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Volunteer Programs:
A Blueprint For Success

Clint Maun, CSP

By providing their time, care, and friendship volunteers help create a positive influence on both the healthcare facility and the resident. Furthermore, while working in a healthcare setting, volunteers themselves may be surprised about the skills they develop-communication, listening, patience, empathy, compassion-just to name a few! All across the board, volunteering makes sense. If your facility is thinking about implementing a volunteering program, you'll want to refer to the blueprint below-it has practically everything you need to plan and implement a successful program.

There are five primary areas you'll want to focus on when starting a volunteering program. They are as follows:
  1. Gathering Data
  2. Creating a Team
  3. Recruitment
  4. Training & Support
  5. Evaluation

1. Gathering Data

You'll want to start by collecting as much data as possible. This will help your organization set clear goals and expectations. Use methods such as surveys and questionnaires to assess the need for volunteer services. In addition, you'll want to ask and find answers to the following questions:
  • What programs, if any, have we done in the past?

If you've implemented volunteer programs in the past, research what worked and what did not. Try and find people who were around when the program was in place. Ask for their opinions and feedback about it.

You may also want to observe and detail other volunteer programs. These programs don't necessarily have to be healthcare related. The idea here is to pinpoint the general principles and guidelines these organizations abide by that make them successful. Some great volunteer organizations you could gather this type of information from include Big Brothers Big Sisters (http://www.bbbsa.org/site/pp.asp?c=iuJ3JgO2F&b=14576) or the American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org/donate/volunteer/). Visit these organizations on the web, or even better, visit them in person (if applicable) to get a feel for how a well organized volunteer program works.
  • How will my organization respond? Will your facility be open and friendly to newcomers and visitors? Your organization's culture greatly influences the type of positions you will develop, the type of individuals you recruit and the way supervision will be handled. Make sure to cover this topic with senior management.
  • What kind of volunteers do we want/need? You'll need to assess what duties volunteers can perform as well as determine who is eligible to receive care, companionship, etc from the volunteers. Most importantly remember this: Volunteers cannot be expected to substitute for trained healthcare professionals.

In addition, when you're defining the roles and responsibilities of volunteers, you'll want to consider the length of service tied to the position. For example, do you want volunteers for an indefinite length of time or would your organization be better served if you recruited short-term or episodic volunteers? Episodic volunteer opportunities include both positions that are short in duration-with definite start and end dates-and positions that occur at regular intervals, such as annual events. After you've determined the basics, you'll want to draft a position description.

A position description outlines the work that needs to be done by the volunteer. This tool defines the assignments, skills, and qualifications necessary to perform the position successfully. Below is a sample position description form.

A specific, descriptive title will quickly inform the prospective volunteer of the position and the duties it may entail.

Work Location
Describe where the work will be done. Does your organization have facilities throughout the city that the volunteer can work at? Can this assignment be done at home or must the person be on site?

Responsibilities and Duties
Describe what a typical day might consist of for a volunteer. List the tasks and assignments the volunteer is expected to perform on a regular basis.

Be clear and concise. List qualifications required for the position. Include education, personal characteristics, skills, abilities and/or experience required.

Commitment Required
List the ideal amount of time-hours per day, hours per week, per month that are required to fulfill the obligation.

Indicate the nature and length of all training required for the position.

Contact Information
Who the volunteer can call for more information about the opportunity.

2. Creating a Team
For a volunteer program to run smoothly, you'll need at least one full-time coordinator. However, if you really want to get the most out of the program, you'll want to spearhead the formation of a volunteer team or committee. To help lend a broad perspective, comprise the team of employees from every facet of the organization-doctors, nurses, aides, the maintenance and cleaning departments, etc.

Once your team is in place, you'll want to make sure that everyone on it can speak knowledgeably about your organization's cause. If they are going to be talking to potential volunteers, they must be able to articulate how this person's voluntary efforts will contribute to the organization's mission.

Aside from speaking to the public and keeping internal staff up-to-date on the program, the team should be responsible for budgeting and applying for funding. Many people think of volunteer programs as "cost-free"-this is certainly not the case. There are many costs including recruiting, training, motivating and supporting volunteers.

The good news is that many programs are funded from more than one source. Your organization can ask for donations from residents and their family members, or perhaps you can organize fundraisers to help cover costs. Keep in mind that you may also be eligible to receive funding from state or federal grants. To explore the options, visit The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. This site gives you access to a database of grants available to private, profit and nonprofit organizations and institutions. The site also has helpful hints and contact names to help you through the process. Visit this site at:

3. Recruitment
Your healthcare organization has the opportunity to get creative and really have some fun in the area of recruitment. This is a chance for employees to show some of their "hidden talents" that perhaps they don't have a chance to display during the workday.

If you're having trouble thinking of where and how to attract volunteers, consider the following:
  • employee newsletters
  • radio and TV PSAs
  • community, church, library, or grocery store bulletin boards
  • through partnerships (please refer to "A Word On Partnerships" discussed later in this article, for more information on this specific medium)
  • via the Web-organize an e-mail campaign or get involved in local community newsgroups
  • buttons/bumper stickers
  • volunteer or job fairs

In addition to the items above, you'll want to have an information packet for prospective volunteers. The materials in an information packet should assist the prospective volunteer in making a decision about the organization and its opportunities. The information packet may include some or all of the following:
  • A cover letter that briefly explains your organization's mission and thanks the prospective member for their interest
  • The organization's brochure
  • A list with descriptions of available projects and/or job descriptions
  • An application
  • Orientation or training schedules or information regarding meetings for prospective volunteers
  • Anything else that characterizes the program

A Word on Partnerships

Partnerships can add tremendous value to your organization. Building on existing contacts with religious organizations, clubs, community centers, women's groups, service providers (doctors, community nurses, etc), and other healthcare organizations can provide you with the positive exposure and assistance your program needs. Approach the leaders of the organizations you would like to partner with and make your case. Identify who your clients are and the goals of your volunteering program. Focus on building community support with the possible partner and offer opportunities to share resources such as staff, office space, or both to reduce overheads and enrich the service.

4. Training and Support

Training may be the most critical part of your program. Proper training helps with retention and it ensures that your volunteers will provide a high quality of care. Your training course should cover areas such as the physical and emotional effects of aging, practical skills (such as safe lifting techniques), communication skills, and the specific role of the volunteer. Also, be aware of your audience. Use culturally sensitive, adult learning principles. Take into account that some of your volunteers may have little or no formal education.

In addition to their initial training, volunteers will need ongoing support and supervision. Make sure staff is available to volunteers to discuss problems, concerns, ideas etc. Beginning volunteers will probably need lots of encouragement and support. You may have to remind them that it takes time to build trust and closeness with residents.

5. Evaluation

To gauge the success of your program, you'll want to be sure to include some kind of evaluation. You could monitor volunteers' work by asking them to complete activity forms or you could hold regular meetings to share experiences, solve problems, etc.

Try and link your goals-as defined in the gathering data step-to your evaluation. For example, if one of your goals was to increase customer/patient satisfaction, you'll need to survey customers after the program has been in place for at least six months to evaluate if you've achieved this goal or not. You may cringe at the thought of an evaluation period, but remember, this stage will help you plan for the year to come. It will help you set recruiting numbers, help you budget, and help you possibly get future grants.

A volunteer program is a very worthy and noble endeavor. Your efforts to provide this opportunity to both the community and your residents will be greatly appreciated. By following the guidelines above, you can rest assured that your program will be successful-providing invaluable rewards to everyone involved. Good luck!