Frequently Asked Questions

What is meant by the term 'volunteering'?

Volunteers are individuals who choose to commit their time and energy to support the work of the NHS, without receiving any financial benefit beyond reimbursement of expenses. Volunteering is a choice freely made by each individual.

Volunteering takes many forms and can be:

  • formal or informal
  • in a range of settings
  • supporting services, patient experience, self-care and other volunteers
  • led by the NHS, voluntary and community sector, or in partnership
  • taken by people of all ages, cultures, ethnicities and background
  • a form of social action.

What is meant by a volunteering innovation?

A volunteering innovation is service that is supported by volunteers in hospitals that is safe, high quality and impactful (e.g., demonstrates improvements in the wellbeing, health and experience of patients, staff and volunteers or improves efficiency). A volunteering innovation doesn’t necessarily have to be completely innovative and untested – it could be something that you’ve seen work elsewhere, want to try in a different way or in a different setting.

Who is eligible for this funding?

The lead applicant needs to be an NHS hospital trust (acute and community hospitals) based within England. Applications may, however, include other partners such as voluntary or community sector organisations, or other statutory partners.

How will Helpforce decide which projects to prioritise?

We are looking to fund projects which can demonstrate the impact of volunteering (e.g. on patient experience, patient outcomes and staff) and are able to be scaled and / or replicated in other Trusts. As we want to encourage innovation and new ideas, we have deliberately kept the criteria within the Expression of Interest wide so that Trusts are able to identify the opportunities that they feel would most add value.

We will prioritise Expressions of Interest by looking for projects that can demonstrate:

  • Innovation and ambition: is the volunteer service innovation inspiring and persuasive within the trust?
  • Scalability: is this a service that can grow and develop locally, and could be applied in other locations or contexts?
  • Impact of service: what impact does (or could) the volunteer innovation have on patients, staff, volunteers and services?


  • Clear description of the volunteering innovation and how you intend to resource its development/scaling.
  • Appetite to ‘adopt’ a new volunteering service for your trust (i.e., take a volunteer innovation from another place, and customise it for your local context).
  • Support from the Board / Senior Management Team within the Trust.
  • Collaborative and keen to work with other NHS trusts, Helpforce, and its partners.

The panel will assess Expressions of Interest against the criteria set out above. We may wish to discuss your proposal in more detail using an approach similar to that of a ‘competitive dialogue’ situation to more clearly understand the options available.

We will also consider the geographical spread of Expressions of Interest to ensure that the programme overall is reaching all parts of England.

Please note that any information that you provide is subject to Freedom of Information (FoI).

  • How the programme will reduce health inequalities / support access for protected characteristic groups
  • How you propose to measure the impact of the intervention

The panel will assess Expressions of Interest against the criteria set out above. We may wish to discuss your proposal in more detail using an approach similar to that of a ‘competitive dialogue’ situation to more clearly understand the options available.

We will also consider the geographical spread of Expressions of Interest to ensure that the programme overall is reaching all parts of England.

Can I submit an Expression of Interest if I just have an idea for a new volunteer innovation that has not yet been developed?

We would love to learn more about your ideas! Please do submit an EoI for your idea. However, in line with our criteria we will prioritise established services that are ready to be scaled both locally and nationally. However, we want to consider how best to engage with all organisations that submit EoIs including those not successful in securing funding and supporting ideas development may be something we want to explore further.

If we are shortlisted at the Expression of Interest stage, what will the full application process look like?

If you are shortlisted we will contact you to discuss how to develop the full proposal and application. Helpforce will work with you throughout this phase to support the process. This will include at least one onsite visit from the Helpforce team.

