Without volunteers, many non-profit organizations wouldn’t be able to operate effectively. They are the workforce of mission-oriented non-profits in America. They serve many roles: board member, stock clerk, warehouse worker, counselor, etc.… How an organization welcomes and trains its volunteers can determine their overall experience, effectiveness, and longevity with the organization. This article provides an in-depth guide to creating a volunteer onboarding program that is both effective and efficient.
Understanding the Importance of Volunteer Onboarding
There’s a reason that a well-structured onboarding program can boost volunteer engagement, improve retention rates, and increase productivity.
It helps set clear expectations, provides training, and fosters a sense of belonging within the organization. When volunteers understand the impact of their work and how their contributions fit the bigger picture, it can enhance their sense of purpose and motivate them to make a difference.
Additionally, onboarding fosters relationships among volunteers and staff and provides opportunities to address volunteers’ concerns or questions. Volunteers feel more comfortable and confident as a result. As a bonus, your volunteers can be your best brand ambassadors! If they enjoy working with you, they are likelier to share their experiences with friends, families, and neighbors. This means that by helping your volunteers understand their role and make an impact, you can boost your brand in the process!
Critical Elements of an Effective Volunteer Onboarding Program
1. Clear Communication
Communicating a volunteer’s roles and responsibilities during onboarding gives them a sense of direction and purpose.
- Provide each volunteer with a clear job description that includes tasks and expectations. Everyone wants to know that their work makes an impact.
- Make sure that volunteers understand their role and that it matches their skills, interests, and availability.
- Give volunteers a chance to ask questions, seek clarification, provide feedback, and ensure everyone is on the same page.
2. Training and Support
Equipping volunteers with the practical skills and knowledge they need to fulfill their roles is critical to onboarding. You must consider this phase carefully – each organization will have different training.
Example: A youth service provider should include abuse prevention procedures in this phase. Food pantries and warehouses should have information about lifting items safely. If your operation uses specific equipment, training dedicated to that particular piece of equipment is essential.
Approach this phase as if you’re Mcdonald’s and you’re trying to franchise your operation. Write up a volunteer manual. This will make it easier to communicate and adapt.
Training sessions can be conducted in various formats, such as workshops, online modules, or one-on-one sessions, depending on the nature of the volunteer position. Invest in thorough training and empower volunteers to perform their duties confidently and competently.
3. Relationship Building
If a volunteer feels unnoticed or disconnected from the organization, they’ll likely stop helping.
- Consider initiating a buddy system that pairs new volunteers with experienced ones. It’s not unlike finding a mentor for your career. A trained volunteer can make it easier for the latest person to see where they can make an impact.
- Provide ongoing support and mentorship even after the training period ends. This enhances productivity and fosters a sense of satisfaction and pride in a volunteer’s work. Regular check-ins, performance evaluations, and skill development can improve their growth and success.
- Organize social events, team-building activities, and volunteer appreciation programs to foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie among volunteers. Celebrating milestones and recognizing the contributions of volunteers can go a long way in creating a positive and inclusive volunteer community.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) help measure the success of your onboarding program. Figure out which metrics are important to you. These may include volunteer retention rates, the number of training hours completed by volunteers, or their satisfaction levels.
(My advice -pay attention to your retention rates. Turnover at any position makes training more challenging and mistakes more likely. Increased engagement and longevity are critical metrics for success.)
Gather Feedback from Volunteers
Beyond KPIs, feedback from volunteers themselves is vital in evaluating the success of your onboarding program. Anonymous surveys, one-on-one interviews, and open forums can provide valuable insights into volunteers’ experiences and identify areas for improvement.
Some sample questions might include:
- How would your rate your volunteer experience with our organization?
- How likely would you be to volunteer again?
- What is one thing that could improve your experience here?
You may need to make some adjustments, such as updating training materials, improving communication practices, or revising volunteer roles and responsibilities. Continually improve your volunteer onboarding process, and you will make it even more effective for future recruits.
Steps to Create a Volunteer Onboarding Program
Identify Your Organization’s Needs
Before you start building your volunteer program, ask yourself some questions:
- What type of position are you looking to fill?
- What skill sets are needed to accomplish that position?
- How does this role fit into the overall organization?
A thorough needs assessment will help attract the right people for the right position.
Develop a Comprehensive Volunteer Handbook
Create a handbook that provides volunteers with information about the organization, their roles, the benefits of volunteering, and the support available to them. Volunteers can use this as a reference manual for future guidance.
What should be in a Volunteer handbook?
- Volunteer rights and responsibilities, code of conduct
- About your organization (vision, mission, history, goal measurement)
- Commonly used terms & abbreviations
- Staff and board organizational charts
- Event calendar, office hours
- ID badge policy
- Map of the facility
- Photo Release
- Expense reimbursement and vehicle use policies and forms
- Smoking, alcohol, and substance abuse policies
- Timesheets and attendance policies
- Use of equipment and supplies policies
- Disaster policies and procedures
- Volunteer recruitment, training, orientation, recognition, and dismissal policies & procedures
- Legal issues (Good Samaritan law, Directors and Officers’ Liability Insurance)
This information ensures that volunteers are well-informed and empowered in their assigned roles. If creating this sounds daunting, ask your insurance agent if they have a sample.
Design a Volunteer Training Program
Once you have identified your needs and developed a volunteer handbook, the next step is to design a volunteer training program. Curate your training program based on the role. For example, someone at a booth at a community event doesn’t need the same process as an individual that will mentor a teenager.
Use free resources available to you. Insurance companies and associations have free training videos that you can use.
Consider Using A Volunteer Coordinator
Much like a new employee, if a new volunteer doesn’t have a point person for questions, they can get lost in the system. Volunteer coordinators welcome new members, conduct orientation sessions, provide necessary resources, and deliver ongoing support. If you don’t currently have a volunteer coordinator, consider hiring one.
In conclusion, a well-thought-out and executed onboarding program is essential for any organization that relies on volunteers. It enhances volunteer recruitment, engagement, and retention, ensuring volunteers are motivated, well-prepared, and connected to the organization’s mission and goals.