Reference Manual 7 - Chapter 3: Program Administration

(See DO-7, § 3)
Note: This page contains Chapter 3 of Reference Manual 7 (RM-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.

Roles & Responsibilities

Volunteerism is a core strategic function where all levels of the NPS organization must participate and can find mutual benefit and meaning in stewardship and service. The volunteer ecosystem is managed collaboratively at multiple levels.

Washington Support Office

The Servicewide VIP Program Manager in the WASO IE&V Directorate is responsible for the overall coordination and guidance of the program. The Servicewide VIP Program Manager performs the following duties:

  • Provides information on the VIP Program to the NPS Director, Department of Interior leadership, and Congress.
  • Develops strategic direction and establishes operational standards on volunteer management.
  • Manages servicewide policy related directly to DO-7 and RM-7 and coordinates with other NPS directorates where policies intersect.
  • Coordinates servicewide programming, volunteer initiatives, and special programs.
  • Works with other agencies and outside organizations in the field of service and volunteerism.
  • Monitors volunteer management activities through annual reporting and evaluation practices.
  • Distributes funding to regions and programs and monitors their use.
  • Maintains a national VIP recruitment program, including management of
  • Works with the National Park Foundation and other partners on national resource development efforts and special initiatives.
  • Facilitates regular and ongoing internal communication with regions and the field through various channels.
  • Coordinates with national Office of Communications on all external volunteer matters of national significance.
  • Advocates for volunteers, volunteer managers/coordinators, and volunteerism at all levels of the NPS.
  • Develops the training content and infrastructure and delivers technical assistance to the region, parks, and programs.
  • Coordinates national recognition and awards including the George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service, America the Beautiful pass, etc.
  • Supports national and regional offices on matters of volunteer health, safety, and wellness
  • Coordinates national offices and programs with volunteer activities that are not otherwise connected through regional administrative support structures.

Regional Offices

Regional responsibility for the NPS VIP Program rests with the Regional VIP Manager. Volunteer program management duties are assigned by the Regional Director to a particular position and are included in the service description and critical results of that position. Regional VIP Managers perform the following duties:

  • Coordinate regional George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service award and submission process.
  • Provide training to volunteer managers and assistance to the parks and regional programs as requested.
  • Monitor the volunteer programs by conducting routine program assessments in the region.
  • Ensure all reporting requirements are met.
  • Conduct regional strategic planning process and support park strategic planning processes.
  • Assist with the coordination of partnership-based and/or servicewide volunteer programs operating within the region.
  • Facilitate and support the coordination of regional and national volunteer-related projects and initiatives.
  • Compile VIP funding requests from the parks and programs.
  • Allocate VIP funds to parks and programs and monitor their use.
  • Serve as a liaison between the region, parks and programs, and WASO.
  • Answer public inquiries regarding the programs in the region.
  • Provide support to parks and program offices on matters of volunteer health, safety, and wellness.

Volunteer Programs at Parks, National Offices, and Special Programs

Each park, national office, or program (such as the Office of International Affairs, National Heritage Area, National Trails System, National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, etc.) volunteer program is a local operation and handles recruiting, selection, training, recognition, and many other aspects of a volunteer program locally. Each park or program with a volunteer program must have a designated volunteer manager. The individual in this role is assigned by the Superintendent/Manager and is responsible for volunteer program administration. The duties should be included in the individual’s service description and should be an element of their performance plan.

The volunteer manager may be located in any division, depending on the characteristics of the particular volunteer program and where the volunteer manager would be most effective. Regional offices support parks, regional offices, and programs. WASO IE&V supports other national-level divisions, offices, and programs. Wherever managers are located in the organizational structure, they must maintain contact with the Regional VIP Manager or Servicewide VIP Program Manager to ensure proper program procedures are followed.

Titles may vary, but for consistency in standards and training the two primary roles—volunteer manager and volunteer supervisor—are outlined below.


