Five top tips for running Helpforce Volunteer to Career: Reflections and insights from St Elizabeth Hospice

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20th February 2024



This article is based on interviews with Jemma Wood, Head of Volunteering, and Xylina Hogan, Volunteer to Career Clinical Lead and Resource Coordinator at St Elizabeth Hospice

St Elizabeth Hospice is one of many health and care organisations who took part in Helpforce Volunteer to Career (VtC) programme in 2022 after receiving funding from their local Integrated Care Board, Suffolk and North East Essex ICB.

The hospice ran the Volunteer to Career from 2022. It had a target of attracting six volunteers and successfully attracted all. As a result:

  • One volunteer changed their university degree from IT to nursing
  • One volunteer secured a health care assistant role
  • Three people are continue exploring their options for roles in the health and care sector
  • One secured a paid role in the education sector

In this article, the team who ran the programme look back at their journey and share their top tips.

1 – A clinical lead is a must

St Elizabeth Hospice recruited a dedicated clinical lead, a mental health nurse, as coordinator for the Helpforce Volunteer to Career programme.

The benefits of having a dedicated lead brings are:

  • They have time to support volunteers individually, gather and engage with relevant stakeholders to ensure the programme is well received across the organisation.

The additional and essential benefit of having someone with a clinical background in that role is that:

  • They understand the challenges that clinical staff face. This helps them understand how a volunteer can best support clinical staff and to communicate effectively with clinical staff and to work with staff to identify areas where volunteers can help which, at the same time, fit in volunteers’ career interests.

2 – Having the right expectations

It’s easy to assume that clinical staff would welcome the idea of having volunteers to help them, but that’s not always the case. At St Elizabeth Hospice, the team soon recognised that the nursing team was nervous that they wouldn’t have time to support volunteers as they thought they’d have to do a lot of handholding. The Volunteer to Career clinical lead took the time to work with the nursing team to explain how the programme would work and reassure them that, rather than taking up more of their time, volunteers would save them time by undertaking tasks such as helping with changing beds, encouraging patients to drink and eat, and sitting with patients who many want some company.

It’s also important to set the right expectations for volunteers. They need to be aware of all the support the programme offers to help them prepare and apply for paid jobs, but there can’t be a guarantee that they will get a job with the organisation or elsewhere.

3 – Using the Helpforce’s support

Xylina said: “One of the great advantages of rolling out the Helpforce Volunteer to Career programme is that you can get peer-to-peer support, as you will meet other leads from different organisations. It’s a great opportunity to learn from others and get new ideas. My only regret is that I couldn’t attend all the online meetings.

“Another benefit is that we receive free training from Helpforce to deliver the programme and they provide advice to help us overcome challenges. For instance, they helped us design surveys to identify more volunteers who might be interested in the programme, and shared how to best engage with our stakeholders. Before taking this role, I wasn’t familiar with project management, but since taking the Adopt and Adapt course with Helpforce as part of this programme, I have learned how to lead a big programme like this one.”

4 – Identifying the right stakeholders

Both Jemma and Xylina agreed that it was vital to have the right supportive stakeholders in place to ensure the programme is well received by staff.

If you’re not sure who the right stakeholders are, Jemma said: “My advice for other hospices is to start by engaging with directors and the senior management team. It’s also important to involve the education/training or equivalent department in your organisation, as they will have the right information about the qualifications and training that volunteers need should they wish to apply for roles in health and care.”

5- Think big but start small

Both Jemma and Xylina agreed that there is no guarantee that volunteers who complete the Volunteer to Career Programme will work at the organisation; they may want to work at a different health and care organisation or even in a different sector, and that is absolutely fine.

Jemma said: “We all know that the health and care sector is facing workforce shortages. By taking part in this programme and helping individuals to find a rewarding career in this sector, we all make a difference. I believe that if a volunteer is able to find a job after joining this programme, it’s a massive win for the organisation, the individual, and society. So think collectively.”

And Xylina offers her perspective on this: “It’s vital that you start small. For us, when we first advertised the role to recruit volunteers for this programme, we had only two volunteers. But that allowed us to start the pilot and improve it. And when we are ready to start recruiting again, we used our experiences from the pilot to advertise the role more effectively. As a result, the number of volunteers and departments responded to the call increased. And now, I am delighted to see that St Elizabeth Hospice is planning to fully integrate the Volunteer to Career programme into its workforce planning.”