Reference Manual 7 - Chapter 5: Onboarding

Note: This page contains Chapter 5 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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Formalizing the NPS/Volunteer Relationship: Volunteer Service Agreements

When a park or program identifies a need or opportunity well-suited for volunteers and reaches an agreement on the work a volunteer will perform, time commitments, official starting date, and other negotiable items, they must create a volunteer service agreement. The volunteer service agreement is a contract between the NPS and the volunteer. It identifies rights and responsibilities, time frames and commitments, and support. It should also be used to spell out the conditions for reimbursement of expenses if reimbursement is to be provided. This agreement is the park or program’s opportunity to define the expectations and parameters for service. It’s also an opportunity for the prospective volunteer to ensure they understand the role and requirements and confirm their willingness to serve in that capacity. A properly executed volunteer agreement is a key tool of successful volunteer program management.

Contents of a Volunteer Service Agreement

The volunteer service agreement is comprised of a completed OF301 and a service description or, in the case of a group, a completed OF301a, OF301b, and service description (see Forms).

A formal agreement requires a signed document in addition to verbal consent. If this written contract does not exist, the formal agreement is not legally enforceable. An agreement refers to any understanding between at least two parties regarding specific responsibilities and rights.

Every volunteer service agreement must include a detailed service description, either on the OF301a form or attached, that clearly specifies and describes the volunteer duties. A complete service description will contain the following information:

  • Volunteer position title

  • Supervisor

  • Work location

  • Time commitment

  • Major duties of the volunteer position

  • Safety considerations, including driving if required

  • Benefits to volunteer, including housing if available

  • Qualifications (knowledge, skills, experience, ability)

  • Required training or certifications

  • Whether personal property is required (list items)

  • Whether reimbursements are authorized, for what, and up to what amount (see Reimbursing Volunteer Expenses)

  • Volunteer and volunteer supervisor signature

See a sample service description on the Recruitment section of the Internal NPS Volunteer Resource Site (internal site).

Executing a Volunteer Service Agreement

The volunteer service agreement must be signed by the volunteer or volunteer group leader and an official government representative, preferably the park or program volunteer manager, although a division volunteer coordinator or volunteer supervisor is also acceptable.

  • All volunteers under the age of eighteen must have the signature of a parent or legal guardian on the OF301a. Other parental approval forms (school, youth group, etc.) are not acceptable as replacements for the signed OF301a.

  • Eighteen and older volunteers who are part of a group may sign the OF301b, provided the group leader has completed the OF301a. Parent/guardian may co-sign along with their youth on the 301b form when part of a micro-volunteering or an hands-on volunteering project.

A copy of the signed agreement—along with any revisions, attachments, or amendments—should be presented to the volunteer for their own records before work is begun.

All recurring volunteers are required to review and sign an updated OF301a and service description annually. This provides an opportunity for volunteer supervisors to check in with volunteers and discuss their position and performance at least once a year.

After the volunteer service agreement is signed, parks and programs may require the volunteer’s signature on additional written documentation or forms that pertain to their assignment. This may include forms for background checks, PIV issuance, vehicle usage, credentialing, training certifications, etc.

Chart: Usage of Volunteer Forms

Micro-Volunteering and Hands-on Volunteering

Short Term/Episodic Volunteering

Long Term Volunteering

  • 301b will be used for individual volunteers.

  • 301b will be cosigned by parents for volunteers under 18.

  • 301a will be filled out by group leader, if applicable, or site supervisor.

  • 301a will be used for individual volunteers

  • 301a will be cosigned by parents for volunteers under 18.

  • 301b will be used for groups (301a filled out by group leader).

  • 301a will be used for individual volunteers

  • 301a will be cosigned by parents for volunteers under 18.

  • 301b will be used for groups (301a filled out by group leader).


Several forms are required for record keeping and reporting in the NPS VIP Program. Sample forms and instructions for completion are available on the NPS VIP InsideNPS page.

All NPS forms for public use, including all volunteer forms, must be official forms approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). These forms may not be altered; however, the forms may be “marked up” to aid in completion (for example, relevant sections for youth may be highlighted in color). No other forms may be substituted.

Volunteer Application (OF 301)

In keeping with the Paperwork Reduction Act, the NPS uses an interagency application for federal land management agencies. The Volunteer Service Application: Natural & Cultural Resources form (OF 301) is the only OMB-approved application for NPS volunteer applicants; it is optional to solicit general interest from the public. NPS staff may not request potential volunteers complete a park- or program-specific or any other type of application. However, once an application has been received, a supervisor may request optional supplemental materials, such as a detailed résumé and/or references, as part of the screening and onboarding process. Applications may be mailed directly to the park or completed online at

Volunteer Service Agreement (OF 301a)

Individual volunteers, volunteer groups, and parental approval are combined on the interagency Volunteer Service Agreement: Natural & Cultural Resource form (OF 301a). Every completed OF 301a must include an accurate and detailed service description, either on the form or as an attachment (see Contents of a Volunteer Service Agreement). The volunteer service agreement legally enrolls an individual or group in the NPS VIP Program and provides them with federal protection in case of injury or tort claim. The original signed volunteer service agreement should be reviewed annually, revised and renewed if necessary, and retained in a park file for at least three years from the last date on which the volunteer worked. The forms should be secured as personally identifiable information (PII).

Termination Section of Volunteer Service Agreement

Terminating the agreement ends the relationship between the volunteer and the NPS. The termination section on the second page of the agreement provides a means of officially terminating an agreement when necessary or appropriate and a legal record of when an agreement was terminated in case of a lawsuit or injury claim.

Terminated volunteer service agreements must be retained for at least three years from the last date on which the volunteer worked. The forms should be secured as PII.

Volunteer Sign-up Form for Groups (OF 301b)

An OF 301b participant list may be completed for group volunteer projects in lieu of having each individual complete the OF 301a. When using the OF 301b to enroll a group, a OF 301a completed by the group leader and any attached position descriptions must be included with and presented to participants filling out the OF 301b. In the case of any volunteers under the age of 18, parents/legal guardians may co-sign the OF 301b only if they are present during sign-in at an event. When the parents/legal guardians of volunteers under the age of 18 participating as a part of a group are not present, the complete OF 301a, including parent/legal guardian signed permission, should be used.

Claim for Reimbursement for Volunteer Expenses (OF 1164)

Volunteers use this form to record incidental expenses and must submit the form, with receipts, as a claim for reimbursement. This form should not be used for reimbursing expenses incurred on invitational travel authorizations; use the current federal travel system (e.g., Concur Travel) instead. See Reimbursing Volunteer Expenses for more information.

Volunteer Orientation and Training

(see DO-7, § 14)

Each volunteer will receive appropriate orientation and job training. Volunteers should be provided with all the tools necessary to perform the job duties outlined in the service description, including EEO and anti-harassment policy training, park-specific safety rules and procedures, and any personal protective equipment and training required by the NPS and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. OSHA requires volunteers to take the same safety training that paid NPS employees would be required to take for a similar type of position.

The volunteer supervisor should ensure every volunteer receives job-specific training as needed.

Last updated: November 20, 2020


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