Reference Manual 7 - Chapter 1: Background, Purpose, and Authorities

Note: This page contains Chapter 1 of Reference Manual 7 that accompanies Director's Order 7, Volunteers-In-Parks. Users of RM-7 are strongly encouraged to check this page for updates before utilizing previously viewed, printed, or downloaded materials.

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Volunteering is an American tradition that has made an immeasurable contribution to communities, organizations, and individuals throughout the country. Volunteers are integral to the success and function of the National Park Service (NPS). Authorized by Public Law (PL) 91-357, the NPS Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) Program can accept and use voluntary help and services from the public in a way that is mutually beneficial to the NPS and the volunteer.

Through the VIP Program, the NPS works hand-in-hand with communities to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in meaningful and mutually beneficial volunteer opportunities. Volunteers are accepted from the public without regard to race, creed, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, color, national origin, or disability. Under the legislation, volunteers may be recruited without regard to Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regulations because they are not federal employees for any purposes other than liability, tort claims, and workers’ compensation.


Director’s Order #7: Volunteers-In-Parks (DO-7) provides direction to NPS staff who are responsible for and involved in implementing the VIP Program in parks and programs. This document, Reference Manual #7: Volunteers-In-Parks (RM-7), provides information needed to implement the requirements of DO-7 to help parks and programs plan and manage their volunteer programs. Links to other supporting resources are provided throughout this document.


(see DO-7, § 2)
Public Law 91-357, more commonly known as the Volunteers in the Parks Act of 1969 (54 USC 102301), was enacted in 1970. An amendment (PL 98-11) dated March 28, 1983, extended this program to include National Trails in Section II of the National Trails System Act.

The Departmental Appropriations Bill (PL 102-154), dated November 13, 1991, allows permanent use of volunteer funding for “paying costs incidental to the utilization of services contributed by individuals who serve without compensation of services as volunteers in aid of work for units of the Department of the Interior.” Because volunteerism may intersect with other programs and functions within the NPS, additional regulations may apply.

Establishing Local Policy

The overarching policies and procedures needed to operate an effective, consistent volunteer program are documented in DO-7 and this reference manual. Unique circumstances within parks and programs, however, require local-level decisions. Therefore, each participating park or program must establish local policy on its engagement of volunteers as an organizational strategy, rather than a program, integral to the function and success of the National Park Service. This local policy is an extension of DO-7 and RM-7 and should include the park’s or program’s standard operating procedures and is commonly referred to as the volunteer handbook. Local policies are authorities delegated to superintendent/manager of each park unit or program office for which they are accountable, and should include guidance on:

  • Position management (including certification of volunteer position descriptions)

  • Vulnerable populations (e.g., children/youth, court-ordered community service, inmates, etc.)

  • Onboarding process

  • Orientation and training

  • Uniform management and disposal

  • Housing

  • Allowable expense types and limits for reimbursements (e.g., cap on per diem)

  • Limited liability and/or thresholds for volunteer use of personal property

  • Awards and recognition

  • Termination

Local policy is considered “pre-decisional documentation” by the DOI solicitor, supports audit requirements, and helps the park or program proactively reduce guesswork, risk, and administrative time. Moreover, this local policy is tailored to the park’s or program’s management of its volunteer workforce within the parameters of applicable laws, regulations, and policies, and should be created through a local strategic planning process involving representation of the various involved parties across the park/program.

Last updated: November 27, 2019


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