Cocalico Corner: Volunteering information

By on June 30, 2015

Sometimes a story, at least from a journalistic stance, is a non-story. But those non-stories often provide the basis for a follow-up that has some merit.

Some weeks ago, I spent a number of hours following through on a tip.

The Ephrata Review was informed that an incident had occurred at the Cocalico Senior Association, officially known as Horizons of Northern Lancaster County, in Reinholds. This incident, which occurred June 9 during the height of activity at the center, reportedly involved a verbal and physical confrontation between a volunteer and staff member. Both police and EMS were summoned to the association, located adjacent to the West Cocalico Township Building. An individual was transported to a local hospital, observed in the ER, and sent home. No arrests occurred.

Photo by Donna Reed Attendees enjoy a day of fun recently at the Cocalico Senior Association in Reinholds.

Photos by Donna Reed
Attendees enjoy a day of fun recently at the Cocalico Senior Association in Reinholds.

After interviewing a half dozen folks and receiving another first-hand account from one of the individuals involved, it became increasingly clear the genesis of the incident was a she-said-she-said between a staffer and a volunteer. What it came down journalistically is this: What is the news value to the public at large, particularly the Cocalico readers of this section?

The immediate readership value was no more than a perhaps gossipy review of the incident &tstr; and, as an editor making a judgement call, that’s not newsworthy enough for publication. But, the bigger story, I believe, is the dynamic of volunteers in a non-profit world.

As we all know, many organizations would never survive without volunteers. Maybe, like me, you volunteer in your community either as a board member or a hands-on worker. You most likely coordinate your volunteer duties with a paid staff member and you both have a pretty good idea of who is doing what. And, most importantly, you know who you are – volunteer not employee. You may wear a name tag indicating your volunteer status and you surely know, unless otherwise clearly specified, you do not officially represent via policy, contacts, or public statements the organization for which you volunteer.

The Leesburg, Va.-based Nonprofit Risk Management Center notes the importance of providing volunteers with written policy points, best done via a handbook. A volunteer handbook differs from an employee handbook which centers on personnel policies.

But, the NRMC notes, “ the same management reasons for having employee policies in writing also supports having written policies that provide guidance to keep volunteers safe and manage various risks in programs staffed by volunteers.”

According to the NRMC, among the main points that should be included in such a handbook:

* Mission and history of the organization;

* Organizational chart and list of board committees and their authority/responsibility;

* Description of principal programs and outcomes;

* Description of topics and operational policies that will be covered in Volunteer Orientation, such as access to the building, emergency evacuation procedures, and safety rules;

* Overview of the volunteer matching/selection procedure for assignments; qualifications for specific volunteer positions, and disclaimer that the nonprofit has the right to reassign or terminate volunteers from their service at the nonprofit’s discretion;

* Expectations for conduct and behavior;

* Prohibited conduct, such as violence and harassment;

* Conflict of interest policy;

* Policy on reimbursement of expenses, if applicable;

* Description of the nonprofit’s “Open Door Policy” and guidance on where a volunteer should report concerns;

* Operational guidance such as who to contact if a volunteer is going to be late or has to reschedule or miss an appointment; important phone numbers and websites;

* Acknowledgement of receipt of the volunteer handbook.

I am unsure if the Horizons organization has such a volunteer handbook although from my interviews, I believe they have policies in place. The Web site, horizonsnorlanco.com, does not describe qualifications for volunteering or how to volunteer.

The entrance to the center in Reinholds.

The entrance to the center in Reinholds.

In the aftermath of the June 9 incident, it is advisable for both staff and volunteers to have a written policy &tstr; adopted by the organization’s board of directors &tstr; to refer to in times of contention.

That action might just preclude the need for a police and EMS response and prevent the amount of gossip and speculation in the wake of an incident that may have been witnessed by many.

Donna Reed, Cocalico editor of the Ephrata Review, welcomes your feedback at dreed.eph@LNPnews.com.  She welcomes ideas for this column, a new feature in the Cocalico in Review section.

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