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 — $167 billion per year, spread across almost 6.9 billion hours for an average of about $24.20 worth of work per volunteer hour.
Even more important, 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 mislay 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.
- Clarifying goals: 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.
- Establishing familiarity: Even if their designated tasks are simple, such as stuffing envelopes or snuggling with cats, it’s easy for 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.
- Establishing community: 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.
- Increasing retention: 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.
Creating a Volunteer Orientation Plan or 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:
- Introductions and tour: When the volunteers arrive, be sure to introduce yourself and any other key staff members. 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.
- Overview of organization: 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.
- Policies: Instruction about policies should form a key part of your volunteer orientation agenda. 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.
- Procedures: 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. Be sure to point out the first aid kit and explain where to go in an emergency as well.
- Details of volunteer positions: 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.
- Identifying 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.
- Organization culture: 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.
- 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.
- Questions and answers: 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.
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.
- Offer materials: Before the volunteer orientation, you should alsosend 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 toput 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.
- Customize: 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.