Resources to help hospitals adapt to changing volunteer landscape

More than 13.3 million Canadians volunteer more than 2.1 billion hours annually, according to the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating. This group accounts for 47 per cent of the population aged 15 or older, each person volunteering an average of 156 hours per year.

Of this incredible percentage, Statistics Canada highlights that 6 per cent volunteer for organizations supporting health issues. This makes healthcare one of the top five types of organizations Canadians volunteer to support – two per cent of which were hospitals specifically.

Volunteers play a vital role in the operations and functions of hospitals. From assisting with administrative tasks or recreational programs, offering friendly visits or outings with patients or providing support to families in waiting rooms, volunteer contributions are extensive.  Valuing Volunteers: An Economic Evaluation of the Net Benefits of Hospital Volunteers highlights that aside from providing staff with extra support in nonmedical services, volunteers help hospitals maintain a personal touch, reducing anxiety and feelings of vulnerability and contributing to the comfort and happiness of patients, families and visitors.

As hospitals are dealing with a number of changing realities, including aging populations, higher costs and efforts to digitize healthcare, the support of hospital volunteers is even more critical. However, alongside changes in the health care field, a number of transitions have occurred in the volunteer landscape in Canada. In order for the support services of volunteers to be best leveraged, hospitals should explore the changing landscape and its implications on volunteer engagement.

Shifting demographics have implications for volunteer recruitment at hospitals.  Statistics Canada reveals the highest volunteer rate (58 per cent) is among youth aged 15-24.  Young Canadians are shaping the volunteer landscape and the health care field.  However, while they have the highest volunteer rate, they contribute fewer hours per year than those aged 35 plus.

The pan-Canadian research, Bridging the Gap: Enriching the Volunteer Experience to Build a Better Future for our Communities has highlighted a shift amongst volunteers towards a preference for short-term volunteering, over long-term commitment with organizations.  This may pose some challenges for roles that benefit from long-term relationship building such as palliative care or rehabilitation. In recruiting volunteers, hospitals will want to consider ways they can design short-term roles.  Hospitals can also look to resources on Volunteer Canada’s website on youth engagement in order to adapt to a younger volunteer base.

Approximately one in five Canadians is now born outside of Canada.  According to Statistics Canada, immigration now accounts for close to 70 per cent of population growth.  Hospitals have the opportunity to tap into the rich skills and cultural competencies of newcomers. Volunteer engagement strategies should include policies and practices regarding diversity and inclusion. Resources such as Building Blocks for Engaging Newcomer Volunteers have been designed to offer key insight around creating welcoming organizations.

Many of today’s volunteers are well educated and are citing a desire to apply professional or technological skills in their roles. When recruiting, conducting follow-ups or evaluations, volunteer managers should take time to learn about volunteers’ motivations and desires to apply skills. Hospital volunteer retention levels will benefit if volunteers goals and objectives are being met through skills-based volunteering.

In order to adapt to the changing volunteer landscape, organizations in the healthcare field and hospitals across Canada have been adopting the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement. Revised in 2012, the Code has been designed to reflect today’s volunteer realities and meet the needs of organizations of all sizes. It provides a framework for discussion and decision-making within organizations and promotes meaningful volunteer involvement that meets the needs of both the organization and its volunteers. To accompany the Code, the online Code Audit will become available to Volunteer Canada members this fall, and will help organizations assess and analyze the way they are currently involving volunteers.

There have been excellent examples of volunteer engagement across the sector. To recognize volunteers during the 2013 National Volunteer Week, the Montréal Children’s Hospital dedicated their employee newsletter to their volunteers and created a Thank You website. Organizations are acknowledging the vast benefits of developing strong volunteer programs, with effective recruitment, screening, training, supervision and recognition. By adapting to the changing volunteer landscape, hospitals will have the opportunity to be champions in supporting a culture and structure that values the vital role and significant impact of volunteer involvement.