How to set up your volunteering service

Are you thinking about setting up a new volunteering initiative in your organisation? The tips and checklists below will act as a starting point, giving you an overview of the key things to consider and helpful hints to get going.


Developing your service

If you’re considering a new project, your first step should be planning work to lay the foundations of an effective service. Think through the people and systems you’ll need to run the service you have in mind.

  1. Get buy-in. Start by getting the right people involved. Who needs to back the project in your organisation? Support from senior stakeholders is usually important. Who needs to be involved in developing, running, promoting and evaluating the service, how and when?
  2. Be flexible with project planning. Put together a project plan, but take a flexible approach. Allow time and space to reflect on learning gathered in the early stages, and to make changes based on this – test, review and revise. Make sure your plan includes the scale and scope of the new service, and budget and resources needed.
  3. Understand the context. It’s important to understand why this service is being set up and how it supports your organisation’s strategic and operational priorities. This will help you set out a realistic project plan and timeline.
  4. Establish a steering group. Try to set up an active group made up of key stakeholders to oversee the development of your project, generate ideas, overcome barriers and make decisions. Members could include volunteer managers, volunteers, clinical staff and executive level roles, to make sure you get a full and balanced view about how your service should develop and improve.

Key steps: checklist

Know your organisation’s key strategic and operational priorities

Agree how the service will meet strategic priorities

Agree on the scale and scope of your new service

Confirm the budget and resources needed

Identify key stakeholders/support team for implementation and wider ongoing service development and support

Run workshops to co-design and develop ideas for your new service

Produce an implementation/project plan and risk log covering:

Systems and infrastructure

Operations (including an engagement plan)

Volunteer management

Measuring impact

Identify and develop new policies you may need


Setting up systems and infrastructure

The next step in setting up your new volunteering service is to consider the resources you need, and the processes you need to put in place to make it work efficiently.

  1. Think about equipment and resources. Will your service need a space to operate from? Will you need IT equipment like laptops? Will staff and volunteers need training on how to use equipment?
  2. Consider your referral process carefully. How will people be referred to your service? However it works, simplifying your approach will help you overcome barriers to people using systems and processes. For example, a simple, quick phone call to make a referral will often be the most effective process, instead of asking clinical staff to fill in a form. The result will be more referrals.
  3. Research volunteer management systems. A volunteer management system might be useful. This will hold all the information about your volunteers in one place, including rotas, contact information and data about how the service is performing. Research the platforms available to find a product that meets your service’s needs and will comply with your organisation’s IT policy. Once you have a system in place, you’ll need to allow time for staff training and data inputting.

Key steps: checklist

Decide where your service will be based and how the space will be equipped

Identify what systems and technology are already in use/available and if they meet the needs of your service, for example:

Volunteer management system

Bleeper systems

Mobile phones

Data capture tools


Consider your budget and then specify the hardware you need

Consider the lead time on equipment arriving and being set up

Design your referral process, including the systems, and communicate this to staff teams

Arrange training for staff and volunteers who will be using the systems and equipment


Operating your service

Understanding the budget, people, systems and processes you need to manage your service once it’s live is essential.

  1. Consider your budget. Your primary costs will be salaries for the key people involved in the project. Other costs could include volunteer recruitment, training, catering and equipment.
  2. Prioritise staff engagement. It’s important to commit time to engaging with staff to discuss your service, share its impact and encourage staff to refer to it.
  3. Have a dedicated project role to lead. Services tend to work best with a dedicated project manager, who can promote the service, support volunteers, act as a central point for continuous improvement, and manage referrals.
  4. Start small. Embedding your volunteer service in one department, ward or area to begin with will let you test your processes and address any teething problems before expanding to other areas. Staff involved in the early stages of the service can become clinical champions and promote the benefits of volunteer support to their colleagues in other departments.
  5. Market the service. Internal and external communications and marketing resources will keep the service prominent in staff’s minds and make it visible to family, friends and patients.
  6. Get volunteer uniforms. Uniforms and badges make volunteers easy to recognise. They also give staff, families and patients confidence in volunteers, and help them feel secure.
  7. Ask yourself key questions. How will you balance demand for the service with recruitment, training and scheduling of new volunteers? How will you build demand for your service to ensure that it’s sustainable? Who are your main sponsors in your organisation and how can they help you?

