National Association of 
Voluntary Services Managers

Lead, promote and develop best practice in 
Volunteer Management in the NHS and Healthcare

Best Practice Policy Writing


Paper to support Volunteer Service Management in the NHS


Many VSMs are in a position where their role, banding or staff are at risk. This paper has been put together to help provide VSMs with evidence to promote, justify and support their roles in what are very uncertain times within the NHS.

The Management of Volunteers in the NHS


‘I have spent over 30 years working in the NHS and have seen at close hand

the major contribution that volunteers make every day. Volunteers play such

a key role in linking local people and their hospitals and health services and

to improving the experience of people who use our services. Those responsible for supporting volunteering have a valuable and important role in the NHS.’


Sir David Nicholson CBE

NHS Chief Executive


1. Introduction


For every NHS Trust improving the experience of their patients, engaging their local community, and improving and maintaining the reputation of their organisation are essential to their success. Having a robust, well managed and implemented volunteer programme can support the achievement of these key aims.


This paper will present the benefits of engaging volunteers in your Trust and set out the requirements to do so effectively and successfully.


2. Volunteers in the NHS


Volunteers have had a part to play in healthcare and have been an essential resource in the NHS since it began in 1948. They have made, and continue to make, a unique and valuable contribution to the experience of patients, visitors and staff. There are many different roles that volunteers undertake within the NHS. Almost 100 were identified in the joint publication between the Department of Health and Volunteering England,Volunteers


Across the NHS : improving the patient experience and creating a patient led service (Hawkins & Restall 2006).


Volunteer roles have moved on since the days of retired ladies pushing tea trolleys around the ward, although this remains an important role for some.


Volunteers can be utilised to make the difference for patients and their families. From dining companions, to providing access to cancer information, to activities support, expert patient programmes, Welcomers and way finders, electric passenger buggy drivers, to conducting patient satisfaction surveys, to name just a few, volunteers support many activities within NHS organisations.


The many roles that volunteers have should never be used to substitute for paid staff; instead they should complement the service provided by paid staff.


Whilst volunteers provide their skills and time free of charge, there are costs associated with providing a voluntary service. However, the costs are insignificant when compared to the benefits to the organisation, both in terms of the virtual cost savings and immeasurable contribution to the patient, public and staff experience.


In the current climate of change and review of the way the NHS provides services and the resources it utilises, this is an ideal time to explore how volunteers can contribute to your NHS Trust and help make it the best it can be.


3. Benefit of having volunteers as part of your NHS Trust


The recent publication of the Department of Health Strategic Vision for Volunteering in Health and Social Care (DH 2010) set out what NHS Trusts can do to enhance their services through the engagement of volunteers.


There are many benefits to having volunteers as part of your organisation. The following are just three key areas where they provide a significant benefit for an NHS Trust:


1. Improving the patient experience

2. Engagement of the local community

3. Reputation of the Trust


3.1 Improving the patient experience


The experience of patients and their families is the core business of any NHS Trust, and ensuring the experience is the best, can be a challenge for all organisations. The roles that volunteers have complements paid staff roles and can add value to a service, providing those little extras that really make a difference to the experience for patients.


It may be keeping someone company whilst they eat their meal, sitting with someone who is waiting to go to theatre, or showing someone the way to a department, that leaves a lasting impression of care and compassion on a patient or their family. Volunteers are best placed to provide this support.


It may be a service that would not be provided by the Trust such as the Patient Library Service or volunteer drivers to bring someone to their outpatient appointment. Things that make a real difference to the experience of patients, and their perception of the organisation.


3.2 Engagement of the local community


The engagement and involvement of patients and the public in the NHS has been a statutory requirement since 2001 and is a core element of the NHS White Paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS (2010). A requirement that Foundation Trusts have implemented through membership schemes and as more Trusts move towards gaining Foundation status, they too will be looking to ways of involving those they serve.


Having a robust volunteer programme and active Voluntary Services department is an ideal way to involve members of the local community and can be a catalyst for involvement in service review and development. It can be a means to providing two way communication with communities, and a method of recruitment for members of the Trust. Engagement through volunteering can help individuals gain the confidence and skills they need to rejoin the jobs market and apply for paid posts. It can also expose the vast array of career opportunities in the NHS to student volunteers who may be looking for a career in healthcare.


3.3 Improve the Reputation of the Trust


By engaging the local community in the Trust provides an ideal opportunity for two way communication. This provides a facility to listen to the local population and hear what they are saying about the organisation and the perception they have. It provides an opportunity to send key messages from the Trust, to promote the services available and also to bust any myths that may have grown about the organisation.


Volunteers will become ambassadors for the Trust, which will have a direct positive impact on the reputation of the Trust.


4. Best Practice in the Management of Volunteers


Good-quality volunteer management, co-ordination and support are essential elements in engaging volunteers effectively, managing risk appropriately and maximising the value of volunteer involvement within an organisation.


