Creating Effective VADs

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The VISTA Assignment Description, or VAD, details the activities VISTA members perform during their year of service. A strong VAD is the foundation on which the VISTA member experience is built. Click the sections below to learn more.

What is a VAD?

The VAD:

  • Provides a broad outline of what a VISTA will work on during the year of service. Similar to a position description, it’s valuable in recruiting members and as the basis of a detailed work plan.
  • Breaks down the objectives identified in the Project Application into a realistic set of activities to reach those objectives.
  • Is written yearly, per assignment. A unique VAD is required for each VISTA member each year.
  • Can be adapted as the project evolves and the unique strengths of the VISTA become apparent. (Significant changes to tasks and timelines must be approved by your CNCS state office.)

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Check out the recorded webinar The Importance of the VAD in VISTA Projects.

What are the elements of an effective VAD?

Title: Give each VAD a distinct title related to the position to be filled. If you are creating multiple, similar VADs, create a naming system that includes the service year or a unique identifier for each position in addition to the descriptive title. Moreover, be sure to clearly indicate whether the VAD is for a member, a leader or a summer associate. It is a common error to attach wrong VADs to service opportunities.

Project Details: An effective VAD contains the sponsor name, project name, project period, site name (if applicable) and focus area. This information can be found in the VISTA Project Application.

Project Goal Statement: The VAD begins by stating the overall goal of the project (as opposed to the goal of the VISTA position). Use this as the jumping off point in describing the assignment to the applicant/member.

Objectives: Articulate what the VISTA will achieve through the assignment in order to reach the project’s goal. Include multiple objectives that link the overall project goal and the VISTA member’s activities. Include a period of performance with a clear beginning and end for each objective. Be specific, rather than using the entire service year as period of performance.

Member Activities: Identify the specific activities the VISTA will carry out to achieve the objectives. Activities that include the desired outcome or deliverable are most informative and effective. Avoid vague statements, such as the VISTA "will assist with…" Activity statements should be specific enough that someone unfamiliar with the project can understand the expectations of the VISTA.

Examples

These sample VADs provide examples of the main elements and will help you to write your own.

Tips:

  • Sequence VAD activities to begin with those that build skills and knowledge and then slowly move toward more challenging and complex activities.
  • When creating a VAD, draft it first in a word processing document and then copy and paste into eGrants. This allows you to spell-check the text and provides a safeguard against losing your work if your eGrants session times out.
  • Be aware of character limits for each section of the VAD.
  • Before submitting the VAD, review it to check that there is a clear and direct connection between the project goal, objectives, and activities. If the VISTA completes the activities, will that be enough to accomplish the objectives? If not, what's missing?
  • Note that a VAD must be reviewed and approved by the CNCS state office before the position can be published for members to apply.

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Watch the recorded webinar Writing Fabulous VADs.

Ok. Now I have a great VAD. How do I use it?

Recruiting VISTA Candidates

The VAD is an excellent resource for writing service opportunity listings. Populate the “Member Duties” section of the listing with the activities described in the VAD.

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View the recorded webinar Strengthening VADs and Service Opportunity Listings.


Selecting VISTA Candidates

Provide applicants with a copy of the VAD to review prior to their interview. With the VAD as a reference, applicants can:

  • Assess their motivation to serve and alignment of their goals with your project’s priorities
  • Consider their ability to carry out the tasks and responsibilities within the timelines presented in the VAD

In your interview with the candidate, you should raise the issue of their needing training or additional support. Interview questions should address their motivation, resilience, relevant experience and/or applicable skills, and their insight into managing projects, involving stakeholders in decision-making, as well as building systems or processes.


Guiding VISTA Members and Assessing Performance

Once a VISTA enters service, use the VAD to:

  • Orient the VISTA to the project, organization, and community
  • Create a detailed workplan for the VISTA, including specific tasks that will support the larger activities described in the VAD as well as a timeline and required resources
  • Identify areas for skill development
  • Guide the VISTA’s work throughout the year
  • Assess how well the VISTA is doing

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Check out this sample meeting agenda to help you plan and facilitate your regular one-on-one meetings with your VISTA.