Volunteers are invaluable in their help and support. Having a group of caring and positive volunteers is a benefit for both the staff and residents. A successful volunteer program has the potential to improve resident experiences and elevate what communities can do for residents. Volunteers can be used in different ways depending on their abilities, wishes, and training.
Some possible uses of volunteers include:
- Performances: Playing an instrument for residents
- Teaching a class: Painting, baking, etc.
- Transportation within the community: Helping staff bring wheelchair-bound residents to and from activities
- Going on appointments: Assisting residents with no family or when family is not available to go to appointments
- Helping to feed
- Sitting with the resident: Providing company to lonely residents
- Support for activities: Helping with activities to run smoother or to also run the activity
Volunteers complement the employed staff by being another set of eyes and ears to make sure residents are cared for and engaged with. The more volunteers around, the better the ratio of staff to residents and the more attention the residents will get. It’s not always easy to get the best volunteers and to maintain a sizable group of volunteers over time.
Here are some ways to set up, grow and maintain a volunteer program in your facility.
Setting Up a Volunteer Program
Know Your Mission
Starting a volunteer program needs to start at the basics by determining what the mission is. Before asking volunteers to come on board, you need to make sure to have a clear, meaningful purpose that they would like to get behind. This will likely be your community’s mission statement and/or values.
It is important that volunteers are aware they are being held to the same standards employees are, and that the same values and mission need to be upheld by them as well.
There are many ways to go about spreading the word that your community is looking for volunteers. Below are some ways to notify people who may be interested in getting involved.
One simple way to get the word out is a flier. A colorful flier with “volunteers wanted for x, y and z” can get the job done.
Grab attention of the right people by putting up fliers throughout communities and in local libraries and community centers; From the bathrooms to the elevators and above the water fountains. It’s also a great idea to add some pull-off tabs at the bottom with the name and number for a person to contact if they are interested. Use Canva to create beautiful fliers for free.
Another way to get volunteers is through nearby schools. Students not only need volunteering hours but many are interested in going into nursing or social work and would benefit from experiencing the long term care environment.
Reach out to school counselors to ask if this can be done and set this up. If you do go this route, require a reference or two to ensure there are no behavioral concerns.
Social Media is a great way to get out there quickly, with the potential to reach the most people. If your facility has a Facebook page or another social media platform, share a post that you are looking for volunteers and allow the post to be shared.
Online Volunteer Boards
Find the people who are already looking for you! Add a listing to the various websites that post listings for places in need of volunteers. Examples of websites to post your volunteer needs include: Volunteer Match, Idealist or Doing Good Together.
Many volunteers end up being staff members’ family or friends or resident families. Make sure to let staff and residents know that there is a need for volunteers. Consider setting up a referral rewards program to encourage volunteers to recruit on your behalf, which can be something as simple as a $20 gift card for each recruit.
Before moving forward with orientation, you may be interested in getting a resume, cover letter, and interview. This can weed out anyone who is not serious about volunteering or does not have the experience you are looking for. Volunteers should also have a background check performed and be given a drug test and potentially a physical if physical exertion is involved. Check with your organization on what is required.
Once you have decided on some promising volunteers, the next step is training. Bringing a volunteer into your facility and around residents means they need to understand and agree to the many regulations and policies of the state and facility.
This means orientation should include the following:
Your volunteer should understand and agree with their duties and responsibilities as a volunteer. They should be provided with a copy in writing of what their scope includes and does not include.
Education and direction in terms of infection control are very important, especially in a long term care environment. Ensure volunteers know the correct protocol and the necessary shots they will need to get before volunteering.
Safety regulations as determined by the state and facility in terms of fire safety/drills, food safety, resident safety and more.
HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and volunteers should understand the importance of this and confidentiality.
Note: This is not an exhaustive list. Check with your community for particular needs when recruiting volunteers.
There are many more policies, procedures, and regulations that can be taught and discussed in training and orientation with your volunteers. Make sure to keep up with the annual training and any changes in these regulations to ensure volunteers are up to date. Once volunteers are trained and start working with residents, they are officially representing you. It’s imperative to make sure they fully understand their responsibilities and expectations.
Grow & Maintain
Now that you have volunteers, it’s not only their responsibility to keep the relationship going, you also need to give them a good experience. Create a positive, dynamic environment for your volunteers so they not only stay on as a volunteer longer, but they refer friends to volunteer as well.
The following are ways to maintain and grow the volunteer program:
Allow your volunteers to choose what they are volunteering to do. Sending the same volunteer into the elements of winter on appointments with residents each day might not be the best way to keep them around. Switch volunteers around to different activities and responsibilities and allow them to choose between activities, appointments, exercise classes, and other duties.
Thank Your Volunteers
A thank you goes a long way! Whether it be a verbal thank you, a thank you card or a small gift at the holiday – Show your appreciation every time you can.
Hour Tracking Systems
Volunteering shouldn’t be hard, make the process for tracking hours easy by using a seamless process and system. One popular online system, Volgistics is used by over 6 million volunteers. It’s a paid service, but offers background screening, recruiting, a portal and much more. See their tutorials here.
Keeping it simple with pen and paper is not only a good back up idea but should be offered alongside an online option. One example of a print out is here.
Newsletter keeps your volunteers informed, involved and excited about the team they are apart of. A monthly newsletter is a way to send out important and fun information as well as gather any information or response you may need as well.
Grant Rehabilitation & Care Center’s Online Newsletter is a great example of the information you can include; A note from the administrator, employee of the month, up and coming activities and other important happenings.
Your newsletter can live online, be hand delivered or sent out via email with a service like mail chimp. Mail chimp packages come with an email address and helps to organize your monthly email campaigns.
Let their voices be heard through an anonymous survey. Let them tell you how you are doing and what can be done better with the volunteer program. This helps them feel like you care, their voice is heard, and you can make some positive changes.
Respect them as people, and respect their time. It is a great honor to be getting the volunteer’s time which they can be spending elsewhere. Try not to keep them later than they can stay or ask for too much, as they are already giving plenty.
Volunteers Are Needed
Volunteers are not only giving their time, they are giving their energy, labor and so much more to us. It’s not easy to fill up a volunteer program with caring, committed people, so it will take work to find the right ones, train them and keep them coming back.
The important part is it is worth it. A well rounded and full volunteer program is a huge relief and benefit to staff and residents.