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:

  1. Welcome new volunteers
  2. Acquaint volunteers with your organization’s mission
  3. Outline role expectations, responsibilities, and tasks

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. 

The Benefits of a Volunteer Orientation?

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: 

  • Increase confidence: Through orientation, new volunteers 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.
  • Decrease 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.
  • Strengthen 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.
  • Improve 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 a critical step in retaining that volunteer, and in turning them into a potential donor in the future.

Preparing Your Volunteer Orientation

Deciding how to conduct your volunteer orientation

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: 

  • The complexity of your orientation. A simple orientation consisting of a few written materials can easily be distributed via email. However, if you are introducing new skills better handled in person, or your volunteers are working with children or populations that may require a bit more sensitivity, in-person training may be the most effective means of communication. 
  • Group volunteering. If you’re onboarding groups of volunteers, like employees or students, an in-person orientation can be a fun–and valuable–way to communicate need-to-know information. 
  • Event volunteer orientation. You may have volunteers who are involved in the planning and implementation of an event. Depending on the extensiveness of the event, you’ll likely need to make contact with your volunteers prior to the event. This can also be an opportunity to carry out any run-throughs and event-specific training. 

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. 

Formulate a volunteer orientation outline

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:

Pre-Orientation

Orientation Attendees (Volunteers):

  • Send a welcome email and orientation invitation
  • Send orientation confirmation and supporting documents

Orientation Staff:

  • Prepare staff and management with materials and roles
  • Assign mentors (if applicable)
  • Gather day-of materials

Orientation

Upon Arrival (skip this step if conducting online): 

  • Welcome volunteers
  • Introduce staff
  • Review administrative procedures (i.e. parking, restrooms, breaks)
  • Give facility tour

Organization Overview (20 minutes)

  • Organization description and history
  • Mission, goals, and objectives
  • Structure and introduction of key staff 
  • Description of programs and clients served 
  • Timelines and descriptions of major organizational events and activities 

Culture and Language of Organization (10 minutes)

  • Policies and procedures overview
  • Clarify key terms

Coffee Break/Meet and Greet (15 minutes) 

Volunteer Program Policies and Procedures (30 minutes)

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

Closing Remarks (10 minutes)

  • Reiteration of the importance of volunteers to your organization
  • Thank volunteers for their time
  • Next steps for participation in volunteer opportunities
  • Q&A

Post-Orientation

Within 1 Week

  • Send thank you email and follow-up survey 
  • Schedule additional training (if applicable)

Within 2 Week

  • Check-in with volunteers who have not yet signed up for a need
  • Send e-newsletter with suggested volunteer opportunities

Download this volunteer orientation outline for use with your own programs!

Create a volunteer orientation agenda

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! 

Compose a volunteer orientation manual

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:  

  • Staff and Volunteer Directory
  • Mission Statement
  • Summary of Goals and Long-Term Plan
  • List of Board of Directors
  • Client Rights and Confidentiality 
  • Check-in Procedures 
  • How to Track Volunteer Hours 
  • Reimbursement Policy
  • Termination Policy
  • Dress Code (if applicable)
  • General Organization Rules and Procedures

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.

Consider creating a volunteer orientation powerpoint

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! 

Engaging Your New Volunteers

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:

  • Welcome to your organization 
  • Thank you for signing up
  • A brief introduction to your organization
  • Invitation to orientation
  • Procedure for how to confirm orientation (including any necessary email addresses or site links)

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: 

  • Volunteer Orientation Manual 
  • Volunteer Orientation Agenda 
  • Date, time, and location details or orientation
  • List of what to bring (i.e. photo ID)
  • List of what you will provide (i.e. water, coffee, nametags)
  • Day-of contact information

The Volunteer 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: 

  • Your volunteer orientation outline
  • An agenda for volunteers
  • List of orientation attendees
  • Volunteer orientation powerpoint (set-up and ready to go when volunteers arrive)
  • Copies of the volunteer orientation manual
  • Nametags, pens
  • Snacks, coffee for volunteers
  • Volunteer training supplies (If your orientation includes a training component. Supplies may be role-specific, such as CPR training equipment.)

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. 

Click here to download a printable Volunteer Orientation Checklist template.

Following-Up With Your Volunteers After Orientation

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; and 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.

Tools like a volunteer management software system can help you organize your volunteers–from orientation to impact tracking–and ensure that your volunteer programs are making the largest possible impact. 

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