Coronavirus (Covid-19) advice for volunteers

16 March 2020

Practical guidance to minimise the impact of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) on the health and wellbeing of volunteers (as well as those that they volunteer for and with).

We've detailed the following practical steps for volunteers (and volunteer managers) to consider.

Updated: 11/01/21 The latest Scottish Government guidance came into effect on 5 January 2021 with 'Stay at home' regulations in place in most local authority areas. Please review the Coronavirus local protection levels in your area before volunteering.


advice for vols

What does this mean for volunteering?

Regardless of protection level, services which are essential are still being provided in communities. There has been a resumption of some additional volunteering, permitted under the measures outlined above. Volunteers are encouraged to look out for their neighbours. Please ensure you heed all relevant advice around staying safe and keeping others around you safe. Check out the guidance from Ready Scotland.  

If you volunteer within an essential service or one currently resuming activity, please also review the following advice:

1. Does your organisation have a Business Continuity Plan or a Covid-19 policy?

This is the starting point for practical advice that will apply to volunteering. Read it and digest it. If volunteering is not included, advocate to leadership that information on volunteers be added asap.


2. Can you (as a volunteer) clearly communicate your needs?

Check that there is a clear system in place for getting in touch with your organisation (e.g. when cancelling a shift). If you're unsure of what this is, ask. Also, make sure that your emergency contact details are up-to-date.  

It's important that you can discuss honestly your situation and that managers / organisations exercise their duty of care towards you. At a minimum, this should be about encouraging volunteers to be cautious and to take care of themselves.

Volunteers just as for other members of society may be experiencing heightened anxiety - understand that COVID-19 and the response needed, affects each of us differently. Volunteers who are elderly or immunocompromised are at increased threat for serious complications. Volunteers living in poverty are less equipped financially to prepare for self-isolation. Those who have limited sick time or can't afford a period of time off work, may be afraid of missing work through volunteering etc. 


3. Remember volunteering is a choice, freely made: 

If you decide not to volunteer for any reason your organisation will support your decision, including and up to a decision to temporarily suspend your own volunteering at this time. 

Please take all necessary precautions if you are immunocompromised, or live with/care for someone who is immunocompromised. 


4. Does your volunteering meet the tests set by the Volunteer Charter

Specifically, the Volunteer Charter states that 'Volunteers and paid workers should be able to carry out their duties in safe, secure and healthy environments'. Whilst the charter helps safeguard jobs (making clear the distinction between volunteering and paid work) it should not be interpreted as preventing a volunteering effort which is clearly welcomed by all parties, at this time.    


5. Be clear on when to self-isolate.

Follow the advice set out by NHS inform. If you have a recent onset of the following symptoms, you must self-isolate for 10 days and arrange for a test:

  • a high temperature or fever
  • a new continuous cough
  • a loss of, or change in sense of smell or taste

If you live in a household with someone who shows any of the above symptoms, you should stay at home for 14 days from the day the illness began in the first person to become ill. If you then develop symptoms within the 14 days, you should stay at home for 10 days from when your symptoms begin even if this takes you over the 14-day isolation period.

What to consider if you have to stay at home:

  • Plan ahead and ask other team members for help to ensure that you can successfully and effectively volunteer from home if you are not sick / don’t have symptoms
  • Ask friends and family as well as colleagues to help you get the things you need to stay at home
  • Stay at least 2 metres (about 3 steps) away from other people in your home if possible
  • Sleep alone, if possible
  • Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, each time using soap and water
  • Stay away from vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, as much as possible
  • Consider whether older people and those with underlying health conditions can stay in another house while you need to stay at home
  • Keep in touch with friends, family, and colleagues over the phone or through social media

This action will help protect others in your place of volunteering as well as your community


6. Be clear on what to do if you become unwell whilst volunteering?

This advice is based on that provided by NHS inform. This was current at time of publish. If you develop any of the COVID-19 symptoms (a high temperature or a new continuous cough), please inform your volunteer manager or another manager immediately and go home to self-isolate or if you are seriously unwell, call NHS 111 or dial 999. Please:

  • Keep at least 2 meters away from others
  • Avoid touching anything
  • Advise your volunteer manager (or other manager) of any areas you’ve been to or surfaces you may have touched in the office
  • Advise of anyone you’ve been in close contact with since feeling unwell
  • If you are able to drive home, you should do so. If you have arrived by public transport or car share, you should arrange a taxi or a driver to take you home.
  • If you are seriously unwell and require medical attention, we advise you be isolated while you wait for advice or an ambulance

Your organisation should arrange for an office deep clean after any affected volunteer has left the building.


7. Follow best practice to prevent catching or spreading Coronavirus.

This advice is based on that provided by NHS inform. This was current at time of publish, as follows:  

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap & hot water for at least 20 seconds
  • Wash your hands when you arrive at work & get home
  • Use hand sanitizer gel if no soap & water is available
  • Cover mouth & nose with a tissue or your sleeve if you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away immediately & wash your hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth if your hands aren’t clean
  • Clean your desk, monitor, keyboard & phone regularly
  • Wash cutlery & crockery used thoroughly with hot water & detergent; dry it thoroughly immediately and put it away
  • Avoid physical contact with others as far as possible including shaking hands or hugging
  • We encourage you to carry some tissues with you at all times in case you need to sneeze or cough.

Should you be given Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to carry out your volunteering? If you are volunteering with beneficiaries (or you yourself are) at higher threat of serious complications (see also point 3), take all recommended precautions. This includes use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as and when guided by your organisation.


8. Get involved in planning around volunteering.

Volunteers should be included in decision-making around plans and policies affecting them. Having volunteers at the table will ensure that concerns are heard and addressed.

Organisations should ask their volunteers about their availability to continue volunteering. For those with high availability, they should be asked if they would be willing to increase their volunteering temporarily to help fill gaps. Organisations should track responses and keep a database/spreadsheet of volunteers who anticipate availability in certain situations.

Work with organisational leaders to prioritize programming/services delivered by volunteers and determine where volunteering services should be focused if there is a significant decrease in availability.


9. Consider if and how you can work remotely.

You may need to work from home. As well as thinking about the work volunteers can complete remotely your organisation should determine what considerations have been made around infrastructure, equipment and processes required to allow you to work remotely and the ongoing support you need.


10. Avoid large-scale volunteer events or face-to-face training until it is clearly safe to do so.

Social distancing should be maintained (amongst other measures) and events that draw large crowds outdoors or even smaller gatherings indoors are still tightly controlled. The advice is changing and so it is best to regularly review the Coronavirus local protection levels from the Scottish Government. 


Please get in touch if you have any other questions