Reference Manual 7 - Chapter 5: Onboarding and Management

Note: This page contains Chapter 5 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.

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 all requirements. 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 service agreement is a key tool of successful volunteer program management.

Volunteers may not serve without a signed and current volunteer service agreement. Volunteer Service Agreements must be renewed annually.

Contents of a Volunteer Service Agreement

The volunteer service agreement is comprised of:

  • Individuals: A completed OF301a, a service description, and a job hazard analysis
  • Groups: A completed OF301a (leader), OF301b (group members), a service description, and a job hazard analysis

There are no alternative formats for the volunteer service agreement. The volunteer service agreement requires a signed OF301a document (and OF301b if necessary). If this written contract does not exist, the formal agreement is not legally enforceable.

Every volunteer service agreement must include a detailed service description, either on the OF301a/OF301b form or attached, that clearly specifies and describes the volunteer duties. A complete service description must contain the following information:

  • Volunteer position title
  • Supervisor
  • Work location
  • Time commitment
  • Major duties of the volunteer position
  • Job hazard analysis or job safety analysis (JHA or JSA) and safety protocols, including driving if required
  • Health and physical condition requirements for this position
  • Qualifications (knowledge, skills, experience, ability)
  • Required training, certifications, or licenses
  • Benefits to volunteer, including housing if available
  • Whether personal property is required (list items)
  • Whether reimbursements are authorized, for what, and up to what amount (see Reimbursing Volunteer Expenses)

Executing a Volunteer Service Agreement

The OF301a must be signed by the volunteer or volunteer group leader and an official government representative, preferably the park or program volunteer manager, although a volunteer supervisor or other NPS employee with delegated responsibility is also acceptable. Although volunteer supervision and management may be delegated to a partner through a formal agreement, the partner may never be granted the authority to sign volunteer service agreements.

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 volunteer service agreement 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.

Volunteers under the age of 18

  • All volunteers under the age of eighteen must use the OF301a form and 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.
  • Volunteers under age 18 may not use the OF301b.

Chart: Usage of Volunteer Forms

Short Term/Episodic Volunteering

Long Term Volunteering

  • OF301a will be used for individual volunteers
  • OF301a will be cosigned by parents for volunteers under 18.
  • OF301b will be used for groups (OF301a filled out by group leader).
  • OF301a will be used for individual volunteers
  • OF301a will be cosigned by parents for volunteers under 18.
  • OF301b will be used for groups (OF301a 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 through the NPS VIP InsideNPS page [internal link].

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 (OF301)

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 use this document as a volunteer application. 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 supplemental materials, such as a detailed resume and/or references, as part of the screening and onboarding process. These supplemental materials are also optional. Applications may be completed online at, but can also be submitted or mailed directly to the park or program.

Volunteer Service Agreement (OF 301a)

Individual volunteers, volunteer groups, and parental approval are combined on the interagency Volunteer Service Agreement: Natural & Cultural Resource form (OF301a). Every completed OF301a 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 tort or worker’s compensation claim. The original signed volunteer service agreement must be reviewed, revised as needed, and renewed annually and retained in a park or program file for at least three years from the last date on which the volunteer worked. The forms contain personally identifiable information (PII) and should be secured according to federal guidelines.

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 ending an agreement when appropriate or necessary and provides 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 must be secured as PII.

Volunteer Sign-up Form for Groups (OF301b)

An OF301b form may be completed for group volunteer projects in lieu of having each individual complete the OF301a. When using the OF301b to enroll a group, an OF301a completed by the group leader and any attached service descriptions must be included with and presented to participants filling out the OF301b. The OF301b form is the only acceptable form to accompany an OF301a for volunteers in a group. An OF301b form must be accompanied by a fully signed OF301a form, which must be filled out and signed by the group leader and co-signed by the agency volunteer program manager. Volunteers under 18 may not use the OF301b form (see Executing a Volunteer Service Agreement).

It is the responsibility of the volunteer manager or the volunteer supervisor to ensure volunteers signing up on the OF301b must be presented with a description of the volunteer service to be performed, including health and physical condition requirements or training/license/ certification requirements, and safety protocols.

While often used for one-day or short-term volunteer projects, the OF301b may also be used for volunteer groups which will volunteer together consistently on the same project (for example, a monthly trail crew whose group leader, group members, and service activities will remain the same). In this case, the volunteer program (1) must ensure any new members who join throughout the year also sign a volunteer service agreement (either an OF301a form or a new OF301b form with their group leader) and (2) that the volunteer program time keeping system accurately captures the dates and hours of service for specific group members.

Claim for Reimbursement for Volunteer Expenses (SF-1164)

Volunteers use the SF-1164 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, to be defined and coordinated by the volunteer program manager and volunteer supervisor. 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 or program-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 and is responsible for monitoring that those volunteers are operating within established protocols.

Volunteer Recognition and Awards

(see DO-7, § 16)

Volunteer recognition is key to strong volunteer management and a core component of any VIP program. When volunteers feel appreciated and recognized, they are more likely to feel connected to the program and continue their involvement.

All NPS staff should recognize the critical role that volunteers play in helping us to meet our mission and should thank volunteers often, both through formal events and informal tokens of gratitude.

Use good judgment and provide proper justification to ensure an effective and successful volunteer recognition program.

Examples of volunteer recognition may include:

  • An email or phone call to tell the volunteer that others have spoken highly of them
  • Highlighting a volunteer in your newsletter or your social media
  • An annual or regular event to thank volunteers
  • Nominating the volunteer for an award. The Excellence in Volunteerism Awards are the official NPS awards for volunteers, though other volunteer award programs exist
  • Providing an America the Beautiful Pass for volunteers with 250 cumulative service hours
  • Providing a token pin or certificate to honor the number of years/hours served

The 1992 Departmental Appropriations Bill (PL 102-154, Section 115) provides permanent authority to use appropriated volunteer funds to buy non-monetary gifts and awards of nominal value for volunteers as tokens of appreciation. In a memo dated February 3, 1993, and updated by the 2009 memo IRS Audit and Volunteer in Parks Reimbursement Update, the NPS Associate Director for Budget and Administration clarified the definition of the word “nominal.” In most cases, non-monetary awards should be worth no more than $50. Monetary awards may not be given. Gift cards are considered monetary awards and may not be issued. Special circumstances may warrant gifts that are worth more than $50, at the discretion of the Superintendent/Manager.

Volunteers are not eligible for federal employee awards programs, such as STAR awards.

The George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service are the official NPS awards for volunteers (see the WASO VIP SharePoint page for additional information and resources for volunteer recognition).

America the Beautiful Pass

As of January 1, 2007, a volunteer’s time can be counted toward a Volunteer Pass, which provides free entrance into federal fee areas for one year. Once a volunteer accumulates 250 hours with selected federal agencies, they may be awarded this annual pass at no cost to the park or program.

The 250 hours may be accumulated over multiple positions or over multiple years. Volunteers are responsible for tracking their own hours and should submit a request to the volunteer manager when they have accumulated sufficient hours. Contact park or program fee managers or Regional VIP Managers for information about obtaining passes for qualifying volunteers.

See Interagency Volunteer Pass FAQs for more information.

Last updated: December 19, 2023


  • Site Index