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Involving volunteers

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How volunteers can best be engaged and supported during the covid-19 pandemic.

This page gives practical ideas for working with volunteers and links to other relevant Knowhow pages. It is aimed for anyone who recruits or manages volunteers, including volunteers who manage other volunteers.

If you are interested in volunteering, read our guidance on how you can help and support others during the pandemicThere is also government guidance for formal and informal volunteers. 

You can watch our webinar on Volunteering in a pandemic: Lessons from volunteering organisations (broadcast on 15 July 2020).

How volunteers can make a difference

Throughout the pandemic, volunteers have played a critical role in supporting our communities and keeping people safe. Some of the ways volunteers are helping out include:

  • helping with shopping and running errands for those who are self-isolating
  • driving people to/from health appointments or other essential appointments
  • helping to organise food deliveries from food banks and/or supermarkets
  • helping to spread awareness about coronavirus and scams
  • running online wellbeing classes for people
  • running online activities for children who are staying home
  • online or telephone befriending to those who need to stay indoors
  • stewarding at covid test and trace centres or vaccination centres.

Volunteering: Roadmap out of national lockdown

  • From 29 March 2021, people should continue to volunteer from home where possible. 
  • People can leave their home to volunteer if they are not required to self-isolate for any reason.  No one should volunteer outside of their home if they have tested positive for coronavirus or a member of their household or support bubble has symptoms of coronavirus. For more information about what to do, see guidance about households with possible or confirmed coronavirus symptoms on GOV.UK.
  • If travelling to volunteer or whilst volunteering, follow the safer travel guidance on GOV.UK.
  • The following exemptions from restrictions for volunteering still apply:
    • While volunteering, people can meet in groups of any size, indoors or outdoors.
    • Volunteering that cannot be done from home can continue in a closed business or venue whilst it remains closed to the public. 
    • Businesses/venues, community centres and libraries which are otherwise required to close or restrict their activities are allowed to be open and be used, including by volunteers, for a number of specific purposes only.
    • Accommodation such as hotels, B&Bs and holiday lets which are otherwise ordered to close are permitted to open for people who need to stay for volunteering purposes.
  • Formal support groups are exempt from gathering restrictions up to a limit of 15 participants (aged 5 and older) and there is no limit on the number of volunteers.  For example, 10 volunteers could support a group of 15 participants.
  • Where people are volunteering outside of their home, they should follow social distancing guidelines. In summary, this includes: 
    • Hands - Wash your hands regularly and for 20 seconds.
    • Face - Wear a face covering in indoor settings where social distancing may be difficult, and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet.
    • Space - Stay 2m apart from people you do not live with where possible, or 1 metre with extra precautions in place (such as wearing face coverings or increasing ventilation indoors).
  • People are permitted to leave the UK to volunteer but only where it is not possible to do their role from within the UK. Read guidance on travelling abroad on GOV.UK.
  • Workplaces hosting volunteers should meet coronavirus safety standards.  
  • Government guidance includes the different risks faced by the following groups of people:
    • Those who are self-isolating because they, or someone they live with, feels unwell should not leave the home, including to volunteer. These people should only volunteer from home while they are isolating, and only if they are well enough.
    • Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable should continue to volunteer at home where possible, even if they have had both doses of the vaccine. They can also choose to volunteer outside their home but should take extra care to keep themselves safe by minimising:
      • the number of social interactions
      • the time they spend in places where they can't maintain social distancing.
  • The government has published a letter providing advice on doorstep political campaigning by volunteers during the national lockdown in England. To learn more, read the government guidance on enabling safe and effective volunteering during coronavirus.

Volunteers and covid-19 vaccinations

  • The government has published its covid-19 vaccine uptake plan.  
  • Volunteers performing front line health and social care roles are included within the priority groups for the government’s vaccination programme.

