December 18, 2007

Volunteers are such a vital part of healthcare and the success of many organizations. I asked one of our Studer Group experts, Lynne Cunningham, to share her suggestions on how to integrate volunteers into the organization.

Maximizing the potential of your volunteers as your organization continues its service and operational excellence journey

– by Lynne Cunningham

Years ago, I chaired the Board of a volunteer organization in my community. Our executive director told us that everyone was “staff” – some were paid and some were volunteer, but there was no difference in the importance of the role each person had. Do you have that same philosophy when it comes to the volunteers in your hospital?

“If you are going to realize the potential of the women, men and teenagers who volunteer in your hospital, they need the same service excellence training that you are providing for your staff,” says Dian Hartmann, a Director of Volunteers for 12 years and now a hospital volunteer herself for 2 ½ years since her retirement.

Initial training and periodic training updates need to be designed and targeted for your volunteers. The training needs to be required for all volunteers. Validation that volunteers are using their service excellence skills needs to be the responsibility not only of the Director of Volunteers, but also of each leader in the areas where volunteers are providing service. The range of duties that volunteers can provide will vary but may include Information Desk, delivery of flowers and mail to patients, providing information in the Surgery Waiting Room, serving coffee to visitors, visiting patients, assembling packets, running errands for patients, or just listening and talking to patients when the volunteer has had similar experiences.

Hartmann recommends two hours of initial training for all new volunteers and two hours for training updates at least annually. “Training needs to be required for all volunteers so the sessions need to be offered at a variety of times.”

So how can you apply the Must Haves® to your volunteers?

  • The Director of Volunteers, as well as other leaders, need to Round for Outcomes on volunteers to ensure they are rewarding and recognizing efforts, solving problems, and being open to questions the volunteers are afraid to ask of professional staff.
  • Thank You Notes are an excellent way to recognize special efforts of volunteers and should be initiated by the Director of Volunteers and any leader or group of staff where the volunteers work.
  • Key Words, especially AIDETSM, are also important for volunteers. Volunteers should be using your organization’s standard Key Words like “Is there anything else I can do for you?” and wayfinding. Volunteers who are interacting with patients and family members can help reduce anxiety when they use AIDET skills and Acknowledge the patient, Introduce themselves with their role and experience, discuss the Duration or time they will be with the patient or when they will provide the next surgical update, Explain what they will be doing while with the patient, and Thank the patient for choosing the facility.
  • Selection skills also apply to recruitment and interviewing volunteers. Volunteers should be trained to conduct peer interviews and then welcome their new colleagues when they first start their volunteer assignment. 30 and 90 Day Meetings can also be done by the Director of Volunteers and other leaders in areas where volunteers are assigned to minimize turnover.
  • It may not be a Must Have, but Employee Forums are a key opportunity for the CEO to communicate with all staff – whether they are paid or volunteer. A special session may be offered to the Board of your volunteer organization, but all volunteers should be encouraged to attend an employee session and their attendance tracked just as you do for your paid employees.

Hartmann acknowledges that it takes more than coffee and cookies to get volunteers to training today. “There needs to be mutual respect from the hospital staff and leaders. Volunteers need to feel they are part of the team.”

What’s the Return on Investment (ROI) for this additional training and ongoing partnership with your volunteers?

  • Applying the recommended Must Haves of Rounding, Thank You Notes and Selection to volunteer recruitment and selection will result in less turnover of volunteers. That saves time and money for interviewing, training and testing.
  • Training volunteers to use AIDET and other Key Words will support your efforts to decrease patient anxiety and improve compliance.
  • Ensuring volunteers listen for Service Recovery opportunities will help identify patient and family concerns at the earliest point before the patient leaves the hospital.

I hope these tips will be helpful to you as you work with your Director of Volunteers and the leadership of your volunteer organization to maximize the potential of this critical part of your work force.

Lynne Cunningham
Studer Group Coach


7 Responses to “Volunteers”

  1. I wholly agree with the article on volunteer training and accountability by Lynne Cunningham. As the Director of Volunteers at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare – All Saints, I particualry appreciated the statement that: “Validation that volunteers are using their service excellence skills needs to be the responsibility not only of the Director of Volunteers, but also of each leader in the areas where volunteers are providing service.” I have always referred to our volunteer department as the “HR dept. for non-paid staff”. As such, we rely on the managers in the departments where volunteers are placed to provide regular job training, formal and informal performance feedback and recognition in addition to what we provide from our volunteer department. I believe a solid, well-rounded volunteer program will include regular training for volunteers as well as training for those who supervise them on a daily basis in the departments where they serve. We have developed a volunteer utilization agreement that clearly spells out the ongoing responsibilities of the volunteer department and the department making use of the volunteers, training for volunteer managers and a volunteer management handbook for those who supervise volunteers. Developing this aspect of the volunteer partnership will go a long way toward fully engaging volunteers as members of your organization’s team.

