AVM welcomes the arrival of Helpforce

The Association of Volunteer Managers welcomes the arrival of Helpforce into the sector. Volunteering is an important part of the fabric of health and social care with an estimated 3 million people volunteering regularly.

The health service is facing unprecedented demand. There is no doubt that volunteering in health will and must increase. A balanced and strategic approach is essential to future-proof our health service.

Volunteers don’t only play a greater role in supporting NHS staff, they also connect and empower communities.

To be sustainable, volunteers should be offered opportunities which are rewarding, flexible and suited to their skills. Volunteer managers must share their experience and learning; a cohesive approach is fundamental to success.

Helping in hospitals

A £1.5m initiative from Nesta to back up to fifteen hospitals to significantly expand the reach and impact of their hospital volunteering service.

Nesta says: “thousands of volunteers are already giving their time to volunteer in their local hospital, helping to transform the lives of patients and their carers. When they do, anecdotal evidence suggests this is both beneficial for the patient and the volunteer.”

The £1.5m Helping with Hospitals initiative will back up to 15 hospitals to significantly expand the reach and impact of their hospital volunteering service, and share the evidence of the impact this has had on patients and their families.

Nesta are looking for hospitals (Acute, Mental Health or Foundation Trusts) who can apply for financial support through one of the following waves:

  • Wave 1 is for hospitals with well-established volunteering services, who wish to consolidate the impact of their service and trial innovative new practice. The maximum funding available under this wave is £50k
  • Wave 2 is for hospitals currently with smaller volunteering services, who wish to build the capacity and impact of their service. The maximum funding available under this wave is £100k.

Stressing volunteering

I came across this link the other day that introduced me to a new concept – "over volunteering" by stress management coach G. Gaynor McTigue.

Besides selling a book- it did touch on that (self) management issue that we all have which is knowing your limits. Volunteering like nothing else tests your own sense of what your limits are. If you set the bar too high- you don't volunteer; set the bar too low, and you volunteer ineffectively.

Then I ran into this video by John Tesh Radio Show bigging up the health benefits of volunteering.

It cast my mind back to that ongoing controversy that spread from OzVPMs and then on to UKVPMs about volunteering being bad for your health. Remember that?

It started with a piece of research by A M Ziersch and F E Baum from the Department of Public Health, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia which said:

"Very few interviewees made a direct link between CSGs (civil society groups) and positive individual health outcomes, though some positive community level outcomes were noted. More consistent were reports of the detrimental effects of CSG involvement on mental and physical health."

That generated a lot of discussion in 2005. There were other reports in the UK press at the time putting the contrary position, i.e. that volunteering is good for your health. "Volunteering 'boosts community happiness" was one in the Guardian:

Professor Paul Whiteley, from the University of Essex in Colchester, whose team produced the findings, said: "The research has revealed an interesting link between helping others and enjoying a good quality of life.

"It seems that when we focus on the needs of others, we may also reap benefits ourselves. It means that voluntary activity in the community is associated with better health, lower crime, improved educational performance and greater life satisfaction."

Another more recent example has been the CSV Capital Volunteering project that showed a link between volunteering and health improvement. A volunteer in the project, Pam Hutton found she could help others who had been through similar mental health problems.

"I thought I was worthless, but volunteering gave me back some self-esteem and helped me to stop feeling so isolated," said Ms Hutton, who believes volunteering and befriending schemes were a catalyst for improving her life.

She is a great exemplar of what seems to be a growing link between volunteering and the recovery of people who have experienced mental health problems.

The Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, is carrying out research in this area and published preliminary findings today that suggest a "strong link" between volunteering and recovery.

It's worth flagging up the Institute of Volunteering Research's work in this area. In 2003 it conducted a survey that showed that volunteers agreed that volunteering had done much to improve their mental health. Specifically, it had given structure, direction and meaning to their life, widened their social networks, improved their vocational and interpersonal skills and helped them to gain access to employment, education and training.

I am quoting the part of the summary particularly useful for volunteer managers:

Who usually supervises you?
A majority of respondents were supervised by a paid staff member, and a much smaller proportion by a volunteer co-ordinator or manager (paid or unpaid).

What types of support and training do you receive?
Nearly three-quarters of respondents had their out-of-pocket expenses reimbursed. Around half were given ongoing training and had regular meetings with their supervisors. Other forms of support included induction training, pre-volunteering training, peer volunteer support and mentoring or 'buddying' schemes.

What types of support do you find most useful?
Reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses and training (especially pre-volunteering training and a robust induction process) were cited as the most valuable forms of support.

How effective is the support you receive?
Nearly all the respondents said that they always (or generally) know what is expected of them. A half said that they always get the support they need, and nearly a third said that they often get the support they need.

How do you define good support?
'Supervisors who are knowledgeable, conscientious, understanding, honest, appreciative and respectful', 'someone on hand to answer questions or listen to concerns' and 'the feeling that you are a member of a team' were cited as the three most important elements of good support.

These conclusions are still just as poignant now as they were then. To your very good health as a volunteer manager 🙂