Recruiting and inducting volunteers during the pandemic

Planning for volunteer roles

Insurance and volunteering

Inducting volunteers 

Furlough and volunteering

  • While furloughed under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, employees can’t volunteer for their employer or a company linked or associated to their employer. Employees cannot carry out any fundraising activities for their employer either.
  • Furloughed staff can volunteer for other organisations, or through neighbourhood or community initiatives.
  • Organisations can accept furloughed staff from another charity or organisation as volunteers, provided this is not a ‘swap,’ hasn’t been planned or arranged between organisations, and the volunteer has a genuine choice. ‘Swapping’ furloughed staff as volunteers is likely to be seen as an abuse of the scheme by HMRC.
  • Involving volunteers works best when you don’t directly replace staff with volunteers. If you need to fill tasks previously carried out by furloughed staff, rethink the role into specific tasks so it is more appropriate for a volunteer. Give volunteers flexibility about how they can help. It's worth considering concerns that furloughed staff may have about job substitution.
  • You can signpost staff to volunteer roles outside your organisation and if possible, support them with a reference. NCVO’s page about volunteering and coronavirus suggests ways your staff can offer their help.
  • No pressure should be placed on furloughed staff to volunteer. All volunteering should be voluntary, as explained in our volunteers and the law guidance.
  • If people are volunteering in your organisation without a volunteer manager or coordinator, give them a named contact person who is aware of what their role involves and plan how to support and motivate them. Learn more in our guidance on effectively managing volunteers within your organisation
  • Volunteers who are furloughed from their employer may be called back to work at very short notice. Include this in your plans for inducting or on-boarding new volunteers, for exit and handover processes, and consider having a combination of volunteer roles that can be delivered in shorter time blocks.
  • For more information, please read our blog about volunteering and furlough.

Redirecting volunteers if you cannot take on any more

  • If you cannot take on any more volunteers, tell volunteers about other groups who may need their help.
  • You can also share your volunteers with another organisation if that enables your group and theirs to better coordinate activities. Check in with your volunteers often, to make sure they are not taking on too much.
  • Find your local Volunteer Centre. They will be able to tell you which other organisations or community groups are operating in your area.
  • Many areas have a community-run website where volunteers can post offers of help. Here is an example of a list on the London SE1 community site.
  • Join a covid mutual aid group. There are hundreds of local self-organising Facebook and Whatsapp groups all over the UK. These have safeguarding and accountability guidelines that every volunteer/group member must follow.
  • If your organisation is approached by an employer offering support during the pandemic but you are unable to host volunteers or do not currently need support, you can signpost them to our guidance volunteering and coronavirus: how can you help.
  • They can take a look at Volunteering Matters, Helpforce Assist, British Red Cross and Business in the Community who can help them get support to where it’s most needed. 

Supporting volunteers in your team 

Coronavirus testing for volunteers

  • Anyone with coronavirus symptoms can get a coronavirus test, whatever their age. Testing is most effective within three days of symptoms developing.
  • You can also get a test if you have been asked to by your local council, live in England, have been told to by your hospital, or are taking part in a government pilot project.
  • Volunteer managers can refer volunteer, essential workers for testing if they are self-isolating because either they or member(s) of their household have coronavirus symptoms. They can do this by uploading the names and contact details of self-isolating essential workers to the governments secure employer referral portal. Access to this includes volunteer essential workers. Learn more about getting tested on the GOV.UK website.
  • All charities and voluntary organisations registered in England, with staff and/or volunteers who cannot work from home, can sign up to receive rapid lateral flow test kits by registering on GOV.UK.
  • From early April, if your organisation has 10 or more employees you can order tests for your employees/volunteers to collect from their workplace and use at home twice a week.
  • You must register by 11:59pm on 12 April 2021 if you wish to order test kits.
  • Some local authority areas are providing asymptomatic testing to workers and volunteers in certain roles. Volunteers can check if their local authority offers asymptomatic testing

Volunteer expenses

Volunteer expenses are expenses incurred as a result of a person volunteering.

