How to attract, train and keep the best volunteers for your neuro practice

Ok! I'm ready to start a volunteer program. Now what?!

We have to thank our wonderful fellow neuro PT, Alyx Abel, for ythis brilliant set of questions to kick off this Q&A blog post.   As most of you know, I am very passionate about education and building up our future PTs.  So, having a successful volunteer program is one of the many ways to keep growing the #iloveneuro spirit.  But, a great volunteer program is also very beneficial to your practice:  improved productivity, improved flow of clients, ability to challenge your clients at a higher level and increase the fun factor with an extra set of hands (can someone say—high intensity ping pong games!?), and assistance for non-client related tasks. 


So let’s start: “How do you recruit volunteers?!?! We have no existing program for outpatient and I don't know where to start.”

Such a great question!  We have done a few different things at re+active, but here are my top 3 recommendations:

1)    The Pre-PT club

A fantastic way to meet and attract volunteers is by talking to the pre-PT club at a local college.  The pre-PT clubs are full of highly motivated students who are looking for you!  They would LOVE to be with a super passionate therapist doing fun and innovative activities with their clients (instead of watching ultrasound and heat packs all day).   Giving a presentation on neuro PT would be a great way to get some excitement.  We have also had some of our current personal trainers (who are in college and pre-PT) talk to their clubs and classmates and recruit them as volunteers. 

For us, after we had one volunteer from a local university have a great experience with us, we have had a steady stream from that school.  We make a point to tell our volunteers to tell their friends! Some schools even have “internships”, where the volunteer hours are part of the class.  A win/win!


2)    The College Connection
Do you know anyone teaching at the local schools?   A good friend of mine happens to be a Kinesiology professor at a local university.  I emailed him to say—“hey, we would love some good volunteers and I would love to help your students get into PT school—how can we make this work?”.  You may not have a good friend in that position but most professors are excited to help get their students some in person exposure to patients.   Don’t be afraid to cold call or email a few professors.


3)    Online

 Great and proactive volunteers are searching online. A lot of our volunteers have found us online (we probably get one call per week for pre-OT students because our Facebook Page says Occupational Therapy).  Can you put some info about volunteering on your webpage or Facebook page?


Now that you recruited your volunteers, how do you incentivize your program to attract quality volunteers who are committed to dedicating regular hours?

In my opinion for this one—you just need to be you!  Even if they are not allowed to touch a client (like in the hospital setting), there are so many fun things that you do on a daily basis that they will love.  The key to attracting, retaining and keeping the dedication is to give some (even minimal) responsibility and really make them feel a part of the team.  Here is a quick run down of the top 3 things we do with our volunteers to attract the best and keep them engaged:

1)    Get them connected to at least one client on the day that they come—the client loves having them there, talking to them, playing games etc.   Let your volunteer know that your client loves seeing them and that therapy wouldn’t be the same without them.  And then thank them for helping you: send them a note, small gift card, etc, to let them know that you really appreciate them. 

2)    Ping-pong!  Ok, it’s coming up again, but I can’t even describe to you how exciting ping-pong has become at our clinic.  But, the point is, have your volunteer really participate in a fun game, class or activity with your clients.  If you are all having fun—they are going to love it and stick around!

3)    Include them in your continuing education.  If you are doing a lecture or in-service, ask them to come and learn.  Volunteers really want to learn more and be seen as part of the team.   The more they feel that they are a responsible member of the team, the more likely they are to show up and stick to their schedule.

On that note, we do require volunteers to commit to a specific amount of time (40 hours, min 4 hours per week, at a specific scheduled time) and they sign in and out on a google sheet when they arrive.  They are usually assigned to a specific therapist so they can build rapport and responsibility.  We also let them know that we will not write letters of recommendation until they have completed 100 hours (otherwise, we often feel like we don’t know them well enough to write a letter).  I am happy to share our volunteer packet with all the nitty gritty that we can’t fit in a blog post.   Join our newsletter to grab our packet to go deeper here.  

And finally, the 3rd great question to get the volunteer program up and running:

“What type of training do you provide/require for volunteers? How often do you offer the trainings?--I see the value of volunteers, but if I hold trainings during working hours, I will need to justify to management giving up a non-billable hour.”

This is what is comes down, to, right?   In the end, especially to your management, it’s about money.  And how can we justify training the volunteers?     Honestly—this was a struggle for us as well and we literally just implemented (just this month) a solution!  We created an online training course for our volunteers.  It was easy (and free!— and we had a student put it together as a project.  Of course, we directed what kind of content needed to be created, but our wonderful student was able to put it together in modules.   If you are not able to put something together online, consider having your students or your admin staff implement orientation.  It will take some upfront work to plan the important aspects of your volunteer training, but totally worth it!   Consider video taping key components of your training so that another person can implement it.   We have gotten into the habit of video taping everything(even though I always HATE to hear my own voice).  It’s a great way of replicating yourself and saving your company productive time. 

Having a strong volunteer program can be a huge asset to your clinic—big or small.  For those of you who have a successful program already, what are systems have you put in place to make and keep it strong?  How have you recruited great volunteers?  What are the challenges?   We would love to hear from you!  Post in the comments below, or join our NeuroCollaborative Professionals page and post there.   Don't forget to grab there [re+active] volunteer program packet here as an example.    I am looking forward to discussing more!