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Managing volunteers

Rhidian Hughes and Des Kelly discuss approaches to managing volunteers in care services and a new toolkit to help providers.

At a time when frontline services are under extreme financial pressures, the role and value of volunteering has never been more important. Volunteers are no substitute for the right configuration of staff. Nevertheless, the estimated three million volunteers across the health and social care sectors in England are making a real difference to the lives of people using care services.

In a review of volunteers across the health and social care sectors, the King’s Fund identified a number of benefits:

  • To people using services, support from volunteers is associated with higher levels of wellbeing and lower levels of social exclusion, including loneliness.
  • Volunteers themselves, especially older people, benefit from improved self-esteem, wellbeing and social engagement.
  • Providers benefit from services that are better interconnected, responsive to local need and engaged within their communities.

When demand for care services is increasing, volunteers have an important role to play but this is not, and should never be, a substitute for the right funding and fees for providers.

Key questions from the frontline

Members of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group and the National Care Forum were consulted as providers to identify some of the key issues and ideas for good practice in managing volunteers.

Whilst the business case, as illustrated above, is clear, frontline managers raised a number of questions relating to utilising volunteers within their services:

  • Where and how can we find volunteers with the right skills and values?
  • What support do volunteers require?
  • How do we go about demonstrating the impact and value of volunteering within our services?

We explored these questions and developed the VODG and NCF Volunteer Management Toolkit in response. Some of the main areas of best practice are explored within this article.

Recruiting volunteers

The single most important factor in successfully managing volunteers is the development of interesting roles that match the needs of the people using the service and those willing to offer their time.

There are any number of ways to source volunteers, and many providers find that a blend of methods yields the best results. Figure 1 is a collection of top tips collated after conversations with managers. Here are just some of the approaches used:

  • Word of mouth.
  • Community groups.
  • Timebanks.
  • Students.
  • Employer supported volunteering.
  • Pro-bono professional advice.
  • Brokered volunteers.

All these have strengths and weaknesses which are explored in more detail in the toolkit.

Application packs and selection tend to follow a similar process to the paid workforce, but there are some important differences. For example, interviewing for volunteers tends to explore the fit between the organisation and volunteers rather than suitability for a particular role. Interviews that involve people using services should be kept relatively short or conducted in different parts with breaks in between.

Support and supervision

Everyone needs support to give their best and a lack of this can be a significant barrier to volunteering. Some people may need to be supported, especially at the beginning of the volunteer arrangement. Assistance from other volunteers can help.

An important part of volunteer management is regular supervision – at least once a month is good practice. Feedback helps people to develop and fulfil their roles as volunteers. They need to understand what is working well and what could be improved.

People who use services as volunteers

Many people who use care services are uniquely placed to undertake certain volunteer roles. Opening up volunteer opportunities to these groups taps into a level of insight which can only be gained through lived experience. Volunteering offers people a valued role and can lead to the development of friendships as well as experience, skills and confidence.

Opportunities include:

  • Befriending – connecting with communities through support and one-to-one relationships.
  • Providing additional support – such as leisure activities or gardening.
  • Peer support – empowering people to use their own experiences to help others.

People who use services should be able to expect the same high standard of services whether it is delivered by staff or volunteers. Whilst, as figure 2 illustrates, many common concerns can be mitigated, providers are responsible for ensuring that their services are safe, effective, caring, responsive and well-led.

Measuring the value and impact of volunteering

Providers tend to embark on using volunteers because they want to make a positive difference to the people they support. For some their goal will have been achieved through the effective delivery of volunteers in their services. The challenge for providers in the difficult operating climate is to go the extra mile and also measure the value and impact that volunteering makes. Although a challenge, doing so helps to:

  • Demonstrate what has changed as a result of volunteers.
  • Understand what has worked well and areas for improvement.
  • Provide feedback to volunteers.
  • Provide evidence to inform future business and workforce strategy, as well as funders, on the benefits of using volunteers.

What to measure, when to measure and how to measure are just some of the considerations discussed further in the toolkit. It also includes different approaches and tools available to support providers to gather and use evidence in the right way to demonstrate impact.

Volunteers can bring a wealth of skills, experience and support to a care setting. With the right recruitment, management and support they can have a real impact on care services.