  • Not everyone can cover their own expenses when they volunteer. Paying expenses means volunteering is open to more people, including those from disadvantaged communities.
  • Remember to pay volunteers for any expenses they may incur. This could include:
    • fuel or mileage costs
    • food and drink taken while volunteering
    • hygiene items, such as disinfectant, face masks or hand sanitiser
    • additional costs for volunteering from home.
  • Having an expenses policy will help you be consistent over what is and is not an expense. NCVO’s guidance on writing an expense policy can help with this. If you are setting up a community group, you should still develop an expenses policy.
  • To pay volunteers you can:
    • ask them to spend the money, keep receipts and return them so you can pay them back based on actual expenditure
    • give them money upfront, tell them to get a receipt and return any change.
  • Make sure you keep a record of amounts paid, to whom and when. If volunteers are unable to confirm that they have received money, take screenshots or photos of conversations with them where they confirm they have received reimbursement.
  • For more information read our volunteer expenses guidance.

Paying for goods or services

If someone is self-isolating and unable to leave their home, a volunteer may purchase their essential household shopping, medicines (prescription or otherwise) or other essential items. The self-isolating person can either pay for these up-front or reimburse the volunteer afterwards. There are several ways to do this:

  • Place their order online and share the order reference number with a volunteer who can go and collect the order. This is usually called a ‘click and collect’ service and is offered by many large supermarkets.
  • Order a voucher or gift card which can be topped up with money online or over the phone and given to a volunteer or collected by them in store and used to buy the shopping. Many large supermarkets are offering this service including AldiAsdaM&SMorrisonsSainsbury’s and Waitrose.
  • Give a volunteer their pre-paid cash card to pay for their shopping. The volunteer would need to pick up this card from the person isolating in advance of doing the shopping.
  • Use a dedicated online volunteer reimbursement service. vHelp is an app-based service that helps organisations make quick, secure and low-cost transfers to reimburse volunteers’ expenses. The process is cashless and all online. Fast reimbursement means that volunteers are not left out of pocket for long periods of time. 
  • A self-isolating person can pay for their shopping over the phone at the checkout, after the volunteer has picked it up. You can check with your local store to see if they offer this service.
  • A volunteer can use their own debit card to pay for the self-isolating person’s shopping and be reimbursed afterwards. Alternatively, a self-isolating person can give their debit card to a trusted family member to pay for their shopping. They should never give their debit card to a volunteer who is not a trusted family member. Starling Bank provide a debit card designed to be used by a volunteer who is a close family member to pay for shopping.
  • As a last resort, a volunteer can pay for the shopping by using their own cash and being reimbursed afterwards, or by collecting cash from the person isolating before doing the shopping.

For the above options, please bear in mind the following:

  • A volunteer should give receipts of any orders collected or purchases made to the self-isolating person and return any change, cards or vouchers with balance remaining.
  • If the volunteer has used their own card, cash or other payment method to pay for the shopping, they should be reimbursed by online payment (bank transfer or PayPal), by cheque or cash. Please note, it is always up to the volunteer if they wish to give their bank account/PayPal details to the person they are helping.
  • A self-isolating person should not share any unnecessary details with the volunteer purchasing or collecting their shopping, and vice versa.
  • Make any exchanges of shopping purchased, cards, vouchers, cash or receipts by leaving them on the doorstep to ensure you maintain the two-metre distancing rule. If you are handling these items you should wear gloves and/or make sure you wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds after to reduce the likelihood of virus transmission. Alternatively, use antibacterial gel and always keep your hands away from your face.

