From interest to reality: Design a successful orientation for volunteers

Once you’ve taken the steps to get a volunteer started in their service, it’s important to create a volunteer orientation that is holistic and informative.

Once a volunteer has passed your organization’s screening requirements, provide him or her with an orientation. Orientation helps volunteers feel comfortable in their role and is a critical component of any volunteer program. Orientation sets the stage for service to begin and helps a volunteer feel like part of the team.

Though volunteers will continue to get more acquainted with the organization over time, orientation helps to establish that relationship by explaining how things work there. During orientation, volunteers become aware of what various rules and procedures they will be expected to follow, how they should perform and behave in their role and what everyone’s responsibilities are.

Orientation can be done in a variety of ways. Most organizations use an on-site organization where they bring volunteers into the service site and introduce staff, share practical details like where to put their belongings, restrooms, sign in sheets, etc., introduction to the supervisor and an overview of the position, an overview of the staff roles and a tour of the facility.

An on-site orientation can work well when you’re bringing a group of volunteers together and they will all be serving in similar kinds of roles. This can help them to establish a support system of other volunteers, which can aid in the retention process. For more specific or intense roles, you might consider a one-on-one orientation with the volunteer and his or her supervisor. This helps to establish a strong relationship where the volunteer feels as though they have a support network and a place to go when things become challenging.

Some organizations might also include an independent study or virtual orientation where volunteers are asked to review materials and complete activities on their own. Independent activities are often easier to schedule; however, they limit the networking opportunities of an on-site orientation. Virtual orientations can be wonderful and provide asynchronous opportunities for volunteers to connect but they also require a good deal of foresight to ensure that activities are interactive and technology is easy to navigate.

Regardless of which method you choose for orientation, there are some common elements that should be included. Volunteers should be aware of the organization’s mission and purpose. They should understand the basic structure of the organization and who to go to for support at various levels.

An orientation should clarify the expectations of that volunteer’s position and what their responsibilities are within the organization and the community. Volunteers should review their position description again through orientation and discuss any questions, concerns, or potential alterations needed to be made with their supervisor. Additionally, volunteers should receive information about various personnel procedures like where to park, what to wear, attendance, etc. and receive a telephone and email directory of relevant staff.

Finally, orientation might also include an assessment of what training a volunteer should complete before beginning service or as ongoing training.

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