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Ilkley and District Good Neighbours (IDGN) is a charity that supports older people living independently in the areas of Ilkley and Wharfedale, West Yorkshire.

Mutual aid organisations often need to oversee money changing hands between volunteers and the people they support. This Guide shows how one charity supporting older people solved this financial problem with an app.

Steps to using an app to reimburse volunteers

During the pandemic organisations developed many different ways to reimburse volunteers. Apps can be an excellent, but more expensive solution. Consider using one if your current system is causing problems.

The kind of issues an app might help with include:

  • People don’t really want to deal with cash or cheques

  • People can’t get cash from their bank or put cheques in the post

  • Staff or volunteers find it time consuming. They have to manage spreadsheets, invoices, or email reminders.

  • People aren’t comfortable sharing their bank details directly with the people they support

  • People being supported don’t want to use Paypal

IDGN started out with a two step process at the beginning of the pandemic.

  • Volunteers submitted receipts to IDGN

  • IDGN invoiced the people who were having shopping done

They wanted something that would:

  • Take less time for staff administrating it

  • Be less complex - no more different types of transactions

  • Allow senior staff to review what was going on

  • Make sure volunteers were reimbursed on time

  • Need minimal input from the people who needed their shopping done

You need to consider:

  • What security does it offer for financial transactions - is it well used and trusted?

  • How does it store personal and financial data?

  • How easy is it to use? Is it accessible for your target group. For example, for older volunteers, buttons may need to be larger to be easier to use

  • What reporting does it offer? Does this meet management needs?

  • What information do staff see? Can they check things have been reimbursed? For ideal data security, can they do this without seeing financial details of volunteers or service users?

IDGN chose vHelp.

They like it because:

  • Service users simply have to register a card once with the app.

  • It allows a stepped process with excellent oversight

  • vHelp makes payments within 24 hours

  • The find the vHelp team to be quick and responsive when they need help. They are a small company and IDGN were one of their first partners.

  • It is very simple to download and use. Most volunteers don’t need any help to use it.

You will need to set up the app and give your team members the permissions and oversights you want them to have.

For example you should be able to choose things like:

  • Who needs to review requests for payment before they are made

  • What kind of reports can you get and who can request them

IDGN set up their app with support from vHelp. They added key coordinators who had permission to approve volunteer requests for payments. This made it easier for the people who were having their shopping done. It also gave IDGN extra safeguarding power. They were able to make sure the payment requests sounded feasible. Some older people did not have that ability themselves.

Try the new app out with one volunteer and service user. Then extend it to a few more, before you use it with everyone.

Find out what works and what doesn’t, then put processes in place to handle the issues.

IDGN tested the vHelp app.

They learned that they needed to be able to explain clearly how vHelp was storing and handling people’s information. They made sure they understood it fully and developed a way to describe the financial security in simple terms.

Some service users weren’t confident registering their card online. They could phone up to register with a charity co-ordinator at IDGN. But when they did, they needed to be sent a form to consent to the privacy policy. This could cause delays. IDGN had to find ways to make sure those forms didn’t get forgotten.

Some service users found two factor authentication (when a bank sends them a code to use) confusing. The IDGN coordinators sometimes visit them, if they can’t sort everything out on a phone call.

IDGN realised that delays to authorising reimbursements could slow the whole process down. They decided to appoint a dedicated coordinator to approve all process requests.

They also found vHelp were really helpful whenever there were any problems. For example - if payments showed as approved but IDGN thought they had been paid, they could check with vHelp if there as an error.

Make a plan for who you think will be most likely to want to try the app. Then contact each person or group in turn and give them the support they need to give it a try.

IDGN started with some older people who had reported they were finding it hard to reimburse volunteers via the old system. They also approached some family members. They predicted that they might be more comfortable with online payments than the older people. Many of them saw lots of benefit to the new system.

They also asked volunteers to discuss the app with the people they were supporting. This direct contact allowed them to decide together if the method might suit them.

With any new system there will be unexpected consequences. Keep an eye on them and suggest changes when there are problems.

IDGN realised that when volunteers uploaded receipts sometimes they threw away the originals. They reminded the volunteers to give the paper receipts to the people they were shopping for. That way the service users could check receipts against their vHelp payments in their bank statements.

Sometimes people tried to use the app for other purposes - such as getting their volunteer to pay tradesmen for them, then asking for reimbursement. IDGN had to make it clear that wasn’t allowed.

Blocked payments, and other issues do sometimes happen. IDGN watched out for these and resolved them as quickly as possible. They keep up a close relationship with vHelp.

IDGN have carried on using the app since the pandemic. It is a core part of their shopping service now.

Further information