Experts for Good: A Q&A Series Featuring Nonprofit Professionals

By Kyle Schnurbusch, Strategy Director

Volunteerism is at the heart of many nonprofits as volunteers work to make a tangible difference in communities with the support of organizations that facilitate their work. We spoke with Sue Risch, Volunteer Coordinator at the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA), about their volunteers, volunteering best practices and why nonprofit volunteer opportunities are so important.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Share a little bit about VNA’s volunteer program and some of its areas of opportunity and focus.

We feel our volunteers are the heart of VNA. We use volunteers in all of our programs, and right now we probably have a total of over a hundred volunteers.

We use them in our hospice division in a variety of capacities. We provide companionship to patients. We have pet therapy, massage therapy, craft volunteers, volunteers who do notarizations for us, bereavement support volunteers… One thing for our hospice program is that we are mandated to have at least 5% of total staff hours be volunteer hours as per Medicare to be an operating hospice, so they really see the value of volunteer opportunities in the hospice arena. We use our volunteers in pretty much the same capacities in our palliative care program.

We have volunteer nurses that provide vaccination and administrative services. They’ll work in clinics or here at the office too. And then we have our Visit-A-Bit senior program where volunteers provide companionship to lonely seniors. We also provide service hours and externships to students in the St. Louis area. We’ll get nurse practitioners and nursing students that do intern externships. They’re provided with a really good learning experience.

What makes you most proud of your program?

What makes me most proud is the dedication and flexibility of our volunteers. We saw that a lot with COVID-19 because around March 2020, something like 93% of all volunteering had been canceled or postponed. At that time, I still had volunteers calling asking what they could do. I had one volunteer who called right away and said, “I can make masks.” There were nurses that called and wanted to help in any way they could and give open vaccinations. We probably had about 15 volunteer nurses that we trained and volunteered in our clinics. And even outside the pandemic arena, our volunteers are always willing to help where needed if I have a patient care volunteer and maybe we need some help in a vaccination clinic.

When it comes to the recruitment of volunteers, what have been the best referral sources and practices?

The United Way is a great referral source for us. They have an online volunteer opportunity directory, and they’re affiliated with a lot of senior fairs and health fairs that we’re involved with and get volunteers from. Volunteer Match is another online volunteer directory that people will use to search for volunteer opportunities.

Our website is excellent and really engages volunteers. We get a lot of calls from people who were just looking on the website for opportunities. I also think that the name “Visiting Nurse Association” itself is a name that people are familiar with, which helps. We get churches that call based on that alone who are looking for volunteer opportunities, or I may approach churches.

How do you effectively communicate with volunteers?

As far as existing volunteers, I think keeping in touch and supporting them is necessary. For new volunteers, we do orientation training and onboarding. We provide a lot of ongoing support and education too. I try to keep in touch with volunteers weekly, especially our volunteers that are assigned to hospice, but if it isn’t weekly, it’s at least every two weeks, whether it be a phone call, text or email.

What type of system do you use to track volunteer information and feedback?

Volunteers [depending on where they volunteer within VNA] do visit reports, and their written visit reports will document their time and the activities they did with patients or whomever. I also will contact volunteers and talk to them about their visits to make sure they’re meeting the goals of seniors’ care plans and that they’re satisfied on their end with what they’re doing. And we have patient satisfaction surveys we send to patients.

How do you think volunteer opportunities will evolve over the next five years?

Going through the pandemic forced everybody to start thinking out of the box about how we could do things differently. And that includes a whole virtual component that has allowed people to develop hybrid programs. For us, that looked like having volunteers do televisits and phone calls. It’s something we’re going to see ongoing because I think these virtual visits can be just as effective. The same goes for orientations and training too.

What types of resources do you use to help facilitate volunteer opportunities?

I think communicating with similar groups in hospice and palliative care helps. We do monthly volunteer chats that we invite other volunteer managers to. We get to talk about what people are doing, what types of innovative things people are working on and what they’re struggling with. Communicating with those other groups and sharing the stories provides emotional support along with inspiring new ideas.

To see a recruitment campaign we’ve worked on at OrgStory, visit