteers are responsible for tracking their own hours. You as the supervisor are responsible for collecting those hours and turning them in to the Volunteer Program. You can ask your volunteers to turn them into us directly, however, if we don't recieve them, we are coming to you to get them. Accurate documentation is essential for our funding so please submit hours as soon as possible and before the end of the fiscal year in time for reporting.
Hours can be submitted through any written documentation like email or physical hour logs.
Volunteers are not to wear or attempt to duplicate any part of the official NPS employee uniform. It is up to the supervisor to determine the need for the volunteer to wear a uniform. If the volunteer will be in a public facing position we encourage them to be in uniform. The standard employee uniform for Mount Rainier is a khaki work shirt with a volunteer patch on the sleeve and a volunteer baseball cap or bucket hat. These items can be acquired through the Volunteer Program while pants are supplied by the volunteer and should be appropriate for the assigned task. We also have patches available for volunteers to attach to personal clothing such as a winter jacket.
The supervisor is responsible for providing their volunteers with name tags if appropriate. It is standard for volunteers who have either served at least 100 hours in the park or have a public facing role to have a name tag. The ordering process is the same as ordering them for employees, except they have the option to have a volunteer emblem on their brass bar.
Volunteer reimbursement is never required and should only be provided if it is an inhibiting factor for the volunteer and funding is available. As detailed in Director’s Order #7, the following expenses are reimbursable using form 10-67, Reimbursement of Volunteer Expenses:
All volunteers receiving reimbursement will need to sign up for direct deposit through the Finance division.
Remember that volunteers are subject to the same restrictions and requirements as employees for computer access which includes a NACI background investigation and acquiring a PIV card. This process can take six weeks so plan ahead and start the process early in the onboarding process.
If the volunteer will be using the network or a government email then you will need to submit a new user request through the Information Services Intranet page as you would for a paid employee.
Volunteers with computer access will also need to complete the Federal Informations Systems Security Awareness training so allow time in the volunteer’s schedule for that.
In order for volunteers to be eligible for housing, including the RV sites set aside for park employees, they have to work at least 32 hours per week for at least one month. The benefitting account is charged for all housing costs. Pets are not allowed in park housing except RV sites and must follow park pet rules.
Short term volunteers are able to stay in the Longmire Stewardship Campground at no cost assuming there is availability. Limited camping options are available at other park campgrounds for volunteers that are working in other areas. Reservations can be made directly by the volunteer by contacting the Volunteer Program.
Long term volunteers are eligible for vehicle stickers just like employees. Short term volunteers can identify themselves as such for free entrance to the park on service days.
All volunteers have the right to evaluation on the quality and effectiveness of their work by a supervisor just like any other employee. The way you give this feedback is up to you. Volunteers are also asked to fill out an exit survey reflecting on their experience working at Mount Rainier, and you may also ask for feedback from your volunteers on their experience in your particular program.
Working With Volunteers
In many ways, volunteers are just like paid employees. They are entitled to the same supervision, training, and review, and are often subject to the same rules and procedures. However, there are also major differences between volunteers and employees and understanding these differences are essential to successful volunteer relationships.
The better you know your volunteers and the reasons they want to be involved in the particular project the better equipped you are to give them the experience they are looking for through simple actions on your end. For example, if you know your volunteer is a young adult looking to gain experience so they are more competitive in the job market, maybe you provide them with once a month feedback on their work that aligns with their professional goals. Or if you have a retired volunteer who is has decided to work in the park for social reasons, you spend 5 minutes a day checking in with them or make sure they know about social events within the volunteer program. While ultimately volunteers are here to serve the park, meeting the volunteer’s specific needs can boost the productivity and quality of their work as well as foster a positive long term relationship.
It is also important to keep in mind that different motivation sources have different strengths for different people, and this effects the volunteer’s tolerance of negative factors. For example, your paid employee may tolerate mild disorganization and communication conflicts because their need for employment and payment is stronger than their frustration. However, a volunteer in the same situation may be less tolerant because they often feel they are donating their time and expertise to the park and their time should be respected. Knowing what motivates your volunteers and how strong that motivation is can help you make sure the experience is a positive one. The most successful volunteer programs are characterized by the following:
All VIP forms and detailed instructions for working with volunteers can be found on the park Intranet under the Volunteers tab as well as on the park's shared drive under VIP Forms.
Director's Order #7 and Reference Manual #7 provides NPS standards and best practices for working with VIPs.
It is the right of both the volunteer and the park to terminate the volunteer agreement at anytime for any reason. However, we encourage supervisors to evaluate and communicate the issue with the volunteer and try to resolve any conflicts before termination. If the issue is stemming from a poor skills or personality match but you believe the volunteer may be valuable in a different role or division, contact the Volunteer Program Manager to discuss your options.
The Volunteer Programs does recognition for all volunteers based on time spent serving in the park. However supervisors are encouraged to recognize the work of their volunteers in a way they see fit.
A volunteer recognition certificate is available for use on the Intranet or on the shared drive under VIP Forms.
Supervisors may provide recognition to superior volunteers with government funds not to exceed $50. Supervisors may also nominate volunteers for awards such as the George Hertzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service.
Injuries and Property DamageAccidents can and unfortunately do happen. Volunteers are covered under the same protection as paid employees from accidents that occur when on duty performing tasks described in their position description.
Volunteers who are injured while performing the duties described in their signed position descriptions are covered by the Office Workers Compensation Plan just like paid employees. The process of obtaining treatment and documenting the injury is also identical.
If a volunteer is injured on the job follow these steps:
All property damages caused by a volunteer must be reported to the appropriate supervisor immediately, no matter how large or small they may be. Appropriate course of action will be determined by the supervisor.
Last updated: July 14, 2019