Volunteers are vital to the success of many organizations. About 77.3 million people volunteer with at least one organization, according to the U.S. Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). These people perform a huge variety of tasks, from walking dogs, tutoring kids, and serving food at food kitchens to filing paperwork, running errands, and fundraising. And their work has a measurable monetary value — nearly $200 billion per year, spread across almost 6.9 billion hours for an average of about $29.95 worth of work per volunteer hour.
Even more importantly, volunteers also often become ambassadors for your mission. They take their stories of work and fulfillment back to the community and encourage others to become involved as volunteers or supporters as well.
But how can you build a strong volunteer program? And what are some volunteer training best practices? One of the best ways to set your volunteers up for success is with a quality volunteer orientation. Though your volunteers may have done online research, and you may have sent them a welcome packet of information, there’s no substitute for speaking to your volunteers in person and letting them know what working with your organization will be like.
If you find yourself wishing for a volunteer orientation template, we have you covered. We’ve put together this handy guide for how to create a volunteer orientation program. In this volunteer orientation guide, we’ll discuss some volunteer onboarding tips and what should be included in volunteer orientation.
What Does Volunteer Orientation Entail?
A volunteer orientation program usually entails a few main processes: conveying a good sense of your organization’s culture and ethos, imparting necessary information, and welcoming new volunteers into your organization. When you’re planning how to onboard volunteers, make sure you include all these components – they are crucial to your volunteer program’s success.
Conveying a sense of your organization’s mission helps volunteers determine whether they will be a good fit. Giving volunteers the tools they need to understand what you expect of them and how to do their tasks well is essential to their success in their roles. It also helps boost their happiness and sense of fulfillment. And creating a welcoming, collegial atmosphere is vital for making volunteers want to keep coming back. Fortunately, a good volunteer orientation can help get your relationship with volunteers off to a great start in every area.
Benefits of Volunteer Orientation Programs
Volunteer orientation programs offer several different advantages for your organization:
Imparting Essential Information
A volunteer orientation program makes it easy to ensure that all volunteers receive the information they need. Sure, you may send out a welcome packet or have a volunteer manual in your office, but you can never be certain who will read the information. People may get busy, forget, or misplace the packet. Holding an in-person orientation allows you to make sure the essential information gets across.
Getting Everyone on the Same Page
All volunteers should have the same information so they can work well with each other and blend seamlessly into your organization. Even if all volunteers receive the same details, each of them may interpret those details differently. By having an orientation, you can make sure everyone has a chance to ask follow-up questions so it’s clear what your organization expects from its volunteers.
One of the great benefits of using a volunteer orientation as part of your volunteer onboarding program is that it lets you explicitly tie your mundane daily activities to your overarching organizational goals. Doing this can help volunteers feel more motivated and encouraged. Imagine that you’re a political organization, and one of your volunteer activities involves going door to door to raise awareness about a ballot issue.
Many volunteers may feel reluctant to knock on doors and bother strangers at home. But if you use your orientation to explain why the ballot initiative is so important in your community — it would get many homeless families off the streets, for example – then volunteers are much more likely to overcome their fears and reach out to people for this necessary conversation.
Even if their designated tasks are simple, such as stuffing envelopes or snuggling with cats, it’s easy for new volunteers to become overwhelmed when they come in for shifts because everything is new. They may not know where the bathrooms are, where they can park, or whom they can ask for help if they need it.
Orientation provides a low-stakes place for volunteers to get acquainted with your organization and the work environment. That way, when volunteers come in for their first shifts, they will feel more secure and confident.
Once your volunteers set their schedules, they may not see each other regularly, or they may become so busy that they don’t take time to get to know one another. An orientation helps break the ice. Orientation activities offer opportunities for volunteers to begin to build relationships with one another and gives them friendly faces to say hello to on their first shifts.
It’s never a good feeling to watch volunteers show up for a few months or weeks — or a few days — and then never come back again. According to the CNCS, one out of every three people who volunteer during a given year will not volunteer during the next. Luckily, a good orientation can help you retain volunteers. If your orientation is clear about volunteer responsibilities and also makes volunteers feel comfortable and appreciated, you’ll be much more likely to have people return.
How to Create a Volunteer Orientation Plan and Template
Creating a volunteer orientation plan or template is essential. When you’re working on your volunteer orientation outline, be sure to include the following components.
1. Offer a Warm Welcome and Introductions
When the volunteers arrive, be sure to introduce yourself and any other key staff members. Introduce every new volunteer to the organization with a warm welcome and a thank-you message — this will help volunteers feel appreciated for their time and skills for your mission. Then give the volunteers a tour of your facility. A tour helps volunteers get their bearings, and they can also look and see whether the environment seems like one they would enjoy spending time in.
