If it ain’t documented, it didn’t happen.

And if it isn’t documented in triplicate, at least one person will be suspicious that it didn’t happen anyway.

Today was a nice, calm quiet return to work after a long weekend (with a great, nearly 70 degree walk to boot), so rather than blather on about the utter normality of my day, I thought I’d take on a subject that anyone thinking about going Americorps will need to consider.

Namely, that you need to be really good about keeping records and that if you aren’t, very bad things can happen. And there are a lot of records to keep, all of which have to be kept accurately, ongoingly and in a timely manner.

Note that the following is what goes on in the program I’m serving in. Every program has it’s own way of doing things and its own assortment of vital records based on its grant requirements, so your mileage may vary. But for the most part, it’s a fair sampling of what sort of paperwork any given Americorps member will have to keep up with.

For one thing, there are timesheets. And not just any old timesheet, but a time sheet for morning, a time sheet for afternoon and a spreadsheet to enter the results of all those timesheets at the end of the month, including a required daily detailed summary of what you did and how it relates to your grant. Categorized by “direct service,” “training,” “approved fundraising” or “other.” Every single day.

Let me just say that lazy so and so’s who wait a week or more to fill in timesheets often spend a few hours calling colleagues going, “Dude, did we get out at 6 that night, or 5:30? And which night did we do the volunteer record update – was that Wed or Thurs?” Suffice it to say, that gets old quickly. So you have to be able to discipline yourself to keep ship-shape records on a daily or near-daily basis. Or keep a blog, which you can then later use as a pointy stick to poke at your memory until it hands over the goods.

Then those timesheets (both the “rough draft” and the computer version, printed upon completion) have to signed by the supervisor and yourself, then sealed in an envelope which is then signed over the flap by the supervisor so that when you hand it in to the program director or other bookkeeper, they know that you didn’t change your hours after the supervisor signed off on them (yeah, it happens – there are asshats everywhere).

This happens monthly. The whole totaled timesheet tango, that is, not (hopefully) the asshats.

Of course, you have to get both your relevant supervisor and the director to sign off on any time off – a week ahead for a day off and a month ahead for a week off. Unless it’s a sick day, in which case you have to call in by such-and-such a time (usually very early in the am) and then get a retroactive time-off sheet filled out as soon as you get back to work. That can mean tracking down as many as 4 signatures if you have 2 daily assignments and miss them both. And this applies even for mandatory missed days like trainings and such – even if everyone knows you’ll be gone, because – say it with me – if it ain’t documented it didn’t happen!

Then there are sign-in sheets for meetings. And cc’d emails for damn near every communication. And permission and review to send out a simple letter requesting volunteers or even just sending out information – the whole thing will need to be vetted to make sure all the p’s and q’s are minded, slapped into the appropriate letterhead with everyone’s logo comparatively sized to give just the right amount of prominence, and the recipient approved and double-checked against current askees to make sure we’re not double asking anyone or that we’re not asking someone with whom we have an antagonistic or overloaded relationship…and so on.

It’s enough to make a solopreneur-type like me remember why I started my own business and quit working in “the real world.”

And that’s just the normal, day-to-day stuff. On a less frequent, but still regular basis, I and/or my colleagues have to turn in (often to more than one place and in more than one configuration): spreadsheets of volunteers who’ve served in my program, their contact info and their hours worked; records of the students we’ve served, their vital stats and their grades; lists of needed materials (with a 2-week lead time to allow for check clearance); menu lists for the upcoming month’s snacks; and other random, assorted stuff such as great stories of what we’ve experienced in our work (for the grant reviewers), program updates and so forth.

And no matter how much it is, you have to stay on top of it. There are no exceptions and no excuses. Federal grant money is not by any stretch of the imagination something you can get slack with, even in the slightest. In fact, if our timesheets, for example, aren’t filed by a certain date after the end of the month (and, by extension, turned in by us sometime earlier), our director can go to jail. If fund moneys are spent incorrectly (even by accident with the best of intentions), she can go to jail. If our hours are mis-entered, miscategorized or mis-added, she can go to jail. And so on.

No shit. Federal grants often have inches of pages of instructions alone, and enough fine print to keep a whole cigar bar of lawyers arguing for months. You think filing taxes is bad – try staying compliant with equally obtuse and convoluted forms, language, instructions and requirements every single day or risk very similar penalties. And that’s just for the Federal grants. Since Americorps members serve with non-profits (only slightly less fine-print bound than the running of your average small country), they have to manage and satisfy all those rules, regulations and grant requirements at the same time. This is the job of the Americorps program directors and their bosses. *shudder*

I sooooo do not ever want any of their jobs. Ever, you hear me?

Anyway, that’s just a brief and highlighted overview of the sort of thing you’ll have to either keep up with or be aware of if you join Americorps. So, if you’re one of those folks who can’t keep track of your own birthday, fail classes because you lose your homework and forget when the finals are being held or can’t set something down without accepting that you may never see it again, you might want to think twice about joining Americorps. And if you do join, be prepared to put systems, checks and other organizational skills into place to ensure that everything that needs to get documented does get documented.

Or else…

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2 responses to “If it ain’t documented, it didn’t happen.

  1. Good morning! This blog entry came up on a Google alert for AmeriCorps and I wanted to get your permission to share it with our AmeriCorps program directors and members here in KY. I am the training officer for the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service. Our agency supports the AmeriCorps*State programs in Kentucky. Also, thank you for your service to the kids and for sharing your experiences.
    Melissa Newton

  2. Be my guest! That’s what this blog is for – feel free to share whatever you find here.

    And while you’re at it, if anyone wants to reciprocate by sharing any of their wisdom, stories, comments or concerns for our readers on anything Americorps, please don’t hesitate to contact me at the email in the sidebar. Or just drop a note in the Big Question thread (see top of sidebar).

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