At this stage we will be looking to work up proposals further to include:

  • A full project plan including measurable milestones and impact measurement
  • A full budget breakdown detailing how the funding will be used and identifying options for sustainability of the project beyond the funding period
  • Risk management log
  • Staffing structure for the project

During the site visit we will meet with your Volunteer Manager, responsible member of the Executive team and others as applicable (clinical staff, quality improvement team, data team, etc), to support development of the application and further assess:

  • To what extent the volunteering service innovation appeals to trust stakeholders (board, senior leadership, union members, etc.) as well as local beneficiaries (patients, volunteers)
  • To what extent the the volunteering service innovation aligns with other priorities at the trust, and / or addresses other key health policy priorities (e.g., reducing health inequalities)
  • Evidence of strong track record of project management from the volunteer services team up to the board
  • Evidence of Executive level and clinical leadership support for volunteer services in the organisation
  • The level of commitment to share learning and practices with others
  • The level of partnership working between trust and other local NHS organisations and third sector partners (if applicable)
  • The level of ambition to continuously improve the service as it scales
  • Willingness to adopt new volunteer service innovations from other trusts in the Helpforce Programme
  • Willingness to participate in other Helpforce innovation work and openness to new ways of working (e.g., volunteer passport, volunteer training, digital projects)

If we have more than one volunteer service innovation at our hospital trust, that we would like to include in our submission - is that possible?

Yes, please do. We are interested in hearing about more than one service. Please submit a separate EOI form for each innovation.

What happens next if my trust is successful with the Expression of Interest?

If your EOI is prioritised, you will be invited to work on a full proposal and funding application. Helpforce will score all proposals that have been submitted by the deadline, and a shortlist selected, based on the scoring. No more than one proposal per Trust will be selected. The shortlisted trusts will then be invited to present their proposal at an interview with Helpforce.

If shortlisted for interview with Helpforce, can my Trust claim travel expenses to attend?

In line with Helpforce policy on attending Learning Network events, travel expenses will not be reimbursed for Trusts invited for interview.

Can I ask for feedback if my EOI is unsuccessful?

We will strive to respond to all such requests and discuss if there are other ways of working together.

What is the appeals process?

The Volunteering Innovators Programme is a discretionary scheme and there is no appeal process on decisions made.

However, we do recognise that, on occasions, applicants may feel that the application process has not been followed correctly and wish to raise a concern. We treat these requests as complaints and use our complaints procedure. The first stage is ‘Informal Resolution’ where your initial complaint would be handled by the HelpForce team. Please email [email protected] If you are unhappy with Helpforce’s response you can make a formal complaint to Emma Easton at NHS England and they will investigate and get back to you with their findings.

Can I apply in November without submitting an EOI?

Unfortunately, if you have not submitted an EOI, we will not be able to accept an application for funding for your organisation. If you are interested in applying for the funding, please ensure you first submit an EOI by 31st October.

Where can I find more information about the EOI and application process?

We will be hosting a webinar on 12th October to talk about this programme. We strongly encourage potential applicants to attend this webinar. It will be an open invitation to find out more about what we are looking for from applications.
For further information and to reserve a place, please email us at [email protected]

Is it mandatory to attend the webinars?

No, but the webinar will provide useful information about the programme and allow you to ask questions, therefore attendance is encouraged but not required. We will make a replay of the webinar available on our website.

Do I have to be a part of the Helpforce Learning Network to apply for the programme?

No, but the Trust will be expected to join and participate if your application is successful.

Our hospital trust is interested in being a part of Helpforce, but we do not intend to apply for this programme; is there another way we can get involved?

You are welcome to apply to join our Learning Network. Please find more information on the Learning Network and how to apply here.

We'd like to develop our volunteering service, but don't meet the criteria to submit an expression of interest - what other support is available?

In 2017, NHS England published guidance on the effective recruitment and management of volunteers for NHS providers which may be a helpful reference for your volunteering service.

Will NHS England be involved in the selection of the final Volunteer Innovation Trusts?

Yes. NHS England is working in partnership to support the Helpforce Programme and has been involved in agreeing the criteria and will be actively involved in the selection process.