Volunteer Management Toolkit

The VODG and NCF Volunteer Management Toolkit brings together a wide range of resources and is free to download from or or below for CMM subscribers.

The development of the toolkit was also supported by Volunteering Matters and Sue

Ryder through the Department of Health’s voluntary sector strategic partner programme. In the coming months there will be a series of regional workshops for third sector providers to come together and discuss managing volunteers in care services.

Figure 1. Top tips for recruiting volunteers

1. Make sure your volunteering roles are interesting.

Would you do them? Remember that for many people volunteering is an alternative to leisure, so mix up uninteresting tasks with others that make roles enjoyable.

2. Give great customer service.

People expect a responsive service as the norm, so make sure you get back to potential volunteers quickly. You are more likely to attract volunteers by providing an efficient, friendly service.

3. Be open to offers.

Volunteers may bring talents that you had not considered but could add value to your service. Be prepared to adapt or create a role around specific skills and make sure volunteers know you are open to offers.

4. Be flexible.

Some people like to suggest what they could do while others like to see clearly what is on offer, in terms of the tasks, skills required and time commitment up front.

5. Provide a wide range of ways to volunteer.

Successful recruitment, and matching, of volunteers requires the widest range of different opportunities – be flexible, adaptable and consider how best to use all skills.

6. Can you accommodate teams or group opportunities?

If you have tasks that are suitable for a team, make sure you promote these as they can be difficult to find. Offering the opportunity to volunteer as a family, a couple or a group of friends can also attract people and this type of volunteering can be a great way of preventing loneliness and isolation.

7. Highlight the difference volunteers make.

People are more likely to be motivated if they see the difference they could make through volunteering. Be clear on what impact volunteering will have to people lives and the local community.

8. Promote the positive impact volunteering can have on volunteers.

Promote the benefits of volunteering, such as making friends, learning new skills and gaining experience. What can volunteers expect from you? If you offer training or other opportunities, make sure you promote these too.

9. Allow volunteers to try before they commit.

Offer taster sessions to appeal to people who may be unsure about what’s involved.

10. Engage volunteers in recruitment.

A lead member of paid staff will help to ensure that someone in your service is championing volunteer recruitment. In addition you might ask volunteers to help by writing recruitment messages and promoting volunteering at recruitment presentations.

Figure 2. Managing quality and risk

Will quality be consistently high?

Service response:

  • Match volunteers with suitable roles.
  • Put in additional support for the volunteer according to their needs.
  • Ensure the volunteer and their supporter (if they have one) have a manager to refer to.
  • Provide regular supervision.
  • Review the arrangement regularly.
  • Have adequate monitoring systems in place for all care and support delivery.

Will there be increased risk to people who use services?

Service response:

  • Only ask volunteers to undertake tasks that are within their capability.
  • Risk assess the task, if appropriate, and put additional controls in place.
  • As part of the induction process talk to the volunteer about how to respond if they encounter a problem or have a concern.
  • Provide volunteers with relevant training.

Will the boundaries of relationships between volunteers and people using the service be clear?

Service response:

  • Ensure this is covered in the volunteer induction.
  • Where a volunteer is matched with an individual, talk to the service user and volunteer about the boundaries of the relationship.
  • If the arrangement is for a fixed period of time, make this clear from the start and include information about dealing with endings.

Will people who use services have the confidence that volunteers are competent in their roles?

Service response:

  • Start by introducing volunteering for activities that are not crucial to the user’s wellbeing.
  • Only match individual users and volunteers when both people are happy with the arrangement.
  • Broker a trial period with both people.
  • Provide opportunities for both to feed back.
  • Review the match on a regular basis.

Will there be an increased risk of breaches of confidentiality?

Service response:

  • Ensure confidentiality is covered in the volunteer induction.
  • If people raise this as a concern, check out why they feel this way; people living in vulnerable circumstances can maintain confidentiality as well as anyone else.
  • In the event of a breach of confidentiality, address this in exactly the same way as you would with any other volunteer.

Rhidian Hughes is Chief Executive of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group. Twitter: @RhidianHughes

Des Kelly is Executive Director of the National Care Forum. Twitter: @DesKellyOBE

Log in to read the Volunteer Management Toolkit and the King’s Fund report Volunteering in health and care: Securing a sustainable future. Subscription required.

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