Retaining and engaging volunteers as national lockdown eases

  • As lockdown eases, organisations may see shifts in both those who step forward to volunteer with them and also those who choose to pause their volunteering activity. Therefore you may need to use different techniques for keeping people with different needs engaged and active. Whoever is involved, always try to:
    • Take the time to thank them for their efforts. Regularly feedback to volunteers on the difference they are making to the people you are working with or your cause. This could be how many people you have reaches or a case study of how someone has benefited from your work. Research shows many volunteers highly value informal thanks and feedback. 
    • Be honest about the challenges. Volunteers are often mainly motivated by the cause and empathetic of the challenges you may be facing. Be transparent about timeframes, what your organisation can offer and where you may need additional support. Remember they are ‘on your side’ and bring energy, ideas and time to help you achieve your goals. 
    • Seek their views. Ask volunteers how they are finding giving their time and what could be better. Always feedback to them on any changes you make due to their feedback.
    • Approach local civil leaders to visit or thank your team. Many local Mayors are visiting voluntary groups or sending letters of thanks to key volunteers. 
  • Some particular tips for those with a longer history of involvement with your organisation: 
    • Proactively contact those who have chosen to pause volunteering. This may be due to a change in their circumstances; for example, if they have less time available with the easing of lockdown. If possible, acknowledge the change in their circumstances. You may want to see if there are alternative volunteer roles that would better suit their new circumstances. If not, ‘keep the door open’ for them to return to volunteering. Send regular updates about how the organisation is responding as lockdown eases. 
    • Review the volunteer roles you offer. Consider whether any volunteer roles could be more flexible and be undertaken when people have less time, could be done from home or could be undertaken in a different way. 
    • For experienced volunteers still actively engaged, would they be willing to take on additional responsibilities - such as inducting new volunteers or checking in on how new volunteers are finding their role. Sometimes people would be keen to help but just need to be asked without applying pressure. 
  • Some particular tips for those newer to your organisation: 
    • Ensure that they understand the breadth of opportunities in the organisation. Some volunteers may have been recruited for a specific Covid-19 related response activity and may be unaware of how else they can get involved. 
    • Feature new volunteers and the difference they are making on your social media or with other volunteers. This can help show role models both motivating current volunteers and appear to others.
    • Check that how you communicate is appropriate for them. They may have ideas of how you could keep in touch - how often they want to be contacted and by what platform.
  • Read our general tips for ensuring your volunteers stay with your organisation.

Ending the volunteer relationship well 

  • Not all volunteering opportunities will be long term. You may have had people engaged who need to step back from your organisation or changes in your Covid-19 response mean you don’t need the same scale of volunteers. 
  • Always ensure there is a formal thank you for the time they have given. Remind them of contact information that they ever want to start to volunteer again. 
  • Always seek and record any reason why they have decided to stop volunteering. Regularly look at trends at why volunteers leave. 
  • Ensure you have correct permission to keep in touch. Many people will be happy to hear more about the organisation. 
  • Ask them to help promote the organisation. Ask all new volunteers to follow you on social media and to share any feedback about their experience.
  • Read practical things to do to manage safeguarding when volunteers leave your organisation. This includes ensuring return of any ID badges and informing other relevant volunteers or people they worked with that they are no longer giving their time.

Additional help finding and supporting volunteers

 

  • NCVO has been working closely with the Volunteering Matters, NAVCA and the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership to support how volunteers are involved during covid-19.
  • Local organisations and community groups should approach their Volunteer Centre, CVS or local authority for support and information.
  • The VCS Emergencies Partnership is providing a ‘Get help as a local organisation’ service, where regional voluntary sector liaison leads will be linking local organisations with local or regional responses of support.
  • Local organisations can make a request for support, which is then reviewed by local liaison leads. Needs that cannot be met are escalated to a regional or national level. If you are in London, speak to your Volunteer Centre or CVS for details on how to access this service.
  • Organisations requiring support involving volunteers at a regional or national scale can contact the national volunteering coordination cell.
  • Requests can be from all sectors considering developing a new volunteering scheme or being connected with existing volunteering organisations.

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Page last edited Apr 08, 2021

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