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Effective Volunteer Orientations

Every association and nonprofit bring new volunteers aboard on a regular basis. In most cases (especially with smaller and/or volunteer-led organizations) the volunteers are greeted warmly, asked to show up at a certain place and time, and immediately set to work.

Though this approach is quick and to the point, it can cause problems as volunteers who were “thrown into the deep end” act without the information they need. This can cause stress and confusion for them, wasted time for the organization and fellow volunteers, and detract from your ability to help those you serve.

A solid volunteer orientation not only makes their on-the-job learning curve much less steep, it provides you an opportunity to make it clear to every volunteer that they’ve joined a quality organization that is accomplishing important work.

Let’s review some best practices for orienting new volunteers:

Plan a relatively brief orientation in five sections

Volunteers have busy lives, so limit the orientation to what’s needed to make them feel welcomed and included and give them a solid informational foundation.

The five main sections should be:

● A warm welcome and short greeting message

● An icebreaker or getting-to-know-you activity

● Organizational overview—Mission, current goals, history, accomplishments, structure

● Volunteer responsibility/policy overview

● Site tour

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

Warm Welcome—In addition to warm greetings (and perhaps some refreshments), a brief welcome from the head of your board or a senior staff member will help volunteers realize their importance.

Icebreaker—These folks will be working together during the session and maybe for years to come, so break the ice! Even something as simple as asking a question (“What is your favorite leisure activity?” What’s something unique about your hometown?”) and passing a Koosh ball to the person who has to answer next can get people in a better mood and reduce reluctance.

Organizational Overview—Don’t forget including the accomplishments of your organization. Reviewing these achievements will give volunteers confidence and esprit de corps, assurance their work really will make a difference, and a word of mouth “PR story” they are likely to share with friends, family, and coworkers.

Volunteer Responsibilities and Policies—Don’t drill down into the responsibilities of every position; save that for when the volunteer begins operating in the role or present it in their take-home package. Address what is required of every volunteer and the policies that apply to everyone in the organization.

Site Tour—This is not just a good way to (literally) orient the volunteers, it’s a perfect time to familiarize them with volunteer and staff roles, and field questions.

Speaking of questions, include time for questions in each section of the orientation, with the possible exception of the icebreaker.

Send them home with great stuff

Make sure each orientee goes home with a three-ring binder or wire-bound volunteer handbook (no stacks of hand-outs!) they can easily use as a future reference. But also give them a T-shirt and other cool branded items, both as a thank you and a way to spread the word about your mission.

The handbook should include:

● The information you’re presenting during their in-person session, including all policies

● Ample for note-taking

● A job description for the particular volunteer’s position

● An organizational chart, with contact information for senior staff

● Any ancillary information they will find helpful, such as FAQ’s

Get feedback, and a signature

To reduce liability, make sure you have each volunteer sign a document certifying they received the handbook. Consider asking them to fill out a brief comment card at the end of the orientation, but whether you do that or not, reach out to each volunteer in 30 or 60 days to ask them for feedback. By then, they will have enough experience to tell you about any information that was missing or extra fat you can cut.

Could Your Association Benefit from Working with an Association Management Company?

At V2, we’ve provided full service and outsourced services for national associations for many years and can deliver the resources and expertise that help you thrive. Get in touch with us today, and let’s see how we can improve your meetings, staff relations, and orientation together.


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