2. Provide an Overview of Your Organization and Mission
The next step is to give your volunteers an overview of your organization. Explain the details of what your organization does, and talk about your mission and your long-term and short-term goals. You can also discuss some brief history, some of your organization’s major accomplishments and milestones, and some facts like how many employees work there or what kinds of community events you hold.
Providing this information allows volunteers to get inspired, feel the importance of their role, and become immersed in your mission. The more they know about your organizational goals, the more valuable they can feel in their efforts to help. You can also discuss any key terms of your organization, how your mission was founded, or who your organization serves in this overview to provide a more detailed picture for volunteers.
3. Guide Volunteers Through the Policies and Procedures
Instruction about policies should form a key part of your volunteer orientation agenda. You want to let them in on how your organization operates and discuss different rules for certain tasks. Tell your volunteers about your organization’s policies, why they are in place, and what you will do to enforce them. For safety reasons, maybe child volunteers must be accompanied by an adult. Or for reasons of consistency, maybe you require your volunteers to make a minimum commitment of hours per month.
Being upfront about these policies lets your volunteers know what you expect of them and how they can support you best. Going over these topics ahead of time can help volunteers prevent issues and feel more prepared.
You should also talk about the procedures volunteers should follow. If you use volunteer management software, instruct your volunteers on how to log in and track their hours. You should also let them know about other routine procedures, such as checking in with a supervisor, always wearing their name tags, and finding out what projects need volunteers most urgently that day.
Explain any other essential volunteer program policies, including:
- Service requirements.
- Check-in procedures.
- Evaluation and continuation policies.
- Any additional ways volunteers can contribute.
Be sure to point out the first aid kit and explain where to go in an emergency as well.
4. Outline Details of Volunteer Positions and Responsibilities
Of course, you should also instruct your volunteers on the details of their positions. If positions involve giving information to the public, explain how tours or presentations should run and what messages are essential to communicate. If positions involve tutoring children after school, you should explain the logistics of how these sessions will go.
Note that volunteer orientation and training are different — a detailed training session will come later, if necessary. But you should establish details like required arrival times or hours, the dress code, how to give notice for missing a volunteer shift, and how to prioritize tasks. Although your volunteers have signed up for roles they might already have experience in or are most suited for, it doesn’t hurt to go over any details or show them where they can access training tools.
If your organization has different categories volunteers can work in, provide smaller orientations for each committee or event. If you have a large number of new volunteers or a long list of responsibilities to discuss, it’s a good idea to include a break before this step so you can have everyone’s full attention.
5. Identify Volunteer Leaders
Part of your volunteer orientation schedule should also include identifying volunteer leaders. Your organization may benefit from having a hierarchy of volunteers, with those who are more experienced providing guidance and mentorship to those who are new.
Some new volunteers may already have a wealth of experience, so be sure to ask who feels comfortable volunteering for a leadership position. One easy way to identify leaders is to give out different-colored name tags. New volunteers might wear green name tags, for example, and know they can go for help to the more experienced volunteers who wear yellow name tags.
6. Explain Organization Culture and Goals
Remember to provide your volunteers with insight into your organizational culture. Maybe your organization is a conservation group where the atmosphere is casual and laid-back, joking around is encouraged, and people are free to wear whatever attire is most comfortable. Or maybe you work for an arts organization where conservative attire is required and a serious, professional attitude is essential.
Be sure to discuss any organizational requirements or goals you would like volunteers to reach. For example, your organization might prefer volunteers to commit to a certain number of events or amount of hours. Discuss how these requirements tie into your organizational culture and why these milestones are important for your mission. Keep volunteers in the loop every step of the way.
7. Discuss Volunteer Benefits
Volunteers offer many benefits to your organization, but when you’re thinking about volunteer orientation basics, don’t forget about the benefits to your volunteers as well. If you offer any perks to your volunteers, be sure to let them know. Maybe volunteers have access to free coffee, snacks, and sodas in your offices.
Maybe you offer discounted merchandise or complimentary tickets to events, or maybe volunteers get to come on humanitarian trips abroad. Whatever benefits you offer, let volunteers know about them during orientation so they can have something exciting to look forward to in exchange for all their hard work.
8. Wrap Up With a Q&A Session
The last item on your volunteer onboarding checklist is your closing remarks. When you’re ready to wrap up your orientation, transition into a Q&A session. With luck, you’ve already answered many questions during the presentation, but other queries are certain to pop up. Offering a chance to ask questions is informative for volunteers and also helps you save time — answering a question once publicly saves you from having to answer it 10 times via email.
Once you’ve answered everyone’s questions and addressed any concerns, you can also use this time to explain any other training options or opportunities for volunteers, such as a shadowing opportunity. This can give first-time volunteers a hands-on look at the work they will be doing and prepare them for their first day.
Lastly, close out your orientation by guiding volunteers to their agreement forms or any documents they need to sign or review before leaving for the day. At this time, confirm each volunteer’s availability and schedule and provide closing remarks, including:
- Reiterating the importance of volunteers to your organization.
