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How to Host an Effective, Engaging Volunteer Orientation

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As a volunteer coordinator, you know the importance of volunteer orientation sessions as they are one of the most critical aspects of the volunteer management process. They offer a dedicated training session for new volunteers to learn more about your organization, pick up valuable new skills or important volunteer information, and mingle with fellow new volunteers.

All types of volunteer programs use training and orientation sessions. For example, humane societies and animal shelters often use volunteer orientation programs to show volunteers around their facilities and teach them any animal care-related skills they may need to know. Other nonprofits may use volunteer orientations to teach volunteers highly specialized skills, such as creating advocacy materials or learning building renovation techniques.

In this guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of creating an effective volunteer orientation process that makes volunteers excited about participating. We’ll cover:

After you’ve successfully recruited your volunteers, it’s important to give them an engaging, productive volunteer orientation experience that makes them excited about starting their volunteer career. This allows you to start the volunteer relationship off on the right foot and encourage volunteers to stick around with your organization for the long haul. Let’s dive in to learn more!

The benefits of hosting a new volunteer orientation

Once you’ve recruited a passionate group of volunteers for your organization, the next step is to offer a volunteer orientation as a warm welcome. Hosting a new volunteer orientation is the first opportunity any organization has to showcase how special volunteers are to them and is critical in making volunteers feel motivated to begin.

Ask your volunteers to introduce themselves during their volunteer orientation. They can talk about what they’re passionate about, their strengths, and previous experiences. Hosting a volunteer orientation allows volunteers to get to know one another and become comfortable with each other from the get-go.

Here are some of the benefits of holding volunteer orientation sessions:

  • Empower volunteers with everything they need to know to be productive workers. Instead of sending volunteers right into a volunteer opportunity with no experience, your volunteer orientation process allows you to equip volunteers with everything they need to know ahead of time.
  • Reduce risk. If your volunteer opportunities require activities that come with inherent risks, such as working with animals or working on construction projects, your volunteer orientation can help emphasize safety measures to reduce risk.
  • Grow awareness of your organization’s mission by contextualizing volunteer work. By providing an overview of the purpose and mission of your volunteer activities, you can provide new volunteers with context for where their actions fit into your overall mission. This can increase their emotional connection to your cause and even influence them to promote your organization among their family and friends.
  • Boost volunteer retention. A positive, effective volunteer orientation allows volunteers to work more effectively and contribute to your mission in a tangible way. This increases their satisfaction with your volunteer opportunities and their likelihood of staying engaged with your organization over the long term.

Remember, some volunteers may not feel comfortable having an orientation in person due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But volunteer orientations can also be held virtually through video calls at a time that’s convenient for everyone!

Volunteer orientation checklist

It’s crucial to think about what you want to cover in your volunteer orientation ahead of time, while also leaving some room for questions. Create a checklist of everything you want to talk about to ensure you don’t forget anything. You can also create a mini checklist for your volunteers if you require them to come in with certain items, such as their volunteer t-shirt or certain supplies.

Each organization will have its own specific topics to cover, but we’ve compiled a list of general topics that you’ll likely want to explore in your volunteer orientation.

6 things to include in your volunteer orientation Volunteer Orientation Checklist

Your orientation will set the foundation for a successful long-term relationship with your new volunteers. You want to make your volunteers feel welcomed when they come on board and empower them with the information they need to get a clear understanding of your organization and their roles. Your volunteer orientation should include the following items:

  • A warm welcome and thank you message – Offering new volunteers a warm welcome makes a great first impression. Make your volunteers feel comfortable and welcomed from the start so they look forward to beginning their volunteering journey. You can also express appreciation with a thank you message or card to your new volunteers for donating their time and skills for your mission.
  • An overview of your organization’s mission, goals, and history – Your volunteers want to make a difference, which is why it’s essential to go over your nonprofit’s mission, goals, and history. This is a great way to get them inspired and explain the importance of their roles for your organization.
  • Role descriptions/training information – Although your volunteers have signed up for the roles they felt most suited for, you can go over their role descriptions again in greater detail. You can also let them know where they can go for training tools. For example, if you’re using a volunteer management system, you can teach them how to access all the important information they need.
  • Relevant contact information for staff members – The last thing you want to do is make your volunteers feel like they don’t know where to go if they have any questions or concerns. Let your volunteers know how they can easily contact you or other staff members by distributing relevant phone numbers or email addresses.
  • Site tour – Giving your volunteers a tour of the site they will be working in is essential in helping them get familiar with their working environment. Then, when they arrive for their first volunteer shift, they’ll know exactly where to go to get started.
  • Check-in/check-out procedures – You want to ensure that your volunteers are acknowledged for every hour they put in. Introduce your new volunteers to the check-in and check-out procedures on their orientation day to ensure they know how to sign in. Having a volunteer management software can make this process seamless and quick, and many platforms offer volunteer check-in apps to streamline the process.

