The Basics of Volunteer Orientation and Training

Volunteers at foodbank.
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Among the things that make volunteers happy are a good orientation to your organization and basic training. 

Just getting the volunteer in the door isn’t enough. Just like any employee, a volunteer needs to feel welcomed, informed and trained for whatever might happen.

Orientation is just like it sounds. Volunteers want to know the context in which they will be doing their work. Sure, they have read your website and some printed material.

But those items do not take the place of a real person who can describe the ins and outs of working in your charity’s environment and answer any questions volunteers have.

Today, much volunteer orientation and training takes place online, either in the volunteer’s home before they come to the site or at a computer at your facility. However, supplement that online training with at least a brief face-to-face session where unforeseen concerns can be addressed.

What orientation should cover:

  • Explain what your charity does and its history.  How did it come to be and how has it evolved?
  • Describe the programs and who your organization serves.
  • Provide an overview of how your organization is set up.  Go over the organizational chart so that volunteers understand who does what.
  • Introduce volunteers to your facility. Take them on a tour, introducing them to key staff along the way.
  • Go over general policies and procedures, spending the most time on those that impact the volunteers directly.
  • Explain how the volunteer management system works. How do they schedule their time? Does the volunteer need to check in? How do they log their hours? To whom can they turn for help?

After orientation, provide specific training for each volunteer that addresses the particular job they will do. Training should include:

  • How the volunteer will perform his or her particular task.
  • What not to do when performing this task.
  • How to handle an emergency or what to do when something unexpected happens.
  • What the goals are for the task, and how performance will be evaluated.
  • What equipment will be required and how to use it.
  • A walk through of the task and coaching while the volunteer tries out the task.

Training is at its best when it is experiential, practical, and hands-on.

Training might be performed in groups or one-on-one, and it can be provided by staff or by other volunteers.

Sometimes training is intricate and takes many hours. But, even if the volunteer task is easy and the time volunteering will be brief, don't neglect the basics. 

When designing training or updating it, be sure to get the input of current volunteers.

Ask what they wish they had known before they started doing the work. Let current volunteers help you design orientation and training for new volunteers.

After orientation and training, have new volunteers fill out a survey about how they liked ii and if they found it adequate.  

The goal of training and orientation is to produce volunteers who are happy with what they are doing and confident that they know how to do their jobs well.

If you want happy volunteers who will stick with you, put effort and thought into your orientation and training.

  Without it, you’ll see a lot of turnover and possible bad word-of-mouth from disgruntled volunteers.