The Superintendent/Manager has ultimate responsibility for the VIP program in their park or program. Per DO-7, Superintendents/Managers perform the following duties:

  • Designates a volunteer manager, who will be responsible for administering the VIP program at the park or program level.
  • Ensures adequate training and supervision has been provided for all volunteers and volunteer managers.
  • Approves local policy for the volunteer program, including guidelines for volunteer reimbursement and housing, whether persons convicted of crimes may serve, and whether volunteers may operate government vehicles.

Volunteer Managers

The volunteer manager develops and operates a volunteer program matching the conditions and needs of the particular park or program. Volunteer managers perform the following duties:

  • Assist staff with assessing needs and identifying work that can be accomplished by volunteers.
  • Advise staff on the proper engagement of volunteers.
  • Provide guidance, training, and technical assistance to staff members who supervise and work with volunteers to ensure compliance with volunteer program policies.
  • Recruit for specific volunteer positions.
  • Coordinate volunteer orientation and training, volunteer recognition, and overall program evaluation.
  • Establish volunteer records management plan and ensure files contain all pertinent information, such as local policy, needs assessment information, service descriptions, recruiting information and strategies, and required training materials.
  • Ensure that electronic and paper records containing PII data are secured and managed in accordance with requirements in NPS approved systems.
  • Account for the safety and wellness of volunteers and those working with volunteers through the use of NPS best practices.
  • Directly supervise some volunteers, including leading and mentoring volunteers.
  • Develop relationships with partners and communities to support volunteer engagement.
  • Handle internal and external correspondence related to the volunteer program, including supporting content for their particular park or program’s volunteer engagement.
  • Develop and submit program funding requests and program reports to the Regional VIP Manager.
  • Monitor and record the use of park or program volunteer funds.
  • Keep staff informed of trends and procedures related to the use of volunteers.

Although volunteer managers are responsible for the overall coordination of volunteer programs, they are not the only people who may directly supervise volunteers. Staff members who are directly responsible for the volunteers’ work supervise those volunteers.

Volunteer Supervisors

Volunteer supervisors must have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities when supervising the volunteers entrusted to them and must be qualified to supervise the activities volunteers will be completing. Supervisory tasks are determined by each park or program. Supervisor/volunteer staffing ratios and percentage of time available to supervise volunteers should be considered when assigning Volunteer Manager and Volunteer Supervisor duties. Volunteer supervisors may perform the following tasks:

  • Write service descriptions and share them with volunteers.
  • Introduce volunteers to staff members with whom they interact.
  • Prepare the work area.
  • Explain the supervision and evaluation systems.
  • Explain risk management issues.
  • Share relevant policies and procedures.
  • Provide ongoing training, on-the-job coaching, informal appreciation, materials, and information to support volunteers’ efforts.
  • Account for the safety and wellness of volunteers through the use of NPS best practices.
  • Report individual and overall volunteer hours and the outcome of volunteer work to the park or program volunteer manager.
  • Recognize volunteers for their work efforts.

Volunteer supervisors are encouraged to update the volunteer’s record and conduct annual volunteer performance reviews with a written evaluation of the volunteer’s work to ensure high-quality volunteer performance and experience.

Volunteers, in the role of volunteer leader, can lead the work of other volunteers, but all volunteer work must ultimately be supervised by qualified NPS staff and/or the authorized partner staff. Personnel decisions, such as termination of volunteers, should be made in consultation with the NPS volunteer supervisor.

Volunteer Partnership Organizations

A nonprofit organization, such as a cooperating association, authorized philanthropic partner, conservation corps, or partner volunteer organization may, under the appropriate formal agreement (including cooperating association agreement, philanthropic partnership agreement, or federal financial assistance agreement, such as cooperative agreement), manage or assist in managing an NPS volunteer program nationally, regionally, or locally, with oversight conducted by the NPS. The agreement must clearly present procedures for communicating with and supervising volunteers and for managing volunteer projects, personnel records, reporting, security, liability, and co-branding when applicable. The agreement may not be used to circumvent the partner’s need for insurance coverage or other requirements. The reporting section of the agreement should clarify whether volunteer projects will be reported under the annual partner report or the annual VIP report (preferred); volunteer numbers should not be duplicated across multiple NPS reports.