- Thanking volunteers for their time.
- Hand out volunteer orientation packets.
- Providing next steps for participation in volunteer opportunities or training options.
Volunteer Orientation Best Practices
We also want to discuss best practices as part of this new volunteer orientation guide. To get the best results, make sure to incorporate these best practices for volunteer orientation.
Be Proactive With Preorientation
A few days before the orientation, send a welcome email to volunteers with information about where to meet for orientation and when. An email like this will boost participation and minimize confusion. Making sure volunteers have a written copy of the logistical details they need helps ensure that they show up on time and know where to go.
Before the volunteer orientation, you should also send any relevant materials, along with a rough outline of what you will cover during orientation. You should also send the login information for your volunteer management software so volunteers can get a head start on setting up their accounts. Sending volunteers the information they need helps them come to the meeting prepared and minimizes the time your organization must spend on distributing materials and assisting with accounts.
Create a Manual and Handbook
Before your volunteer orientation, it’s also a great idea to put together a volunteer orientation manual or handbook. You can share this handbook with volunteers after orientation is over as a reference. Let volunteers know that if they ever have questions or need to refresh their memories about certain policies, the handbook is a great place to start, though they can always come to you with questions they don’t find answered there.
Create a Slideshow
For keeping volunteers engaged as you present during your new volunteer orientation program, slideshows are a wonderful tool. Using a colorful, visually appealing set of slides that you can project from your computer helps keep volunteers focused, and allowing volunteers to concentrate on a single slide at a time helps make the material seem more appealing and manageable.
Remember to use slides to list key points that you then elaborate upon verbally — you want to engage with the volunteers directly rather than just reading from your slides.
Split Into Pairs
Working in pairs is an excellent strategy both for breaking the ice and for enhancing knowledge retention. Getting to know the whole group may seem intimidating for volunteers, but getting to know one other person is easy and manageable — and can even be fun. And having volunteers explain different protocols to each other or go over important points together helps them learn the material more thoroughly than if they were merely passively listening.
Use Name Tags
Don’t forget to use name tags as part of your volunteer onboarding best practices. Supply name tags for your volunteers, and remember to wear one yourself. Using name tags helps you learn volunteers’ names, and allows the volunteers to begin to get to know one another.
It’s great to have a template for how to build a volunteer orientation program, but don’t forget to customize it as necessary. It’s always a great idea to customize orientations for different volunteer roles in the organization. For example, if your animal shelter has separate dog volunteers and cat volunteers, you’ll most likely want to have those volunteers come in for separate orientations.
Or if you have some library volunteers who will be shelving and some who will be assisting patrons, give those orientations separately as well so volunteers can focus on their particular roles and responsibilities.
Make a Volunteer Orientation Checklist
It’s helpful to develop an internal new volunteer checklist to ensure that you’ve taken the necessary steps to get each volunteer to help with the work of your organization. Keep this checklist in your volunteer management software so everyone can access it easily.
Create a Welcoming Environment
This point may be one of the best volunteer orientation tips of all. One of the great benefits of volunteers is all they can do for your organization — so remember to show your gratitude by making volunteers feel welcome and appreciated.
Make sure you have enough chairs, a comfortable room temperature, some tasty refreshments — or at least some water — and clearly marked nearby bathrooms. Of course, be sure to thank your potential volunteers for their interest and commitment as well.
Following Up After Orientation
Your work doesn’t end when your new volunteers head out, inspired and full of purpose. You should always follow up with volunteers after orientation to learn about their experiences. When you contact volunteers after orientation — perhaps by emailing them a short survey — try doing the following:
- Ask for takeaways: Ask your new volunteers what they took away from the information they heard. What’s the one main point that will stick with them? What did they most enjoy learning about? Hearing what volunteers gleaned from your presentation and activities will help you hone your orientation material for the future.
- See if volunteers have questions: Ask volunteers what questions they have now. They may have had their initial questions answered during orientation, but the new material they learned may have led to further questions. By answering follow-up questions, you can help make your volunteers feel more confident and excited to begin.
- Request feedback: Finally, ask your new volunteers what feedback they have for you. What would volunteers change about the orientation experience, and what was helpful? You can ask volunteers to comment on the helpfulness of materials, the organization of the event, the clarity of communications before and during orientation, and anything else that might help you improve your processes. The more specific you can be with your questions, the more likely it is that volunteers will be honest with their feedback.
Contact Volgistics for Help With Setting Volunteers up for Success
Now that you have a handy volunteer orientation guide, you’re ready to get started orienting and managing your volunteers.
When you’re looking for a practical, user-friendly way to manage your volunteers, turn to Volgistics. Volgistics provides a flexible, intuitive, customizable platform your organization can use to manage its volunteer program more efficiently. Volgistics’ toolbox of functionality allows you to recruit volunteers, schedule orientations, perform background screenings, track on-boarding progress, and much more.