  2. Jay Tatum Says:

    Thanks for the encouragement with your words of wisdom concerning volunteers. This may be one of the most undiscovered and underutilized aspects of healthcare. In my background and experience, they offer more value-added to the organization than most marketing departments because the impact of word of mouth advertising. Coffee, cookies, free luncheons, and training will go a long way, but intergrating volunteers into the fabric of the product and service pays dividends most institutions rarely see in looking at the bottom line. May be worth while in thinking of volunteers in terms of the top line with vision, mission, and goals. When the volunteers are integrated at all levels within the organization, surprising results become the normative feature of the value-added.
    Like anything else in this industry right now, when one changes the way one looks at things, the things one looks at change. Always for the better.

  3. Mary Ryan Says:

    I am so happy to see this particular article. I am a manager of a volunteer program in a large hospital in Canada and we have embraced the Studer way. I have spent much time over my careeer in ensuring the integration of the volunteers as unpaid staff into the very fabric of all that we do. As we move thru the Studer journey, all of the hospital’s rounding logs are inclusive of volunteers and this is clearly stated to act as a reminder to those performing this service. We have completed AIDET training for all of our new volunteers and are planning an inservice for those who have been in service longer than one year who have not undergone this training. As a pilot we have also started conducting the 30 and 90 day meetings with one of our large volunteer groups – the ER. These are conducted by our ER trainers and are proving to be successful. Our hospital Hardwiring newsletter always includes an article that focuses on the value of the volunteer role in the customer service experience – something all volunteer managers have been aware of for ever! wehave also adopted the term “Our People” to be inclusive of staff, physicians and volunteers. Tx for a wonderful article that allows this important group of individuals to be truly seen as full contributors to the patient experience. Mary Ryan, Manager, Community Resources, Southlake Regional Health Centre, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada.

  4. As Director of the Children’s Hospital Volunteer program at the Medical University of SC, the following recent patient comment indicates how important volunteers are in helping us achieve excellence. While we have been very successful in integrating volunteers in some areas of our hospital, we still have quite a bit of ground to cover.

    Patient Comment from Infant/Toddler Med Surg Unit
    I apologize that I do not know the persons names, but I just wanted to say Thank You to MUSC and to the volunteers (I am assuming they are volunteers) that provided coffee and a small stuffed animal to our room. This was a very nice touch and our family appreciated it. You should continue this service as you are able.

    The lady who delivered the stuffed animal to the room even knew how old our baby was (4 days). It was nice that she did some research on our baby before she just knocked on the door and delivered the animal. She shows a touch of class and caring.

  5. Sandy Hayes Says:

    The article was GREAT! I am the Volunteer Coordinator over 100 volunteers in a 245 bed community hospital with appx. 1600 team members. The comment Lynne made about rounding was right on target… it is an opportunity to provide linkage between the volunteer, their work site, staff, and myself. A ‘Volunteer’ is never ‘out there’ by themselves… they are an intricate part of the TOTAL organization. Like the article said “there is paid staff and un-paid staff.” Volunteers provide our hospital over 20 thousand hours of VALUABLE assistance, caring and concern for our patients, patient families and other team members. They show their commitment to our hospital and to the communities we serve each and every day.

  6. It is my extreme pleasure to train the many and varied individuals that come to our hospitals to volunteer. From the neophyte high school student to the seasoned and highly skilled adult, I am consistently amazed at levels of enthusiasm, often infectious, and eagerness to help in today’s hospital settings.

    We hire for SERVICE and train for EXCELLENCE. Key words at key times: Acknowledgment and eye contact, introducing one’s self and role, “dis-easing” the wait by easing the anxiety in duration of wait times, experience is key, the “thank you” as a focus driver for why we are here.

    Keeping performance measurement aligns this unlikely department with overall hospital leadership core efficacy and improves strategy for recruitment, retention, and ROI. Absolutely round on volunteers and include volunteers in rounds–start with giving volunteer candidates a “good feel” that they’ve chosen a great organization to work with (onboarding process) and round the loop with 30/60/90-day check-ins–I find small group activity works well.

    Volunteerism and its opportunities are an ideal platform to cultivate youth into productive, long-term employees (workforce enhancement).

    Many thanks to all VOLUNTEERS and VOLUNTEER LEADERS who have made my nearly one-quarter of a century with Kaiser Permanente such a momentous occasion. Michelle Heckle, Service Director-Support Services, Northern California Kaiser Permanente East Bay Area.

  7. Jami McMullen Says:

    I am the new Volunteer Manager at our hospiatl here in Kingsport Tn.(Hoston Valley Medical Center), I am interested in ways to grow our program and change the attitudes toward our volunteers. I believe there are alot of ways that we can utilize our volunteers that we are currently not. I would appreciate any imput/comments. Thank you for your time. Jami

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