“Much valued services will disappear if we don’t invest in and professionalise the role of volunteer coordinators”

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The Health and Social Care Community of Practice reflect on the role of volunteer coordinators
17 Feb, 2020

This blog was written by the Health and Social Care Community of Practice.

It’s estimated that there are 1.7 million health and care volunteers across Britain, with around 8,200 actively supporting health and wellbeing services delivered by community businesses.

These volunteers contribute in excess of £21.25m per month to the health economy. It is no exaggeration to say that without their support, the health system would be a shadow of what it is today — many services would just not exist. But recruiting, training and managing volunteers is a costly (yet essential) exercise, and all too often not properly recognised by funders and commissioners.

Anyone can volunteer. Systems which match people to opportunities according to their circumstances mean that even those leading busy and hectic lives can offer a few minutes a day through to regular hours a week. And it’s not just services that benefit; volunteering (particularly in critical areas such as health and wellbeing) is proven to be of enormous value to volunteers themselves, ticking all of the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ boxes. People are often sign-posted to volunteering opportunities after accessing other services due to the positive effects.

When I retired, I felt invisible and actually lost my confidence – making a commitment to a local group every week has made me feel me again

– Mrs P, age 63

However, recruiting, managing, training and mentoring volunteers is vital, and requires dedication, planning and paid professionals. Volunteers may not receive financial payment for their crucial work, but they are not a free resource. Almost everything that is needed to recruit, support and develop a paid workforce is also needed for volunteers.

A Volunteer Coordinator establishes, supports and grows the volunteer network. They can help volunteers to understand the choices and requirements of different roles, carry out DBS checks and accompany them to their first few sessions. They can also manage the complexities arising from people coming into volunteering via routes such as therapeutic rehabilitation. Volunteers may have their own mental health problems, addictions or previous criminal behaviour.

If the Volunteer Coordinator role is not in place or adequately funded, it is all too easy to lose volunteers or place them, along with clients and host organisations, at risk. This is particularly so in the health and wellbeing sector.

I knew that I wanted and needed to do something to get out of the house after my wife died – volunteering has helped me, and I have made worthwhile and new friendships with other volunteers and staff at the community centre

– Mr S, age 71

Employing a Volunteer Coordinator allows the delivery of much needed and wanted services and connections, as well as smooth sign-posting to volunteering opportunities. However, the landscape for this role is piecemeal. There is no sector standard salaries in London can range anywhere from £22K to £34K and the sources of funding are becoming increasingly challenging. Traditional grant funders do not always want to support a generic coordinator role and may only fund such posts if they specifically relate to a project that they choose to support.

Often organisations find themselves heavily subsidising the role from their own limited resources, sewing a patchwork of small bits of funding from a range of sources to make the whole. This leaves these posts vulnerable with little chance for long-term development and sustainability.

As Community of Practice members, we are all feeling these challenges, and conversely, seeing the impact that volunteer coordination can have when funded properly. A health champions programme in London where public health departments fund community based organisations to recruit, train and manage teams of local volunteers has been hugely successful. The funding has allowed for professional and appropriate volunteer coordination, and the impact on both volunteers and the health of the wider population has been startling.

We have also all seen the difficulties facing local infrastructure organisations who act as the voice of the voluntary sector in different localities. These organisations have been hit hard by cuts from local councils, and their ability to fight on behalf of the voluntary sector, to win much needed funding for volunteer coordination, has been eroded.

If the posts end up disappearing, so will the army of volunteers they support and the numerous health and social care activities they provide. This will place an even heavier demand on statutory services, worsen outcomes, and ultimately cost more money.

About the Community of Practice

The Community of Practice (CoP) is a group of community business leaders from around the country working together to highlight the potential for community businesses to transform the delivery of health and social care services, and the barriers to its uptake. They are supported by Power to Change.

This blog represents the views of the Community of Practice and does not necessarily represent the views of Power to Change.

Find out more about our Health & Social Care, Community of Practice here.