Abstract This paper explores the roles played by volunteers in independent hospices in Britain. After a brief description of the development of this movement, some findings are given from a postal survey of 401 volunteers from 33 hospices. A considerable internal differentiation was found in the types of responsibility taken by volunteers and they could be distinguished as Administrators, Counsellors, Carers or Ancillaries. Some of these had considerable specialised skills, either derived from work elsewhere or developed specifically for their hospice work. The use of these skills and access to required information could be seen as a challenge to the professional power and knowledge base of the paid staff.