How to Build An Effective Volunteer Orientation Program

Posted Thursday, November 2nd, 2017 by Sterling Volunteers Staff

You have created a compelling and comprehensive position description and used a variety of channels to get the word out that you need volunteers for your program, but recruiting a fantastic candidate is only half the battle.

Because your volunteers are one of the pillars of your nonprofit’s success, you want to be just as communicative and engaged once they’ve been recruited – and that means having a thorough orientation program ready to welcome new volunteers. A good volunteer orientation program empowers volunteers and informs new recruits of what exactly lies ahead of them. Read on to learn what’s involved in creating an effective orientation program from start to finish.

The Initial Contact

Orientation should begin the moment you make contact with the new volunteer, whether it’s speaking on the phone or exchanging emails. Reach out to your new volunteer while the excitement of giving back to the community through volunteering is still fresh on their mind!

In these first crucial moments, you are communicating more than a simple welcome message – you’re giving the volunteer a wealth of information about your nonprofit and the change you create in your community. With each communication, your volunteer should get a sense of your expectations and your nonprofit’s mission.

Orientation Time

Once you’ve made contact, established a good rapport and scheduled the first meeting, it’s time for the volunteer’s formal orientation. An orientation differs from a training program in that the goal of this session is to familiarize the volunteer candidate with your nonprofit’s mission and expectations. Usually led by a volunteer manager, think of orientation as a great informational overview that says, “Welcome, this is who we are, what we do and why you’re going to love volunteering with us!”

Here’s a sample orientation outline to get you started:

  • Organization Overview History of the nonprofit Mission, current goals, and objectives Organizational structure and staff Description of programs and clients served Timelines and descriptions of major organizational events and activities
  • Culture of the Organization Policies and procedures Glossary of terms
  • Facilities and Staff Tour of the facility Where to store personal belongings Guide to “who’s who” and “who does what” Location of restrooms, supplies, etc. Parking Arrangements for breaks, meals and refreshments
  • Volunteer Program Policies and Procedures Types of tasks or other ways in which volunteers contribute Service requirements Check-in procedures Training opportunities Continuation/termination policies Evaluation procedures

What does a thorough orientation like the one above achieve for you and your organization? Easy, it sets up a new volunteer for success and helps your organization create even more change in the community.

Written Materials

In the age of electronics, tangible handouts like a volunteer orientation manual are still invaluable when it comes to creating a great orientation program. Consider emailing a copy of all materials ahead of orientation for volunteers to keep in their records. You can also ask them to print the materials out and bring them to orientation to save organizational resources. Written materials help reinforce the information presented in the orientation presentation. Keep this in mind: a volunteer manual, no matter how informative, should not replace a face-to-face orientation.

Your volunteer manual can include:

  • general rules and procedures
  • staff and volunteer directory
  • a copy of the nonprofit’s mission statement
  • check-in procedures
  • how to track volunteer hours
  • dress code
  • reimbursement policy for things like gasoline
  • termination policy

3 Benefits to a Comprehensive  Orientation Program

As you know, one of the benefits of an orientation program is that it shows the volunteer how their efforts fit into the larger mission. But there are several other benefits as well:

  1. Increased confidence. An engaging and detailed orientation gives a new volunteer the confidence to jump into their role and begin making an impact right away. Why? They know the rules, where things are and all about the change they are making on behalf of your organization.
  2. Decrease risk for your organization. When volunteers have a solid knowledge of policies and procedures it makes sense that they are less likely to encounter problems while partnered with your organization. Clear guidelines from the start save resources because you’ll do less damage control in the future.
  3. Better volunteer retention. Enthusiasm is contagious and keeps volunteers coming back day after day, week after week, to assist your organization and its mission. You can create this enthusiasm from the start and cultivate motivation by sharing with volunteers all the change they are creating with their time and efforts. This is a critical step in retaining that volunteer, and in turning them into a potential donor in the future.

Most nonprofits rely on happy, recurring volunteers to carry out their goals. By putting effort into your volunteer orientation program, you are ensuring that every volunteer knows how to best serve your organization.

Volunteer managers – what’s your organization’s strategy for creating a detailed, unforgettable orientation program for new volunteers? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to share thoughts and ideas with us. Connect with us on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn to share your comments!*

*This blog originally appeared on Galaxy Digital’s website.

Sterling Volunteers Newsletter
Sign Up For Our Newsletter