8 steps to plan your orientation

It’s vital to have a system in place for welcoming your volunteers, and it can become overwhelming as there are many moving parts to consider. Here, we have outlined what to take into consideration while planning your orientation to help you out. If you’re ready to start planning, here are the steps you need to follow to get started:

  1. Determine what type of orientation you’ll host. For example, will you host a small or large group orientation? Will your orientation be in person, virtual, or hybrid? Determine which type of volunteer orientation works best for your training needs. You can even send new volunteers a pre-orientation survey to gather their feedback on what type of orientation they prefer.
  2. Determine the length of your orientation. This will be decided by the number of activities and tasks you have planned for your new volunteers. Figure out if you can deliver the necessary information in just one session or if you’ll have to schedule several orientation sessions over a certain time period. Keep in mind that shorter, one-time orientations are typically the best option, since you can work with volunteers’ busy schedules and maintain their attention.
  3. Choose your orientation location. This is an important step since the type of environment you choose can have a major impact on participants’ satisfaction with the orientation process. You don’t want to host your orientation in a dark, dusty basement with no windows. Be sure to choose a wide open environment with comfortable seating options, room to social distance when necessary, and access to restrooms and snacks.
  4. Choose your orientation date(s). Consider sending out a survey to new volunteers to choose a time that works best for the majority of participants. Or, you can offer multiple dates to allow volunteers to choose the time that works best for them.
  5. Create your orientation agenda. Determine the sequence of events based on the must-have discussion items listed in the previous section. Ensure each staff member involved knows what their role will be ahead of time. The goal is to balance delivering necessary information with engagement opportunities such as getting-to-know-you activities or group work.
  6. Craft supportive materials. Figure out how you’ll present information to your volunteers during the orientation. You may choose to use a PowerPoint, printed informational packet or another visual medium to support you as you run through the information. You might also choose a more engaging medium to help volunteers review what they’ve learned, such as a Kahoot or Jeopardy game.
  7. Send volunteers an overview of what to expect from your orientation. Provide them with any materials they should review before the orientation begins, documents they should sign, or instructions for what to bring to the orientation. You should also send them the agenda for the orientation session so they know how long they should expect to be there.
  8. Run through the orientation beforehand. Make sure all of your technology tools are working properly and that team members feel comfortable with their roles.

Staying organized will help you stay on track and make sure you don’t leave any important steps out. Remember to start planning ahead of time, so there’s room for any adjustments before the day of your orientation.

5 best practices to make your volunteer orientation a success

Since your volunteers are the pillars of your nonprofit’s success, you want to create an effective orientation program to get them warmed up and excited. However, throughout the volunteer orientation process, you may face obstacles or challenges since it’s no easy feat. Use these best practices to stay on track and face any challenges with ease:
5 Best Practices to Make Your Volunteer Orientation a Success

  1. Plan an icebreaker activity. This can help new volunteers feel more comfortable, get to know one another, and start the orientation process off on the right foot.
  2. Establish a two-way feedback loop. Provide opportunities for volunteers to ask questions, and be sure to give them continuous feedback as they try out new skills or take on new roles. Also, provide opportunities for them to give feedback by sending out a survey once they’ve completed the orientation process.
  3. Provide volunteers with hands-on learning opportunities. Make sure you provide opportunities for volunteers to try out any new skills or use equipment in a hands-on capacity. This will reinforce what they’ve learned more effectively than just having them listen to instructions or watch someone else complete the tasks.
  4. Use volunteer management software to stay organized. Volunteer management software tools (like those offered by Bloomerang Volunteer) allow volunteer managers to screen volunteer applications, schedule volunteer orientation sessions, and schedule volunteers once they’ve completed their orientation process.
  5. Follow up with volunteers after the orientation session. Ask for their feedback on the orientation process and send them upcoming shift opportunities so they can start actually volunteering. Don’t forget to thank them again for their participation and encourage them to send in any remaining questions!

The goal is to foster a passionate and prepared volunteer base. Your orientation session is the beginning of introducing new volunteers to your robust volunteer program, which is why it requires careful planning. Once your orientation concludes, it’s just as important to maintain your communication with your new volunteers.

Wrapping up

Now that you’ve learned the benefits of your volunteer orientation, what you need in order to be successful, and the best practices to help you stay organized, it’s time to start planning!

You can take advantage of technology tools such as a volunteer management software that can help you stay in touch with your new volunteers and schedule new volunteers for shifts.

Remember to ask for feedback from your volunteers as it helps you measure the success of your orientation. Good luck!

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