Your nonprofit likely depends on the enthusiastic work of your volunteers. Whether they’re providing childcare, helping with taxes, or sorting in-kind donations, volunteers are often integral to the overall success of an organization.

Your efforts should not stop once you’ve recruited a volunteer. You need to welcome them, introduce them to your organization, and carefully explain the expectations and tasks that lie ahead of them.  One of the best ways to empower and inform your new volunteers is through a volunteer orientation that is effective from start to finish.

The initial contact

You should begin orienting your new volunteer from the first point of contact. This may include speaking on the phone for the first time, exchanging introductory emails, or meeting the recruit for an interview.

Though this may seem premature, it is essential to reach out to your new volunteer as early as possible. In these first crucial moments, you are communicating a wealth of information about your nonprofit and how you conduct business. Your volunteer can get a sense of your expectations, your mission, the seriousness of your organization, and other things that reflect on your nonprofit.

This informal orientation is extremely important because the recruit’s first impression of you and your nonprofit may be the difference between a one-time volunteer and a lifelong one.

The formal orientation

You should follow this initial orientation with a more thorough instruction about your nonprofit’s mission and expectations. To be clear, this is not a training program, but more an informational overview of the key aspects of your organization.

Usually, the orientation is given by a volunteer manager. One of our clients, Volunteer Maine, did a fantastic job outlining the following key aspects of an orientation program:

Agency Overview
Description and history of the agency
Mission, goals, and objectives
Organization, structure, and introduction of key staff
Description of programs and clients served
Time lines and descriptions of major organizational events and activities

Culture and Language of the Organization
Handbook of policies and procedures
Glossary of terms Index to codes and abbreviations

Facilities and Staff
Tour of the facility
Where to store personal belongings
Explanation of “who’s who” and “who does what”
Location of rest rooms, supplies and equipment
Arrangements for breaks, meals and refreshments
Parking

Volunteer Program Policies and Procedures

Types of tasks or other ways in which volunteers contribute
Service requirements
Check-in procedures
Recordkeeping
Training opportunities
Continuation/termination policies
Evaluation procedures

If you’ve properly acquainted your volunteers with the above topics, even the most tedious tasks can become impactful. The benefit of having a  good orientation program is that volunteers will see how their efforts fit into the bigger picture.

Written materials

It is always a good idea to have your orientation materials in writing. The length of your orientation document will vary depending on the complexity of the volunteer’s task and the size of your organization. It can also range from a one-page fact sheet to a multi-page manual.

This written resource will work to reinforce the information presented in orientation and training. 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, no matter how informative, should not replace a face-to-face orientation.
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Your volunteer manual can include:

  • staff and volunteer directory
  • a copy of the nonprofit’s mission statement
  • a Board of Directors list
  • information on client rights and confidentiality
  • check-in procedures
  • how to track their volunteer hours
  • the dress code, if applicable
  • reimbursement policy for things like gasoline
  • a description of the termination policy
  • general rules and procedures of your organization

The benefits of an 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.

  • Increased confidence. Your recruit can develop an increased sense of confidence in their work. If a person is uncomfortable soliciting donations, for instance, they may feel more at ease doing so when they realize that the donations will help a child buy school supplies for the coming school year.

  • Decreased risk. You can decrease the risk of future problems with your volunteer. If clear procedures and guidelines are explained from the start, you’ll save resources that may otherwise be spent on answering questions, fielding misunderstandings, or dispelling misconceptions about your organization.

  • Strengthened public image. Much like a staff member, your volunteer represents your organization when in public. The more informed they are about your operations and cause, the more they can fuel your public relations, recruitment, and marketing efforts by extension.
  • Better volunteer retention. You can foster a sense of enthusiasm in your volunteer right from the start. If you cultivate the motivation and excitement in a volunteer, you will reaffirm their decision to volunteer for you. This is critical step in retaining that volunteer, and in turning them into a potential donor in the future.

In conclusion

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. You will communicate how important the volunteer is to fulfilling your mission and and show them how they fit into the greater picture. An informative orientation is one of the biggest steps you can take to retain your volunteers past a one-time service opportunity, so put in the effort and see the rewards!

Do you have something that you like to include in your orientation that isn’t mentioned here? We’d love for other nonprofits to share their insights!