Tips on Starting a Volunteer Program

The following are important tips to consider when starting a Health TAPESTRY volunteer program

  • Identify the needs you are addressing with your volunteer program, such as:
    • Who will the volunteers help or serve?
    • What is the volunteer role/what are the expectations?
    • Are the tasks appropriate for volunteers?
    • Does the volunteer role offer opportunities for personal growth?
  • Clearly state the aims of the program and the desirable outcomes of the volunteer work
  • Ensure you have a volunteer coordinator with appropriate qualifications and/or experience
  • Establish geographical boundaries for your volunteer recruitment efforts (volunteers spread over vast distances will create limitations/barriers to effective delivery of services)
  • Develop policies and procedures that clearly state the rights and responsibilities of volunteers, as covered by legislation and the organization’s policies
    • Agreed upon and well thought out policies and procedures provide a comprehensive set of guidelines and a road map to ensure that all elements of the volunteer program are implemented effectively.
    • Important items to include in developing policies and procedures:
      • Volunteer activity should complement the work done by paid staff and should not threaten the jobs of paid staff
      • Privacy and confidentiality
      • Occupational health and safety
      • Risk assessment and minimization of potentially adverse situations that may be encountered during a home visit
  • Develop a plan with the primary care organization and local lead organization on how to best involve the volunteers as an integral part of the organization
  • Develop an evaluation process for volunteer management (e.g.  communication and feedback)
  • Ensure you have the adequate budget and resources to support the volunteer workforce:
    • Access to resources: computers, the Internet and e-mail
    • Sufficient qualified paid staff to manage the volunteers (e.g. administrative support)
    • Funds to support basic and ongoing training of the volunteers

Learnings from the Hamilton Site

During the process of setting up the Hamilton site, a developmental evaluation was undertaken where decisions were tracked and best practices based on experience were developed. In order to streamline the processes of the volunteer program, it was decided that:

  • Volunteers would call the patients they work with “clients”. The term better reflects the differences between community volunteers and clinicians.
  • Some of the measures needed to be adapted or removed to better fit the volunteer role. E.g. grip strength was originally going to be measured but was removed as it didn’t suit the volunteer role, and the clock drawing test was originally scored by the volunteers but was changed to being scored by the clinical team
  • The surveys needed to be re-ordered to assist with comfort and relationship building. E.g. the Daily Life Activities were changed to first in order for the client and volunteers to get comfortable with each other, and the Goal Setting questions were changed to last to ensure clients were comfortable with their volunteers, and also to help the volunteers in prompting the client based on their responses to previous questions
  • Questions would be added to the end of the visit for the volunteer to privately provide feedback to the clinical team, an important component that is relatively unique in this program, as it gives a viewpoint of a community member from the client’s own home
  • Maximum time between visits would be four weeks (ideally under 2 weeks), as the regularity of visits can build trust and a good working relationship between the client and the volunteers