Image Above: Hospice of the Western Reserve's volunteer Walk to Remember 2017
It’s National Volunteer Week; and time to celebrate! This past week, I was in Cleveland working with the Hospice of the Western Reserve. They held two banquets celebrating their 3,000 remarkable volunteers. The speaker was local Clevelander, Alex Sheen, founder of “Because I Said I Would” movement for the “…betterment of humanity through promises made and kept”. HWR realizes their volunteers play an enormous role in the success of their organization and offer volunteer opportunities in many, many areas of their organization.
What are our volunteer’s worth? According to a recent report by the nonprofit coalition, Independent Sector, more than 63 million Americans volunteered about 8 billion hours, which would equate to about $193 billion based on that hourly value. In Hospice, we literally could not do what we do without their willing and enthusiastic support. As you know, hospice is the only Medicare option that requires the use use volunteers! Showing them how valued they are is vital.
How robust is your volunteer program? When I work with a hospice and conduct my consulting assessments, one of the first areas I ask about is the volunteer department: How many volunteers do you have? What kinds of things do the volunteers do for hospice? What I find is the greater the number of volunteers and the broader the opportunities you can provide for them to contribute, the more healthy and active the organization will be. And a happy, fulfilled volunteer is one of your hospice’s most effective ambassadors in the community.
Are you offering meaningful and varied opportunities for your volunteers to contribute? Volunteers want their work to have value and purpose, and hospice is a remarkable place to achieve that. Hospices all over the country are using volunteers in so many creative ways, such as creating life review videos, working with kids’ programs, offering choral groups and of course, advisory boards, fund raising and so much more. At our hospice in Gainesville, Florida, local artists and musicians volunteered to provide performances and art exhibits. Volunteers can greet visitors, create gardens, or help in the kitchen; they can deliver holiday meals, help with grant writing or galas - or perhaps most importantly, be present with a patient, hold their hand and listen.
Teenage volunteers in hospice are on the rise. As I toured the Hospice of the Western Reserve’s Care Center, the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies drew me to the kitchen, where I found a group of girls from the local high school. They told me that once a week they come to bake cookies for the families and patients and they love it.
Do your volunteers feel valued? When I see hospices that have a volunteer department that is four or more degrees of separation from the CEO/ED on the organizational chart that suggests that the organization may not recognize the importance of volunteers. An active voice for the volunteers on the leadership team is crucial, and will ensure volunteers are valued in deep and meaningful ways.
As hospice receives less and less money from Medicare, and as more baby boomers enter active retirement, matching volunteers with patient needs will be vital. Providing a great volunteer experience for your community partners makes for more community engagement and support – and will inspire a steady flow of inspired and inspiring volunteers to help support your mission and the people you serve.