Free article: Building local connections: volunteers and volunteering

Published: Tuesday, 06 September 2016

Jim Thomas, Skills for Care, looks at how volunteers can enrich adult social care services.


  • A well-developed volunteer programme can help an organisation meet the CQC’s fundamental standards.
  • A volunteer programme should be clear about the role of volunteers in the service and how they can add value to the lives of the people the staff team support.
  • Providers have a health and safety duty towards volunteers and need to make sure that the organisation’s business insurance covers any volunteers.
  • The organisation should commit to providing the necessary time and resources to support and manage volunteers.
  • Policies and procedures should make sure that everyone involved in the volunteer programme is clear about how volunteers will be recruited, managed and supported.

We all live in communities: large, small, local, eclectic, distant, electronic. The care home we manage or the domiciliary care service we operate sits in a community. Members of that community work for us and live in the community they provide care and support to.

Working with the local community can enhance the quality of life of the people the organisation supports. It can unlock the skills and talents of staff and enable local people to understand what the organisation does and what it can do for the people it supports.

Benefits of using volunteers

A well-developed volunteer programme can help meet the CQC’s fundamental standards and five key questions.

  • Safe – volunteers can support positive risk-taking and identify possible abuse.
  • Effective – volunteers can enable people with care and support needs to live ordinary lives.
  • Caring – volunteers can add an extra level of friendship to the lives of people being supported.
  • Responsive – a well-managed volunteer team can enable people to do more, beyond care and support.
  • Well-led – a volunteer programme can bring the local community into the service, widening the knowledge and skills available and contributing to the service being open and transparent.

Role of volunteers

When developing a volunteer element to the organisation’s service provision, it is important to make sure that you are clear about the role of volunteers in the service and how volunteers can add value to the lives of people the staff team support. Volunteers are not an alternative to paid staff and are not there to reduce the number of staff employed. Providers should set out the limits of the role of volunteers and develop clear task and role descriptions for volunteers.

It’s good practice to reimburse reasonable out-of-pocket expenses for volunteers, so providers should make sure that they build this into any volunteer project. If any volunteers are on benefits, reimbursing out-of-pocket expenses shouldn't impact on their benefits.

Volunteers don’t need to have a contract and it’s important that you don't create a perception (even unintentionally) that a legally binding agreement has been made. For example, setting out a required number of hours of volunteering per week suggests a binding agreement. Think carefully about the language you use in any written agreement about what volunteers do.

Managing volunteers

Managing volunteers is different from managing staff. Staff have a particular legal status, while volunteering is defined as an activity freely undertaken ‘that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or individuals or groups other than (or in addition to) close relatives’ (Compact, Volunteering: a code of good practice, 2005).

To provide a good-quality volunteering experience for people using services and volunteers, it is important that the organisation makes a commitment to provide the necessary time and resources to support and manage volunteers. This is important to ensure that everyone involved gets the most out of volunteering.

Make sure you think about which staff members will take responsibility for leading on the development of volunteering and how much of their time it will require.

Data protection could be an issue when using volunteers. Organisations need to make sure that volunteers understand that any information they might see or know about the people the service supports needs to remain confidential.

Providers have a health and safety duty towards volunteers and need to make sure that the organisation’s business insurance covers any volunteers.

Investing in Volunteers is a UK-wide quality standard for volunteer management and good practice. The standard’s nine indicators provide a framework for good practice and can be a good starting point for identifying some of the things you need to think about to ensure a high-quality experience for volunteers.

It is important for volunteers to know who they can contact within the organisation. Make sure you know who the key contact will be for volunteers before you start recruiting.

Policies and procedures make sure everyone involved in the volunteer programme, including volunteers themselves, is clear on how volunteers will be recruited, managed and supported. You should ensure that you keep policies and procedures practical, usable and accessible.

Recruiting volunteers

It is important before advertising a new volunteer role that organisations consider the following questions:

  • Why is the role needed?
  • How will the role contribute to improving outcomes for people with care and support needs?
  • Will it involve volunteers in a way that is focused on the individual needs of people who use services as well as the organisation?
  • Is it feasible to provide and manage that opportunity? Are there suitable resources or time available?
  • Is this something people want to do? Is there demand for this type of role?
  • Is it clear why the organisation is involving volunteers in this way: why does it add value or how does it improve things? 
  • What might the risks be? Could the risks be managed or mitigated?
  • What is the relationship to other roles the organisation has available?
  • What kind of skills and experience will be needed to do the role?
  • What level of time and commitment will be involved and is this reasonable to ask of volunteers?

Through the Volunteering in Care Homes project, the National Council for Volunteering (NCVO) has developed a whole series of resources to help managers develop volunteering in care homes. The principles behind these resources can easily be applied to domiciliary care as well.

An independent evaluation of the NCVO project found that befriending and activity-based volunteering roles have a major positive impact on residents in care homes, especially around social and emotional well-being. In order to reap these benefits, volunteers need to be:

  • effectively recruited
  • sufficiently trained
  • well matched
  • given on-going support and coordination.

Bringing volunteers into a service can unlock time and talents in staff and the people the organisation supports. Staff can feel invigorated to try out new ideas; the people you support can feel that there are people there for them with different interests and talents and time available to do things with them. Getting a volunteering programme right can significantly enhance the services on offer and create a new dimension to people’s lives.

Further information


Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in this article into practice:

About the Author

Jim Thomas is Skills for Care’s programme head for workforce innovation. He leads on a broad portfolio of work that includes workforce commissioning and workforce planning, workforce redesign, people performance management, end of life care, digital working, transforming care and supporting people with learning disabilities.

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