Key steps: checklist

Define the reporting structure for your service

Produce a communications and marketing plan to raise awareness of your service

Produce a service delivery plan and update it regularly

Identify simple referral pathways

Engage clinical champions to promote your volunteer service

Develop your approach to managing the service. You’ll need to consider:

Stakeholder engagement plan

Volunteer recruitment plan

Volunteer induction and training package delivery

Governance structure

Communications and marketing plan

Reporting structure and frequency

Scheduling of volunteer shifts

Documentation for department/ward staff


Volunteer management

Managing and supporting volunteers effectively is key to the success of your service. Handling volunteers well will mean they continue to give their time, and the service will have a more experienced, skilled and confident volunteering team.

It’s important to think about every stage of a volunteer’s journey, from their decision to volunteer through to training, induction, ongoing support and day to day engagement.

  1. Create a supportive environment and promote volunteers’ wellbeing. This is essential to ensure the quality of your service. Volunteers should be invited to share their challenges and successes and actively feed into how the service operates and improves.
  2. Supervise your volunteers. It’s important to offer volunteers regular formal support (often referred to as supervision), where they can meet with a trained member of staff to offload and discuss the emotional impact of their volunteering, as well as any concerns and learnings.
  3. Provide effective training. Consider what training volunteers need to provide a great service, and how you can provide it.
  4. Be flexible. Allowing volunteers flexibility with the hours they commit will help with recruitment and support existing volunteers who need to fit volunteering around their work and home life.
  5. Recruit from your current base of volunteers. This is a good place to start as they’re already familiar with and committed to your organisation.
  6. Ask volunteers to record their levels of satisfaction. At the end of a shift, ask volunteers to fill out an activity sheet detailing what they’ve done and how it made them feel. You can use this to identify issues you need to address.

Key steps: checklist

Agree on a set of volunteer tasks, responsibilities and boundaries

Produce a volunteer role description

Develop your volunteer recruitment plan

Design your volunteer training package

Develop your volunteer supervision and communication and engagement plan

Involve clinical staff in training delivery

Meet regularly with clinical staff to grow their support and working relationships with the volunteers

Offer regular 1 to 1 support sessions for your volunteers

Encourage reflective practice and sharing of ideas


Measuring impact

It’s important to collate data and feedback, and use it to refine and improve your service.

1. Develop a theory of change. This is an essential tool to outline your service’s intended impact and to help decide what intermediate outcomes and ultimate goals to measure. You should create this right at the beginning, alongside identifying your service principles and the strategic and operational objectives your service is looking to address.

To understand the data you want to capture you also need to understand your key strategic and operational priorities. It’s important to identify the measures that will best demonstrate the impact and benefits of the service on these priorities.

2. Capture volunteer activity and feedback. Ask volunteers to fill in simple activity sheets so you can determine how many patients they supported and what activities they engaged in. The sheets will also help you collate feedback from staff, patients, families, friends and the volunteers themselves, and to gauge volunteer satisfaction after each session.

3. Capture key figures. Record your:

  • Number of volunteers
  • Number of volunteer hours
  • Number of patients supported
  • Number of family members/carers supported
  • Frequency of volunteer visits
4. Ask key evaluation questions for the project. These could include:
  • Does the service support staff in delivering good care to patients?
  • Does volunteer support contribute to staff wellbeing?
  • Do staff feel satisfied with the support provided by volunteers?
  • Do volunteers feel that volunteering has had an impact on their wellbeing?
5. Make sure your data is robust. It’s vital that the data you collect is robust and valid. You should test systems and processes for robustness, and provide effective training for those involved in collating data.

Key steps: checklist

Create an outcome model – this will help you to plan effectively

Agree the service impact measures

Establish a control group or baseline data to demonstrate the impact of your service

Define the measures that will support continued investment and growth of the service

Our service guides

Check out our service guides, packed with information about how different types of volunteering services around the country work in practice, and the impact they make.

View our guides