Challenges with Members

Managing VISTA member performance and conduct can be complex and challenging, especially because of the VISTA program’s unique requirements. Sponsors should engage the CNCS State Office early for guidance on setting clear expectations for VISTA members and utilizing performance improvement plans and corrective action plans.

There are times when, for a variety of reasons, the match between the VISTA member, the sponsor, and the VISTA program does not work out. While each VISTA member commits to a one-year term of service, some VISTA members choose to leave their site and/or end their service term early. Additionally, some sponsors decide it’s not in the best interest of the community and organization for a member to finish their term of service at the assigned site.

In many cases, it’s feasible for the sponsor, the VISTA member, and the VISTA program to work toward a resolution that enables the VISTA member to continue service at the assigned site. Such an outcome is optimal.  However, the CNCS State Office should be engaged early when challenges arise as they can provide critical support in assessing the circumstances and guiding the sponsor and VISTA member toward a positive outcome.

In some cases, separation of the VISTA member from the site and sponsor is the most appropriate path, and it’s essential that the sponsor engage the CNCS State Office as soon as possible so they can lead all parties or take action to effect the VISTA member’s separation from the project. Separation can happen via a member’s resignation or CNCS’s removal of the VISTA member from the sponsor or site by the CNCS State Office.

The sole authority for removing a VISTA member from a sponsor, terminating a VISTA member, or offering a VISTA member the opportunity for reassignment rests with CNCS.[1] While the request for a VISTA member’s removal from a sponsor may originate from a sponsor’s request, neither the sponsoring organization nor the site to which a member is assigned shall remove a VISTA from service.[2] Additionally, CNCS has the authority to remove a VISTA member from a sponsor without the request or consent of the sponsor.[3]

When a VISTA member’s departure creates a vacancy, it is up to the CNCS State Office to determine whether filling the position again is appropriate and possible. The CNCS State Office typically considers a number of factors, including the reason for the vacancy, overall project performance, and available resources before determining whether a sponsor will be approved to fill a vacancy at a future date.

Member Resignation or Member-Initiated Reassignment

If a VISTA member expresses interest in leaving the VISTA project early, the supervisor should first have a conversation with the VISTA member to understand the root of their interest in leaving and see if continued service at the project may be a possibility. The CNCS State Office should be consulted as soon as possible, and may, depending on the circumstances, be able to approve additional VISTA member benefits (for example, emergency leave) or offer support (such as coaching on reasonable accommodation) to facilitate continued service. The CNCS State Office can also consult on whether a VISTA member’s situation may qualify as a compelling personal circumstance that would qualify the VISTA member for a pro-rated end-of-service benefit upon exit from the VISTA program.

A VISTA member can only effect a resignation from the VISTA program as a whole; a VISTA member cannot resign from a particular VISTA project. If a VISTA member has made a final decision to resign from the VISTA program as a whole, the VISTA member should send immediate written notification to the sponsor and CNCS State Office of this fact. The supervisor must also promptly report this to the project director, who is required to notify the CNCS State Office within 24 hours of the VISTA member’s notification to the sponsor. This initial notification should be by email and is critical to ensure that the VISTA member is exited from the program promptly as to avoid overpayment of living allowance and other benefits. The sponsor must send the CNCS State Office a copy of the VISTA member’s dated resignation letter, which should specify the effective date of the resignation, the reason for the resignation, and that the VISTA member is resigning from the VISTA program as a whole, not just from the VISTA sponsor. The CNCS State Office will unlock the member’s FPF. The sponsor is responsible for ensuring that the VISTA member submits Part A of the FPF and the sponsor submits Part B of the FPF. (For more information on submitting FPF, see the section on Future Plans Form.)

If a VISTA member expresses a need to leave their site but has serious interest in continuing to serve as a VISTA elsewhere, the project director, supervisor, or member should notify the CNCS State Office of the desire to seek reassignment to another project. The CNCS State Office will collect information from the VISTA member, the supervisor, and the project director in order to assess the possibility of continued service with the VISTA program and provide guidance to the sponsor and member involved. If the VISTA is removed from the sponsor, the sponsor plays no further active role in the individual’s status in the VISTA program, though they may be contacted for information giving rise to their removal from the sponsor and/or for references if the VISTA member continues with the VISTA program and is under consideration by other sponsors.

Performance and Conduct

Sponsors should promptly notify the CNCS State Office of any acute or developing challenges related to VISTA member performance or conduct.

