Home » Volunteer Orientation: Setting Volunteers Up For Success
The success of your volunteer program depends on the enthusiastic work of informed, prepared volunteers. Whether you are a church, university, or volunteer center, one of the best ways to empower your new volunteers is through effective volunteer orientation.
What Is a Volunteer Orientation?
A thoughtful new volunteer orientation ensures your volunteer recruitment efforts don’t go to waste. An effective orientation serves to:
Orientation is often led by a volunteer coordinator and may be supported by experienced volunteers.
What’s the difference between volunteer orientation and volunteer training?
Generally, your volunteer orientation is an overview of your organization’s mission and expectations. An informational orientation should be the first step to training volunteers in nonprofit participation. Volunteer orientation is just one part of a productive volunteer training program.
As you know, the orientation program demonstrates how the volunteer’s efforts fit into your larger mission. A well-planned volunteer orientation can also serve to:
There are several ways to conduct a volunteer orientation. Many volunteer orientations are conducted in-person in a group setting. Orientation groups are a great way to train many new volunteers at once. Plus, volunteers will benefit from a group orientation–it can be fun and encourage volunteers to get to know one another for improved collaboration.
Choose a time where your volunteers are more likely to attend, like early evenings or weekends. You may want to have several orientation times and dates available when volunteers tend to sign up the most–like around the holidays or the beginning of summer.
If your volunteers have busy schedules, or you want them to begin as soon as possible, you may consider conducting an online volunteer orientation. Online orientations are becoming increasingly common, as volunteers can acquaint themselves with your orientation materials in their own time. Plus, the online volunteer orientation and training program can save your organization time and money.
Before deciding how to deliver your orientation, you may want to consider the following:
You should also consider planning an orientation that exists both online and in-person. Send documents via email so volunteers can read them in their own time, then gather your volunteers to conduct “stand-up” training. This way, you’ll make the most of your face-to-face time.
Whether your orientation is held in-person or online, you’ll find it useful to have materials like a volunteer orientation outline, manual, and any other supplemental information in writing. We worked with one of our customers, Volunteer Maine, to create an orientation outline to help you better plan your new volunteer orientation. This resource is different from a more general
volunteer training program outline, as it only covers items related specifically to your organization’s orientation process. Your outline should include orientation preparation requirements, a day-of agenda, and post-orientation follow-up:
Orientation Attendees (Volunteers):
Upon Arrival (skip this step if conducting online):
Organization Overview (20 minutes)
Culture and Language of Organization (10 minutes)
Coffee Break/Meet and Greet (15 minutes)
Volunteer Program Policies and Procedures (30 minutes)
Closing Remarks (10 minutes)
Within 1 Week
Within 2 Week
This should be a document that you send out to your volunteers so they know what the day looks like. This agenda may look similar to your outline but paired down to supply only need-to-know information. Download this volunteer orientation agenda PDF sample for ideas to get you started!
This written resource will work to reinforce the information presented in your orientation and training. The new volunteer manual may be a component of a larger volunteer manual for nonprofits, but can serve The manual can be distributed via email, so that your volunteers are prepared prior to your orientation. It can be used to field questions that arise in the course of the volunteer’s time with your agency, and it can serve as an internal checklist to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Keep in mind that a volunteer manual should not replace a formal orientation. Your manual should include:
The manual will serve as a framework for onboarding new volunteers. While the manual can be reused for years to come, it’s generally best practice to revisit written documents annually, or in the event of any operational changes.
You may feel like you’re throwing a lot of information at your volunteers. Why not summarize your main points in a PowerPoint? The PowerPoint can serve as a visual outline for the discussion-based portion of your orientation. Include slides on your organization’s mission and goals and any other information that you can make more digestible for your volunteers (think “snapshots” of information rather than lots of text). Don’t forget to include images!
Reach out to your volunteers promptly after they register for an opportunity. Your goal with this initial contact is to introduce your organization’s mission and invite them to attend an orientation program. The simplest way to reach your new volunteers is via email. Consider a volunteer management software that includes an e-mail communication tool that helps you filter users based on opportunity, so you can efficiently and effectively tailor your messages. You may want to include the following information in your initial outreach:
After the volunteer registers for an orientation, you’ll want to send another email that gives volunteers a sense of what to expect at volunteer orientation. Include or attach supplemental documents that will help acquaint attendees with your volunteerism program prior to orientation:
Now that you have a plan and your materials are prepared, it’s time to implement the orientation! Start by making sure your materials are prepared and printed in advance. Even if you decide to conduct your orientation online, ensure your documents are finished and organized before implementing your new orientation. We recommend creating a simple volunteer orientation checklist like this one to ensure you have all the supplies you need (packed and ready to go) for the day of your orientation:
There are quite a few components and materials that make up the volunteer orientation. Your new volunteer orientation checklist is just one simple way to ensure a seamless orientation for your volunteers.
Your work isn’t finished after orientation. It’s important to maintain contact with your volunteers. A follow-up email is a great way to encourage volunteers to sign up for new opportunities and invite participants to attend a further volunteer training.
It’s also important to evaluate the effectiveness of your orientation program and collect feedback from your volunteers. You may want to consider conducting a volunteer orientation survey (within a week of the orientation). You can ask your volunteers questions like:
What did you find most valuable about your volunteer orientation?
What questions do you still have? What are you hoping to learn more about?
What do you wish you learned more about during your volunteer orientation?
What would you change about–or add to–your orientation experience?
The goal of volunteer orientation and training is to foster a happy, prepared volunteer base. Volunteer orientation is just one component of setting up a robust volunteer program. You’re more likely to set your volunteer program up for success when you put the time, effort, and thought into preparing and training your volunteer base.
Technology tools like volunteer management software can help you organize your volunteers–from orientation to impact tracking–and ensure that your volunteer programs are making the largest possible impact.
Author: Annelise Ferry
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