Chapters are expected to record volunteer hours contributed by or through the chapter. The documentation of these hours is critical for several reasons:
- The DNR tracks the number of volunteer hours contributed to the system overall as a measure of public interest and dedication to the park system as a whole. By recording volunteer hours, we prove to legislators and other officials that we are committed to helping preserve and care for our system of state parks and historic sites.
- The benefits in a Friends membership package are not free to the organization. The ParkPasses, free golf and camping, and the discounts on lodging and gift shop purchases all must be “paid for” by the Friends organization. Legally, the DNR is not permitted to give away these benefits without receiving a contribution of equal or greater value. The volunteer hours recorded through Friends chapters are a large part of the contribution the Friends organization makes to the system. Essentially, without proof of these hours, the Friends organization could not exist as it does today.
- The chapter can benefit financially through the Volunteer Incentive Program (see Income Sources in Chapter Financials). For many chapters, the Volunteer Incentive Program can be a critical component of much needed funds.
Recording volunteer hours need not be a complicated task. For auditing purposes, the following information must be recorded for each volunteer hour submitted:
- the volunteer’s name
- the date and number of hours performed
- some sort of contact information for the volunteer (a phone number or e-mail address are both appropriate)
Please note that any contact information gathered for the purpose of documenting a volunteer’s time may be used to audit the information submitted but will not be used by the Statewide Friends organization to contact volunteers for any other purpose and will not be shared outside of the organization for any reason.
A simple log form for collecting the required information has been created and is available online in the Chapter Services area of the Friends web site and is also included in the appendices of this handbook.
Many chapters find the use of volunteer logbooks placed strategically throughout the site to be an easy way to track the ad hoc hours contributed by volunteers outside of special events, programs or projects. A logbook can be as simple as a small binder, clearly labeled with volunteer log forms inside. Place the binders at central points near the places volunteer activities frequently occur. This might be in the cabin where historic re-enactors portray colonial Georgia’s history each weekend, in the Visitor Center where volunteers pick up trash bags on their way out to hike and clean trails or at a lodge front desk where volunteers gather to assist with a snake or craft program.
Site staff should be familiar with the location of volunteer logbooks and should encourage their use for any Chapter sponsored activities.
Once logbooks are placed, the job is not quite finished. It is critically important that anyone volunteering understand the importance of recording each and every volunteer hour. In addition, the site staff should also understand the importance of recording volunteer hours and should encourage volunteers to use the logbooks.
Qualifying Volunteer Hours
Given the importance of recording volunteer hours, it is also essential to understand what hours can be recorded and can be used toward the Volunteer Incentive Program. As a general rule, any volunteer effort undertaken by a Friends member or through a Friends chapter is considered a qualifying hour. The following are a few examples of hours that qualify for the Volunteer Incentive Program that should be recorded and submitted. All volunteer hours submitted to Statewide Friends must also be approved and signed by the site manager or designee.
Volunteer hours recorded and submitted to Friends must be approved by the site manager or his/her designee. Review and approval by e-mail is also acceptable.
Below are some examples of volunteer activities that qualify as recordable hours:
- Preparation for and attendance at a Friends Chapter Meeting - Each attendee at a meeting is contributing qualifying time to the organization through their attendance. In addition, officers or leaders who spend time preparing for the meeting should also record their preparation time.
- Participation in a Friends sponsored project or activity - For example, assume a chapter has decided to build an observation deck at the site. The chapter has raised funds for materials and had some donated. They have rallied 45 individuals to help with the construction. Even though the 45 volunteers may not be Friends members, their efforts still represent qualifying hours and should be recorded. Or, another example may relate to trail cleanup. Assume a chapter has taken on the goal of keeping the park’s trails free of litter and sponsors a program which provides hikers with small trash bags at each trail head. As hikers head out, they grab a bag and pick up any litter they see along the way. The hikers’ time on the trail would qualify and should be recorded because they were participating in a program sponsored and made possible by the chapter.
- Advocating for the park or historic site - Chapter members who undertake advocating for their site through letter-writing, mailings to interested guests, or even promoting the site at a Chamber of Commerce meeting are all participating in qualifying volunteer hours.
A volunteer need not be a Friends member to have hours count toward the Volunteer Incentive Program. The key to determining eligibility is the activity itself, not the membership status of the individual performing the service.
It is also important to understand what types of activities do not qualify to be recorded and submitted under the Volunteer Incentive Program. Here are some examples of hours that should not be considered as qualifying hours:
- Campground Host Duties - Even if a campground host is an active Friends member, the hours he or she contributes as part of the Campground Host program can not be listed as qualifying hours. The campground host program exists outside the purview of the Friends organization and is neither sponsored by nor enabled by Friends. Therefore, campground host duties do not qualify. However, if a campground host participates in one of the aforementioned qualifying activities, the hours would count. It does not follow that just because an individual is a campground host their volunteer efforts never qualify. It is only their duties performed within the campground host program that do not qualify.
- Activities that take place off-site and do not directly relate to the promotion or preservation of the site - For example, a re-enactor who regularly volunteers at the site is invited to perform or demonstrate for a civic group in the community. Unless the performance is specifically geared to encourage visitation to the site, the performance would not qualify as a volunteer hour. As a general rule, if the presenter is paid in any way, the performance would also not qualify.
These examples illustrate the types of hours that do and do not qualify under the Volunteer Incentive Program and the volunteer program as a whole. However, they are by no means exhaustive lists of the types of hours involved. Questions about which hours qualify should be approached using the following criteria:
- Does the activity directly relate to the operations of or directly benefit the chapter organization or its mission?
- Does the chapter make the activity possible through organization, coordination or funding?
- Does the site benefit from the activity conducted by a Friends member?
If the answer to any of these three questions is “Yes,” the volunteer effort and the hours contributed in its support do qualify.
It is critical to record and submit ALL qualifying volunteer hours even if the cap has been reached in the Volunteer Incentive Program. All qualifying hours are reported to the DNR.