Partner volunteer supervisors of NPS volunteers are held to the same expectations and policy requirements outlined in RM7. Parks and programs are ultimately responsible for upholding the standards of volunteer supervision and program management. Although volunteer supervision and management may be delegated to the partner through a formal agreement, a partner may never be granted the authority to sign NPS volunteer service agreements.

Parks and programs wishing to create an agreement with a partnership organization should work with the appropriate regional office contact for the type of agreement (including cooperating association agreement, philanthropic partnership agreement, or federal financial assistance agreement, such as cooperative agreement).

Volunteers serving under these partnerships are NPS volunteers and must have a valid NPS volunteer service agreement.

See Types of Volunteers: Partner Organizations for additional information on working with partners.

See Director’s Order #21: Philanthropic Partnerships (DO-21) for additional information or consult the park or program’s or region’s partnership coordinator.

See Director’s Order #32: Cooperating Associations (DO-32, Section 4) for additional information about cooperating association activities.


Congress appropriates funds each year for the NPS VIP Program (see Authorities).

VIP funds are one-year “Operation of the National Park System” (ONPS) funds, allocated annually by Congress for the purpose of maintaining a National Park Service volunteer program. Funds may be used in accordance with federal appropriations law, agency policy, and Congressional intent to support volunteers and volunteer program management, including housing, volunteer transportation, volunteer coordination, purchase of uniforms and recognition items, volunteer and volunteer manager training costs, and similar expenses (see Recognition and Awards). VIP distribution funds may not be used for paying staff or for food with some exceptions (see NPS-Provided Food).

Additionally, other NPS funding sources (e.g., Servicewide Comprehensive Call project funding, recreation fees, commercial fees, and Operation of the NPS (ONPS) and non-NPS funding sources (e.g., National Park Foundation or other partners, friends groups, and direct donations) may be used to support volunteer programs.

Allotment of VIP Funds

VIP funds are allotted to each region based on a formula determined by servicewide and regional volunteer leadership. Regional volunteer program managers distribute these funds to parks (excluding national heritage areas) and monitor their usage throughout the fiscal year.

NPS-Provided Food

In general, an agency may not use appropriated funds to purchase items considered personal expenses, such as food, without specific authority (see Government Accounting Office Decision B-301184, January 15, 2004).

Limited exceptions may permit the NPS to provide food, such as the following examples:

In any scenario, park and program staff should consult with their budget or finance staff before purchasing any food directly.

An alternative solution is for a friends group or philanthropic partner to pay for food directly according to Director’s Order #21: Donations and Philanthropic Partnerships.

Incidental Expenses

VIP funds can also be used to cover incidental expenses directly related to the operation of the VIP Program. These expenses include supplies and materials, medical exams (if required for specific positions), fingerprints, volunteer training tuition and materials, uniforms and costumes, local transportation, housing (including off-site housing), tools and equipment, and other similar expenses.

Program Management and Supervisory Training

(See DO-7, § 15)

Volunteer Program Management Training

Introductory course: All new volunteer managers are required to take the self-paced Introduction to Volunteer Program Management Requirements [internal link] course in DOI Talent within two months of being assigned volunteer program management duties. All volunteer managers, volunteer supervisors, and other staff supporting the volunteer program will also benefit from this training.

Ongoing training: Each region will provide volunteer program management training annually or partner with other regions to offer training. These trainings may include basic volunteer program management overviews, refresher courses, and/or advanced volunteer program management trainings. Volunteer managers are strongly encouraged to attend a regionally hosted training within a year of taking on volunteer program management duties. If they are unable to attend in person, they should contact their Regional VIP Manager to discuss other training opportunities that can be completed locally or virtually. These may include NPS or non-NPS-provided training modules.

Volunteer Supervisor Training

Supervisory training is required for anyone supervising volunteers of any number whose combined hours of service equal or exceed 6,261 hours per year (equal to three full-time equivalent or FTE). It is recommended for all volunteer managers and supervisors.

Supervisory training is offered in a variety of formats and from many vendors. Volunteer supervisors are eligible for the WASO-funded New Supervisor Development Program, which fulfills this requirement.

Last updated: December 19, 2023


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