Examples of performance challenges include:

  • Failure, refusal, or inability to perform assigned project duties
  • Involvement in activities that substantially interfere with the performance of assigned project duties
  • Unsatisfactory performance of assigned project duties

Examples of conduct challenges include:

  • Any conduct on the VISTA’s part that substantially diminishes their effectiveness as a VISTA including: excessive absences, excessive lateness, absences without leave (AWOLs), engagement in disruptive or unprofessional behaviors at the service site
  • Behaviors that undermine the operations of the site where they are assigned
  • Behaviors that are counterproductive or impair the morale of the staff and/or other VISTAs at the site

To the extent possible, the VISTA member’s supervisor should provide timely and clear written feedback to the VISTA member about any concerns that arise and expectations going forward. If the challenges in performance or conduct are of such a nature and degree that the sponsor does not deem it appropriate to provide feedback to a VISTA member, supervisors should immediately contact the CNCS State Office and seek guidance. Supervisors should always promptly document for themselves and for the CNCS State Office challenges with VISTA members. Documentation should focus on facts (e.g., dates of absences, tardiness, missed deadlines) rather than generalizations (e.g., lack of communication, poor performance) and include actions taken by the sponsor to correct any problems (e.g., meetings, performance improvement plans).

Sponsor-Initiated Removal

As challenges develop, to the extent practicable, sponsors should work with VISTA members directly to address any problems. A key step is ensuring that expectations are clear. If expectations for performance and conduct were not established at the beginning of service via a thorough OSOT, the supervisor should ensure the VISTA member is educated on what is expected of them. If clear expectations have been set and the VISTA is still not meeting them, depending on the nature and degree of the performance or conduct issues, the sponsor may consider putting a written performance improvement plan or corrective action plan as an appropriate next step.

If the sponsor has worked directly with the VISTA member to address problems without success, or the problem is new but severe, the sponsor can request the removal of a VISTA member from their project. Sponsors cannot remove a VISTA member from the VISTA program; only CNCS can remove a VISTA member, and such removal is at the discretion of CNCS.

If a supervisor wants a VISTA member removed from the project before the VISTA’s term of service is scheduled to end, the supervisor should engage the project director, who should contact the CNCS State Office prior to taking any action. A request for removal must be in writing (email) and describe all reasons behind the request. The CNCS State Office will request documentation for both 1) facts related to the problem and 2) the sponsor’s attempts to address the problem with the VISTA member.

If the CNCS State Office grants the sponsor’s request for removal, the sponsor will be notified promptly, and the VISTA member will be removed from assignment at the project and advised to cease reporting to the site. Once the VISTA member has been removed from the project, the sponsor plays no further active role in the individual’s status in the VISTA program, though they may be contacted for information related to the sponsor’s request for removal, or for references if the VISTA member continues with the VISTA program and is under consideration by other sponsors.

CNCS will use the documentation submitted by the sponsor to assist CNCS in determining whether to initiate termination for cause proceedings against the VISTA member, or, alternatively, to offer them the opportunity for reassignment to another project. If the CNCS State Office removes the VISTA member from the project while the next step is determined, the member may be placed on Administrative Hold. Administrative Hold is an excused absence status (usually with pay) that CNCS accords to a VISTA member while enrolled in the VISTA program but not reporting to a VISTA project site. It is a status that can only be imposed by CNCS, and is imposed at CNCS’s discretion. While in Administrative Hold status, the VISTA member should not, and is directed not to, report to any VISTA site for service.

In all cases, a VISTA member has the opportunity to voluntarily resign from the VISTA program at any time prior to their termination from the VISTA program.

For more information on this topic, see VISTA Member Handbook – Separation from Service.

CNCS-Initiated Removals and Terminations for Policy Violations

CNCS has responsibility and authority for terminating VISTA members who violate VISTA terms, conditions, or policies. Supervisors and project directors have responsibility for promptly reporting to the CNCS State Office any knowledge of violations, even when they are satisfied with their VISTA members and wish for them to continue service.

Examples of violations include, but are not limited to:

  • Exhaustion of leave days or absence without leave (AWOL)
  • Outside employment that violates the outside employment policy (for example, illegal employment or full-time employment)
  • Engaging in activities prohibited on duty, such as religious proselytizing
  • Engaging in activities prohibited at all times, such as fundraising for partisan political candidates
  • Conviction of any criminal offense under federal, state, or local statute or ordinance
  • Intentional false statement, misrepresentation, omission, fraud, or deception in seeking to obtain selection as a VISTA in the VISTA program

If the CNCS State Office learns of any activity that requires a VISTA member to be removed from the site and/or sponsor, they will notify the sponsor promptly.

The CNCS State Office directly monitors VISTA member compliance with certain VISTA program policies, regulations, and instructions, the violation of which can also lead to CNCS-initiated terminations.

Examples of such violations include:

  • Noncompliance with VMO requirements
  • Failure to submit FBI fingerprint cards on time
  • Engaging in prohibited political activity (e.g., Hatch Act violation)
  • Undisclosed criminal history revealed on FBI background check results

The CNCS State Office may also remove a VISTA member from a project through no fault of the member – e.g. if the sponsor cannot continue to operate all or a part of its VISTA project. VISTAs who are removed due to site, project, or sponsor closure are given the opportunity to seek reassignment at another sponsor.

In all cases, a VISTA member has the opportunity to voluntarily resign from the VISTA program at any time.

For more information on this topic, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Separation from Service.