Volunteerism currently has an estimated value of over $184 billion dollars. Without them, many nonprofits and other organizations would not be able to accomplish what they have so far. It’s clear that the volunteers for your own program and organization are vital partners for reaching those essential milestones and overall mission.
That’s why it’s crucial that, as a volunteer management leader, you do all you can to prepare your volunteers and ensure they’re equipped to not only support your mission but also represent it. This is where volunteer orientation comes in.
You’ve likely undergone orientations before, whether it’s for school or for a new job. Generally, the volunteer orientation process is an overview of the organization’s missions and goals. It is also the first step to training volunteers for your program.
An effective volunteer orientation will welcome new volunteers, ensure they’re familiar with your mission, and outline expectations, responsibilities, and the task at hand. Successfully orienting volunteers sets the stage for a thriving relationship, while an unorganized orientation might be enough to turn the volunteer away for good.
Essentials to Cover in a Volunteer Orientation
What you include in your volunteer orientation will be ultimately unique to your program and mission. However, there are a couple of points that are essential to cover, which you’ll be exploring in this guide. Make sure to:
- Welcome volunteers
- Introduce your organization
- Describe volunteer program
- Explain organization structure
- Outline volunteer procedures
Managing your volunteers involves a lot of moving parts, so don’t worry if you ever feel overwhelmed. Having your volunteer orientation strategy laid out and planned in advance will ensure you start off the engagement on the right foot.
Taking insight from this Mobilize article, once someone is recruited you still need to “invest energy into retaining your new volunteers.” That’s why welcoming volunteers is a core component of your volunteer orientation— after all, it is the first major engagement after recruitment. A strong orientation program is ready to receive new recruits and help safeguard that investment.
A great way to welcome your volunteers and kickstart the orientation process (especially amid today’s social distancing challenges) is to simply send them a welcome email.
In the email, make sure to:
- Address the volunteer by name. They want to know that you acknowledge them and appreciate their support for your mission.
- Include the procedure for accessing the orientation. Chances are your orientation will take place virtually. If so, what program or website should the volunteer go to and how do they start the orientation?
- Provide them with the necessary orientation resources. Consider sending them a schedule, checklist, or outline with what the orientation consists of, like whether it’s a powerpoint presentation or a more in-depth training that needs to be done.
- Show appreciation for the volunteer signing up. Volunteers are helping your organization without asking for anything in return. In order to start this relationship off on the right foot, it’s critical that you thank them for their initial effort and show appreciation for even participating in the orientation.
Once you welcome your volunteers, you can move onto officially introducing your organization and mission.
Introduce Your Organization.
Whether you’re able to do the orientation online or in-person, the first step will be introducing your organization. After all, you have to ensure that volunteers know exactly who they’re supporting and the types of goals they’re working to accomplish.
This not only provides the necessary overview but also reminds volunteers of why they signed up in the first place. You definitely don’t want to lose your volunteer recruits because your orientation represents your organization as aimless or overly focused on goals not immediately relevant to your mission.
When you introduce your organization, make sure that at the end, your volunteers are fully familiar with:
- The mission statement. Short and impactful are always the best move for nonprofit mission statements. Explain how your mission statement informs everything your nonprofit does, including how your volunteers themselves will directly help to further it.
- Summary of goals and long-term plan. In addition to the mission statement, make sure you dive deeper into your organization’s specific goals and long-term plans. This is a great way to break down what needs to get done in order to accomplish your mission, but also shows volunteers that you have a plan in place and their hours will go to something genuinely impactful.
- General organizational rules and procedures. If your organization has any specific rules for volunteers, such as what to share on social media due to privacy issues, it should be outlined clearly and provided for future reference.
- Past accomplishments. Make sure to tell your volunteers about some of the biggest past accomplishments of your program. Knowing that your organization has made a real and measurable difference in the past shows volunteers that they’re support is going towards something legitimate.
The introduction of your organization should show volunteers your overarching mission and goals. Next, you’ll help volunteers dive deeper into the exact volunteer program they registered for.
Describe Your Volunteer Program.
Volunteer orientation is the first step in training volunteers for your organization’s program. Describing the specifics of the volunteer program at hand can help volunteers visualize exactly how their support and actions fit in.
First off, make sure to summarize all the tasks in your volunteer program. Depending on the types of events, campaigns, and virtual opportunities you host, there might be different roles that you need filled. You might even rely on some volunteers to fill in the gaps of your organization’s internal staff and employees. This step should outline the necessary skills for each task and exactly what role each plays in the bigger picture of your mission.
You should also make sure to clearly explain who your volunteer program is serving. This goes hand in hand with your mission statement and ensures that new volunteers fully recognize the people or cause that they’re helping.
As your volunteers become more integrated into your nonprofit’s team, it’s essential that they know how to talk about your program and who/what it helps. This not only helps them perform better in their role, but prepares them to represent your program to others.
In addition, you should also outline opportunities for ways to get further involved with your program. Some programs even provide additional training sessions for experienced volunteers to increase specific skills. Offering training to volunteers who stay with your organization is a great way to boost retention and grow your relationships. Letting them know about these opportunities during orientation can help them envision what their journey might be with your program.
Explain Your Organization’s Structure.
Another vital point that you need to cover in your volunteer orientation is your organizational structure.
For instance, your volunteers should be familiar with important staff members and the board of directors, as well as how to access the directory for contacting them if needed. Your orientation might even allow these key staff members to introduce themselves and their role in the organization.
Along with other staff, your volunteers should know how to access the broader volunteer directory. This can help volunteers get familiar with one another before they meet each other during actual events and opportunities.
Explaining your organization’s structure ensures that volunteers understand who is in charge and who to contact for certain questions. This directory should also include contact information and other essential details like role and responsibilities.
Outline Volunteer Procedures.
In order to gauge your volunteer program’s success, it’s essential that you have concrete procedures that help record key data and information. Your volunteer orientation process should include an outline of all volunteer procedures, including how to track hours as well as check in/out of events.
For instance, in order to have an accurate record of program hours and progress, volunteers should make sure that their hours are updated in a timely manner. Your orientation should introduce this concept to them, making sure that they know to submit hours as soon as the event is over (or within some other time limit.)
Your orientation should also outline the check in/out procedure and how it might vary by the type of event or virtual opportunity. Exactly how this is done will likely depend on the volunteer management software you use.
With your volunteer procedures clearly laid out during your orientation, your recruits know exactly what has to be done and will be prepared for their first opportunity.
As soon as the volunteer orientation process comes to a close, make sure to ask the participants if they have any questions. This is the perfect time to address any concerns and ensure that any confusion is diminished before the volunteer officially begins with your program. Send out a thank you email after the orientation, as well as an opportunity for the volunteer to give feedback to help you improve future orientations.
From this point, ease your new volunteers into your standard volunteer engagement strategy, being sure to regularly check in on their progress and accomplishments. Active communication and a solid strategy from the start will help ensure your orientation process benefits your organization over the long run and provides a stronger experience for supporters.
Allen Kramer is the Co-Founder and President of Mobilize. Before starting Mobilize with Alfred Johnson, he worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, in management consulting at Bain & Company, and helped grow a great social enterprise called Assured Labor. Allen was born and raised in NYC, loves a wide range of music and—on his better days—running.