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How to set up a volunteer telephone reassurance program for seniors

We included six essential steps needed to set up a successful and effective telephone reassurance program for seniors to promote social connection and address senior loneliness.
Senior man talking to volunteer on phone through a telephone reassurance program
Even before COVID-19, many older people experienced isolation and loneliness.  Over a quarter of people over age 60 live alone, according to a Pew Research Survey.  And 43 percent of people over 60 reported feeling lonely before COVID-19, according to another study in JAMA Internal Medicine.  With parks, gyms, senior centers, and theaters closed and most in-person visiting discouraged, loneliness is a public health crisis that isn’t going away anytime soon and needs to be addressed.

Telephone reassurance programs or ‘friendly caller’ programs are a simple yet effective way to promote social connection and address senior loneliness.  Across the country, older adults and vulnerable populations are increasingly homebound as they follow shelter-in-place guidelines.  Talking on the phone with a friendly caller has become an appealing option to combat feelings of loneliness.  

At Mon Ami, we have helped communities across the country scale support to older adults, including thousands of hours of telephone calls with volunteers.  Our solution helps senior service organizations quickly set up their own community-based telephone reassurance program for seniors.

Examples of Telephone Reassurance Programs

There are already a number of nationwide and local telephone reassurance programs for older adults, like the AARP Friendly Voices Program where any older adult can request a one-time call from an AARP volunteer.  There are also industry-specific programs, like the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Daily Call Sheet which matches volunteers with older adults in the entertainment industry.

SAGE, a national nonprofit serving LGBT elders and partner of Mon Ami’s, created an innovative program called SAGEConnect to address isolation and build connection within the LGBT community. Through SAGEConnect, older adults connect once a week or more with the same volunteer over the phone to talk, check-in, and just be with one another.

Despite these existing programs, there is the need for more community-based telephone reassurance programs that can match locally for language and other factors that go a long way in creating a successful match.  If your organization or program works with older adults, consider creating a friendly caller program for your local community to support one another. Based on the success of Mon Ami’s telephone reassurance program, we’ve outlined six key steps from our experience to help you build an effective and reliable program.

Six Steps for Building Your Telephone Reassurance Program

Choose a goal for your program 

Think through the needs of your client base and the role that you believe your organization’s volunteers can play.  There should be a clear purpose communicated to volunteers and to clients regarding the purpose of these telephone calls. This will inform how you conduct training for volunteers and what information you might need to collect after a phone call.  Consider how different goals may conflict with one another in the delivery of your program.  Choosing a single, clearly articulated goal will help align everyone involved towards successful execution of your program.

  • Is your program’s main goal to help build meaningful connection to address isolation and loneliness?
  • Or to check-in regularly to make sure seniors are ok and not in immediate harm? 
  • Or to provide information to seniors?

Design the program 

Start by writing down the main questions of who, what, when, where that you’ll need to create the shape of your telephone reassurance program.  You might want to think about:

  • Who will be eligible to receive telephone calls and to make telephone calls?  Do you want it to be a peer-to-peer program or an intergenerational program or either?  
  • Who from your organization will be the point of contact or coordinator for the program?  
  • What kinds of matches will you make?  Will the callers be matched ongoing with the same people, or will they be one-off calls?  This should easily be answered once you know the goal of your program. 
  • How often will calls take place?  Once a week, three times a week, or as many times as the seniors desire?

Recruit and train participants 

If you are an established organization, you may already have participants in mind, both seniors and volunteers, who would benefit from a new telephone reassurance or friendly caller program.  Consider if you want to expand to new participants who are not already part of your organization.  If you are recruiting new participants and volunteers, consider your existing network and your budget when thinking through recruitment channels.

  • Local partners might be a referral source for your program.  Nonprofits like Meals on Wheels may already deliver services to your target group and could be helpful in referring participants to your program. 
  • Meet with your local government representatives like a City Council.  They may be helpful in referring constituents who could benefit from a new telephone reassurance program or be helpful in volunteer outreach.  
  • Employers in your area may be a helpful partner to recruit volunteers from employees who want to give back to their community.  

Set up a volunteer application and client application to collect the information you’ll need to make matches.  At a minimum, you’ll need names and phone numbers, but you may choose to ask about location, language, interests, hobbies, age, or other demographic details.  Consider creating an online application, rather than a paper application, to eliminate the need to mail applications.

Once you’ve recruited your volunteers, consider what basic training they’ll need to be successful in their calls.  This might include phone etiquette guidelines like how to introduce themselves, appropriate times to call, or how to manage differences in opinion.  Your training might also include the steps for how they schedule, log, and keep track of any of their calls.

Match, schedule, and track calls 

Once you have participants in your program, you’ll need a system to match people and keep track of who is calling whom, when, and how often.  You may choose for your team to make the matches, or you may send new call requests to volunteers and allow them to express interest and sign up.  Mon Ami’s volunteer software can help streamline the operations of your telephone reassurance program. 

  • Notify volunteers of new call requests via the Mon Ami volunteer app, where volunteers can view details and sign up for calls themselves 

  • Share all relevant details via the Mon Ami volunteer app once a volunteer has been approved for a match with a senior 

  • Track all call requests, completed calls, and upcoming calls 

  • Manage matches where you can manually make a match, approve a volunteer’s interest in a match, or deactivate matches

  • After each call, volunteers can use the Mon Ami app to log any notes or report on how a senior is doing so that your organization has the benefit of a continuous record 

Click here to request a demo

Consider privacy and security measures 

Especially when working with seniors, privacy and security are a big concern to protect both sides.  You should consider integrating a background check process into your volunteer onboarding.  At a minimum, it should include federal and county level criminal searches and sex offender searches.  With Mon Ami’s volunteer software, you can easily trigger a background check on a volunteer and track the results of the background check before approving a volunteer.

In addition, take precautions to protect personal information of both seniors and volunteers when creating a match.  You may choose to only provide first names when sharing the details of a match.  When volunteers are making phone calls, they will likely be using their own phones.  An easy security measure is to dial *67 before placing the number so that the volunteer’s number is obscured in caller ID.

For more comprehensive security, Mon Ami’s volunteer software offers a proxy phone system that obscures both sides’ real phone numbers.  It allows volunteers to still use their own phones to call seniors and doesn’t require seniors to do anything other than pick up the phone.   

Measure success

Consider the goals you set in step 1. Whatever goals you have set for your program will drive the way you measure the success of your program. If your goal was to build meaningful connections, collect data on the frequency of notes shared from seniors or your volunteers. You can even build specific questions for your feedback surveys asking “how successful was [your organization] at building meaningful connections?”

Depending on the goal you set for your program, customize your assessment to measure that goal. In addition, it’s important to track growth and retention for your program as these are implicit indicators of the experience for both the people you serve and the volunteers that support your organization.

We hope these six steps help you build an incredible telephone assurance program for the seniors your organization serves. If you’re looking for support for any of the six steps above here’s what Mon Ami can help with from start to finish:

  • Help you set up a volunteer form 
  • Help you set up a client form 
  • Help you set up a database
  • Help you manage service requests and make smart volunteer matches 
  • Volunteer app for iPhone, Android, and desktop 
  • Proxy phone numbers 
  • Post-call notes so you have an ongoing record 

Click here to request a demo 

Mon Ami’s technology is an off-the-shelf solution for governments, nonprofits, and other organizations who serve seniors. Our software has coordinated over 10,000 hours of service in its testing, helping seniors and other vulnerable populations receive essential services. We are committed to working with frontline social service providers to make sure they run as smoothly and effectively as possible.