Volunteering for a Telephone Helpline
If you have a desire to help people, good listening skills and a clear speaking voice then you may want to consider volunteering with a telephone helpline. Helplines exist for a wide variety of reasons and causes from Childline and the Samaritans where a listening ear is paramount to local helplines which give information and advice.
Can You Commit to This Kind of Work?Take some time to think about what kind of commitment you would like to give. Are you able to deal with callers who may be distressed, upset or even suicidal? Or would you prefer to volunteer for a helpline which gives out factual information to callers? You can find out more about the helplines operating in your area by consulting your local library or council of voluntary organisations.
When you get in touch with the helpline you would like to volunteer with you will find out whether you will work from a central call centre or whether you will work from home. In the majority of cases you will work from a central office, this is because the technology for working from home may not be in place but also so that trained supervisors can be on hand to provide guidance and support throughout your shift.
Volunteering Hours for HelplinesHelpline opening hours vary. Some run 24 hours a day while others may only operate for a few hours on selected days. You will be asked to commit to a regular time slot once or more a week and to set aside a fixed number of hours such as two or three. This is your shift and ideally you will undertake the same shift each week.
Before you begin you should receive comprehensive training. This will include familiarisation with the equipment as well as listening skills and how to deal with difficult callers. Each helpline will offer unique training that is appropriate to the calls it receives. For example if you volunteer for a debt helpline you will be offered training on consumer advice, benefits, bankruptcy and debt management. For a helpline designed to provide emotional support there may be extensive training over a period of time so that supervisors can prepare you fully and assess your suitability for dealing with sensitive calls. It may be several weeks or longer before you complete your training and are ready to begin answering calls.
Qualities Needed to Work on a HelplineWhen you log in for your shift you will be expected to represent the values of the helpline to callers. You will need to show patience, tact and diplomacy and take the time to allow callers to fully explain themselves. Some callers may be unclear at first about what they want or need and so you will need to develop the skills to encourage them to express themselves in a way that can be fully understood.
Telephone helpline work can be demanding and challenging. It is certainly unpredictable as you will never know in advance who is calling or what problem or issue they will raise. It can also be incredibly rewarding and makes a significant difference to the lives of callers.