It should be noted that volunteer management is distinct from the management of paid staff. Recruiting, supporting and managing volunteers require different skills to managing paid staff. There is also a need forflexibility to match roles to individuals according to differing motivations, capabilities, interests and levels of time commitment. Any organisation involving volunteers should strive towards good practice in the four elements of promoting, recruiting, supporting and celebrating volunteers.


To support this a job profile has been developed under Agenda for Change to set out the role of a Voluntary Services Manager. The job statement has four key areas:


  1. 1) Develops, promotes, organises and manages voluntary services across an organisation
  2. 2) Establishes and develops effective policies for the utilisation of volunteers
  3. 3) Recruits, trains and places volunteers
  4. 4) May have responsibility for fundraising



  1. At a local level it is important that leaders and senior managers recognise the important role of volunteer management, co-ordination and support within organisations and the role of the volunteering infrastructure in promoting good practice in the recruitment and support of volunteers. Where volunteers work alongside paid staff, volunteer managers provide an essential link to ensure that the paid staff have the support and information they need in order to work well with volunteers. This includes understanding the distinction between volunteer and paid staff roles; the nature of the volunteer relationship; and the role of volunteers in their work setting. (DH Vision, 2010)


Volunteer managers also have a vital role to play in building connections with the local community and enabling volunteers to contribute time and feedback in ways that are valuable to the organisation. It is important for leaders and senior managers to value and visibly recognise volunteers’ impact within organisations.


The organisation owes a duty of care to volunteers through, for example, good practice in health and safety matters, and must take appropriate measures to ensure volunteers’ safety. Volunteers do not have a distinct legal status in the same way that paid workers do, and are not covered by employment law in the same way. This means that equal opportunities legislation does not apply to volunteers, and that they have no protection from unfair dismissal. 


However, volunteers should be afforded the same respect and care as employees, yet it should be clear that the organisation has a different, non-contractual relationship with them. They should be included in organisation-wide policies such as equal opportunities, health and safety, and zero tolerance of violence. It is important that policies relating directly to the volunteer’s relationship with the organisation, for dealing with grievance and disciplinary issues, for example, should be distinct from those for paid staff.


The procedures for recruiting and supporting volunteers needs to be proportionate to the volunteer roles being undertaken and kept as simple and straightforward as possible within organisational and legal constraints.


5. The case for employing a Voluntary Services Manager


In recognition of the distinct role that Voluntary Services Managers play, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills have published National Occupational Standards for Voluntary Services Managers. The UK Workforce Hub, which offers advice and support to volunteer involving organisations, has produced a checklist as a way of identifying if an organisation needs to have a separate Voluntary Services Manager. If you answer yes to one or more of the following questions then you need a separate role;


  • Do you have more than 10 volunteers?
  • Are there risks attached to what your volunteers do? Do they work with vulnerable people or need any training to carry out their role?
  • Are you keen to involve volunteers from diverse backgrounds?
  • Do you want volunteers to reflect on their experience of volunteering within your organisation in a positive way to their peers?


Volunteer managers have a vital role to play in ensuring that volunteer involvement is fulfilling, effective and safe. There is nothing more demoralising to someone who has given their time, than to be faced with a lack of utilisation of that time. Part of the role of the Voluntary Services Manager is to work with paid staff to identify suitable roles for volunteers that will utilise their time and skills effectively and not impinge on the roles of paid staff.


Poor organisation, lack of recognition, lack of information and support leads to volunteers feeling undervalued and so they leave their volunteer role.


The risk associated with this is that they will then tell others of their poor experience which can then impact on the reputation of the Trust.


Management of volunteers is distinct from the management of paid staff. Volunteers do not need to attend for duty, they are not under any contractual obligation and so need to be managed in a very different way to paid staff, and their contribution respected and valued without monetary benefit.


6. Conclusion


Having a robust, well managed and implemented volunteer programme can support the achievement of the key aims of improving the experience of patients, engaging the local community, and improving and maintaining the reputation of an organisation.


Volunteers may provide their skills and time free of charge, but there are costs associated with the publicity, recruitment, induction and training of volunteers. There are resources necessary to ensure that paid staff are prepared for their support to volunteers, and in the development of new roles and the assessment and mitigation of the associated risks. The associated costs are insignificant when compared to the benefits to the organisation, both in terms of the virtual cost savings and immeasurable contribution to the patient, public and staff experience.


The management of volunteers is distinct from the management of paid staff, and needs very careful consideration from leaders and senior managers within the NHS. Voluntary Services Managers play a vital role, not just in the operational procedures to recruit volunteers, but in retaining those who volunteer their time, as it is well recognised that poor quality management will lead to dissatisfaction of volunteers and withdrawal of their time, help and support to an organisation.


Carol Rawlings Post Grad Dip. BSc RGN

Chair – National Association of Voluntary Services Managers




National Occupational Standards for Voluntary Services Managers can be accessed at


Volunteers across the NHS: improving the patient experience and creating a patient-led service (Hawkins & Restall, 2006)


Valuing Volunteer Management Skills (2010) Institute of Volunteering Research

Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS (2010)