Saturday, October 3, 2009

10/2/2009 8:46 Couldn't sign up to receive books AND could not find the Contact Us" link

10/2/2009 8:46

Wanted to sign up for self study WITH BOOKS (not online - too hard to read a screen and cnnot make notes & highlight).  Could not find contact information to ask how to do this.

Couldn't sign up to receive books AND could not find the Contact Us" link to ask any questions.....makes me feel that you are not interested in serving the volunteers - only serving yourselves by trying to force us into your desired mold."
This is my first visit ever
From a link sent to me by a friend

Dear visitor at 8:46

Thank you very much for your blunt assessment. It validates some of the frustrations of the webmaster in running this site, and also that the goals and objectives of the website may not be as clear as we may think.

I understand that you want to receive the books for the VITA training and could not find the Contact Us link and did not know whom to contact about this, and that you got to the site from a Link sent to you by a friend.
Good Friend!!

Before I address your assessment (notice I do not use the word concern, which trivializes the issue, and deflects a direct response) , please note a few things.

1) is not owned or supported by the IRS.  It is owned and supported by a volunteer like yourself who was frustrated when trying to volunteer. Calling the main IRS toll-free 800 number resulted in the call being transferred all around the country and different tax agencies before I got to the person in charge of training.

2) this site was put up by the volunteer who noticed the inefficiencies in training and communicating with enthusiastic volunteers like yourself. The organization called SPEC is a part of the IRS whose duties include providing VITA services. Your tax dollars pay for the work of this organization that obtains volunteers who provide the service and taxpayers who need the service. There are SPEC Relationship Managers, Territory Managers, Area Managers, various other managers and the director who are civil service employees who get  the word out. There is no lack of information on and about the VITA program. So why is it so difficult to obtain information? One reason quoted is the sheer size of the United States and the large number of people needing the information.

3) has a simple modest goal: to provide a means of improving the communication with and reducing the stress level on the particular SPEC Relationship Manager that the volunteer site coordinator was working with.  With no support and limited time, the site and the volunteer initially received rave reviews from the colleagues and manager of the SPEC Relationship Manager.   Subsequently, because the request for desired rollout of the services could not be satisfied by the volunteer, the rave reviews became less raved.

4) while it did not appear to gain traction within SPEC, the site has been visited by potential volunteers, and inquiries poured in from all around the country which the webmaster could not answer.  The absurdity of the situation became clear when even SPEC employees were asking about registration errors and passwords issues regarding the Link and Learn website. Some inquiries came up because no contact name was provided, and other inquiries came up simply because prospective volunteers were unable to find the information needed.

5) the webmaster requested the names and contact information of SPEC Relationship managers and others who could answer the questions from prospective volunteers so that the inquiries could be directly routed to them based of the volunteer's address. The request was denied because of the confidential nature of the personal information. SPEC asked that all inquiries be forwarded to them for further routing.

Now to get to your questions:

The books and training material are supplied in bulk by the IRS to those doing the training, whether it is at an IRS office, or organized by a Community organization, or by willing site coordinators. There is no mechanism in place for fulfilling individual requests directly from main website of the IRS at or providing contact information for your friendly local relationship manager. Even the main SPEC email address for handling information requests is not prominently featured on the website. The email address itself can be obtained with a little bit of web research effort and luck, but since VITA does not make it generally available, has chosen not to publish it either.

All inquiries were being sent to the webmaster of the site; when there were a few, it was easy to forward them.  When the numbers started getting larger, and some inquiries expressed annoyance and frustrations which the webmaster could  not address, and others came from those who appeared to lack a basic understanding of English or the skills to find answers on the web, this got a bit much.   So as a practical matter, all online signups are now forwarded immediately to VITA headquarters for further action.

It appears that from SPEC and the IRS that volunteers are encouraged to get in touch with their SPEC Relationship mangers to get the training material they need. The training material is useful for online and classroom training - and in fact the books for classroom training are more comprehensive than and include those for Link and Learn training.

How about "... could not find the Contact Us link"?  While many sites use that link to provide contact information, it is not a mandatory requirement for a website. The link "About Us"  leads to which provides various emails for various kinds of questions. It is regrettable that the link information for what was being looked for is not what 8:46 was expecting.

To address the part "... makes me feel that you are not interested in serving the volunteers - only serving yourselves by trying to force us into your desired mold."  The primary goal of is to direct returning and potential volunteers to the opportunities they are seeking.  Educating prospective volunteers, being comprehensive and providing training material is outside the scope in view of the limited time and resource availability of the webmaster.  It is the SPEC part of the IRS, not the website, that is asking for volunteers to serve taxpayers. A few years ago, the level of SPEC and IRS interest in serving volunteers was clearly demonstrated in one particular County by the cancellation of a volunteer recognition event organized by one Relationship Manager as an activity not supported by SPEC and the IRS.

So, the feeling expressed by 8:46 is not unique and is shared by others.  It is not possible to address ".. forcing us into your desired mold" when we don't know what the desired mold is that you are referring to. It is not the desire of this website to force anybody into any particular mold, so your comment is misdirected.  To bring it to the attention of those who can make a change, please use the comment section of the online signup form at which strives to balance personal privacy of volunteers and SPEC staff while still providing a platform for useful communication.

This long response is an example of the kind of response the webmaster would like to a question or issue that is raised - detailed description that makes logical sense and be understood. On many occasions, the webmaster spent considerable time and effort describing in detail perceived problems and suggested solutions, only to receive a polite responses that SPEC valued the comments and feedback, and would direct it to the appropriate office for action.

One SPEC Relationship managers has on several occasions stated that all comments are sent up the management chain for further action. Volunteers are asked several times during the course of the season to provide feedback to lengthy questionnaires and assured that the responses will be confidential. The net result is that there is no communication on the final resolution of the problems, and usually no noticeable change in the situation being reported upon.

The webmaster welcomes feedback and a spirited discussion that is meaningful and has useful information exchange; living by the principle that the lack of a response is also the consequence of no one addressing the issue, the webmaster will attempt to offer a clear and detailed answer to thoughtful and well-formulated detailed feedback.

So, dear reader/ gentle reader: Please:
  1. sign up through and ask your question there.
  2. find the SPEC manager who can answer your questions and point you in the right direction and communicate with him or her
  3. contact the SPEC manager earlier rather than later - bearing in mind that to be a successful volunteer you have to get in touch with them; otherwise you will not get the Electronic Filing Identification Number and the Registration or License codes needed to prepare and transmit returns.
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