How to launch and grow telephone reassurance services for seniors

Practical tips and lessons learned about how 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


Programs like telephone reassurance are a great way to engage volunteers and have been shown to positively impact loneliness, depression, and anxiety for participants.  

Many older people experience isolation and loneliness, a problem exacerbated further during COVID-19.  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.  As people live longer and apart from friends and family, loneliness will continue to become a growing a public health crisis.

Talking on the phone with a friendly caller has become an appealing option to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.  At Mon Ami, we have helped communities across the country scale support to older adults, enabling millions of call minutes that address isolation and loneliness.  Here we share some practical tips and lessons for how to launch a new program or grow an existing one.  

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.

Many local chapters of the federal Retired Senior Volunteers Program (RSVP) have recruited and trained older volunteers to provide telephone reassurance calls to those experiencing isolation in the community.  The RSVP of Lehigh, Northampton, and Carbon Counties in Pennsylvania, for example, partnered with its county’s Department of Aging and Adult Services to deliver regular friendly calls to local seniors through a joint program called Senior CHAT.  

Despite these existing programs, many millions of older adults present a need for more community-based telephone reassurance programs that can match locally and culturally - things that go a long way in creating a truly successful match. If your organization or program works with older adults in any way, consider creating a friendly caller program for your local community to support one another in a time of need. 

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.  Typically, programs choose to align around one of two overarching goals: 

  • 1) To promote social connection and combat loneliness:  With this goal, programs are looking to help build meaningful connections between participants to address isolation and loneliness.   The calls might be longer and between the same two people to promote consistency and relationship-building.  
  • 2) To conduct a wellness check-in: With this goal, programs are primarily looking to make sure seniors are ok and not in immediate harm.  The calls tend to be shorter in length with a structured format.  

Structuring your telephone reassurance 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.  Here are some things to consider.  

Recruiting clients

Typically, identifying and recruiting participants for a telephone reassurance program is the most time consuming and challenging step in the process.  Many programs report taking 6 months or longer to recruit the first clients because it takes time to build trust and form partnerships that offer positive referrals.  Remember, it is unlikely at least in the beginning for clients to sign up themselves.  Instead, most programs receive 80% of their new clients through referrals from local partners like Meals on Wheels, Area Agency on Aging, doctors’ offices, etc.  

Here are some places to start or expand your recruiting efforts:  
  • Your existing organization: If you are starting a program out of an existing organization, you may already have participants in mind. Otherwise, consider reaching out across your organization to identify clients who may benefit from an additional service like telephone reassurance 
  • Local referral partners:  Identify agencies in your area that serve a similar population.  This could be Area Agencies on Aging, Meals on Wheels, senior centers, United Way chapters, faith-based organizations, or other service organizations.  Educate them about your new service, and give them a way to easily make a referral, whether it’s through an online form or a simple email template.  Check in regularly to remind them of your program and report success stories back to them where you can.  
  • State representative offices:  Your local representative may have a good pulse on who in the community is in need of your services.  They receive a high call volume and can refer individuals who they think may be a good fit.  
  • Local media:  Is there a local or regional publication that your target audience reads or watches?  Your audience could be the individuals themselves or their family, friends, and caregivers.  Consider placing an ad in a local newspaper or reach out to the news desk to pitch a story about your program.  
  • Bulk mailing lists:  In some cases, programs have found it useful to purchase a bulk mailing list of addresses that target their audience with postcards or flyers mailed to their home.  

When talking to prospective clients and creating outreach materials, there are a few best practices:  

Do's and Donts

Recruiting and training volunteers

Through the right channels, you will likely find many people who are eager to volunteer for your telephone reassurance program.  The benefits of volunteering are many: it’s a fantastic way to connect with others, build relationships, give back to the community, and incredibly easy to do.  

Set up a volunteer 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 to make more compatible matches. Consider creating an online application, rather than a paper application, to eliminate the need to mail applications and to ease the management process. 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.  

Scheduling and tracking 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 telephone reassurance system can help streamline the operations of your telephone reassurance program. 

  • Make matches between volunteers and clients 
  • Notify volunteers of new call requests, and allow them to view details of the request and sign up to be matched 
  • Mask phone numbers through a central designated phone system so that volunteers and clients don’t need to share personal contact information with each other  
  • Automatically track calls made between volunteers and clients, without volunteers needing to submit a call log or time sheet 
  • Collect feedback and notes about calls and see a history of client well-being and concerns 


Consider privacy and security measures 

Especially when working with seniors, privacy and security are a big concern for both volunteers and clients. 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. 

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, and so caller-ID blocking or other security measures are recommended.  

For comprehensive security, Mon Ami’s telephone reassurance system offers a central 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.   

Measuring 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. Many of our partner organizations use the UCLA 3-question Loneliness Survey to measure client impact over time, whereas others have crafted their own satisfaction surveys or partnered with research institutes and academic institutions to analyze the impact of their programs. You can also contract a third party to complete a phone survey of satisfaction and impact, or can even train your volunteers to complete such a survey.

Check out our article on “How to evaluate telephone reassurance programs” for more information.  

Telephone Reassurance Starter Kit

From our experience launching telephone reassurance programs across the country, we've compiled a starter kit for organizations that are looking to kick start their telephone reassurance program. Our telephone reassurance starter kit includes:

  • Recruitment flyer templates
  • Sample volunteer guidelines for participation
  • Ideas for how to recruit participates of the program
  • General best practices and tips for running the program

If you're interested in receiving the telephone reassurance starter kit, please email hello [at] and request a copy.