We can’t do it without you – the impact of volunteers on UK hospices

Dr Ros Scott, Voluntary Sector Consultant, and Honorary Research Fellow, University of Dundee, Scotland, UK, explains the background to her longer article published in the March/April edition of the European Journal of Palliative Care.

Ros Scott

Dr Ros Scott

How often have you heard people say to volunteers: “We couldn’t do it without you”? I have often said this myself – always with passion and conviction arising from my experience of working with volunteers and seeing their impact in so many different ways on a daily basis. I have also frequently been heard to say that volunteers are an important and integral part of the organisation. Yet, however much I believed this to be true, I found little research to support, or indeed refute, either of these statements.

A subsequent conversation with my son about strategic organisational assets started to change my thinking about volunteering. We discussed what a strategic asset was and how this might be defined (resources necessary for an organisation to achieve goals and to enable it to survive). I began to consider whether volunteering was indeed a strategic asset for any organisation and decided to use this as a focus for research.

The aims of the research were to:

  • Explore the influence of volunteers on 
governance, service delivery, hospice economy and community engagement.
  • Gain insight into how volunteering is understood by senior staff, volunteers and 
  • Consider the relationship between volunteering and organisational sustainability.

The research aimed to gain a strategic perspective on volunteering in UK hospices by seeking the views of trustees, senior staff and volunteers using self-administered online questionnaires. Thirty-two independent hospices took part and the responses provided a rich source of data.

Key findings suggest that:

  • Volunteers are recognised as important in helping organisations to achieve their strategic goals.
  • There was little recognition of the significant role that volunteers play as trustees.
  • Volunteers are crucial to the range, variety and quality of care and support provided to adults, children and their families.
  • Volunteers have a key role in contributing to the financial stability of hospices.
  • Volunteers have a key role to play in dispelling the myths and taboos about hospice care, and also about death, dying and bereavement.
  • Volunteers are vital to hospice sustainability.

In reflecting on the research, what surprised me most was the high level of agreement between trustees, staff and volunteers and the significant level of dependence that hospices appear to have on volunteers. We talk about volunteers enhancing services, yet it would seem they are essential to our work. When some hospices say that they would have to close without volunteers – we need to start taking volunteering seriously. Volunteering can no longer be an afterthought or seen as a ‘nice to have’.

Volunteering is changing too – volunteers have many demands on their time and want different things from their experience with us. How will we continue to attract the volunteers that we clearly depend on? Because it seems to me that we really can’t do it without them.

EJPC_22_2_coverRead the full article in the European Journal of Palliative Care
This post relates to a longer article, The impact of volunteers on hospices’ sustainability in the UK – “We can’t do it without you, no really we can’t”, by Ros Scott, published in the March/April 2015 issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care (vol. 22.2). If you have a web-based subscription to the journal you’ll be able to download this issue, plus all articles in the journal archive. You can also browse the archive and download articles by taking a 10-minute or 30-minute subscription. Members of the EAPC receive discounted subscription rates to the journal – click here to subscribe online. We are offering 50% discount on our subscriptions until 31 May 2015. Take advantage of our exclusive offer and save on your subscription to the European Journal of Palliative Care (EJPC). In order to redeem this exclusive offer please enter discount code EJPC50 (for personal subscriptions) or EJPC50I (for institutional subscriptions) online or email us and one of the team will get your subscription set up for you.

Links and resources

EAPC congress 2015Are you coming to Copenhagen?
Dr Ros Scott and Mag. Leena Pelttari MSc. (Palliative Care) will be running a Meet the Expert session on The Future of Hospice and Palliative Care from a Volunteering Perspective at 08h00 on Sunday 10 May 2015 (meeting room 173) at the 14th World Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care in Copenhagen, Denmark. Final programme for the congress is now onlineFollow us on Twitter @EAPCOnlus – our official congress hashtag is #eapc2015 

This entry was posted in EAPC-LINKED JOURNALS, European Journal of Palliative Care, VOLUNTEERING IN PALLIATIVE CARE and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to We can’t do it without you – the impact of volunteers on UK hospices

  1. I don’t think we can ever over-state the value of volunteers in achieving accountability (which is key to encouraging people to access Hospice services as well as securing community support) and achieving qualitative outcomes that could not be achieved through the deployment of paid staff alone (by which I mean the tangible difference that the presence of volunteers makes to patients and families that they are not alone, that they matter to their community and that they remain an important part of it).

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