Best practices for onboarding volunteers

Examples and considerations when designing a corporate volunteering programme.
2 colleagues sitting in front of whiteboard with lots of post-it notes on

Best practices for onboarding volunteers

Examples and considerations when designing a corporate volunteering programme.

My name is Ashley Staines is the CEO and co-founder of Volunteero, a platform to help charities manage volunteers more efficiently and provide the best possible volunteer experience. We have seen a vast range of onboarding processes covering all manner of volunteer roles. We have picked up some tips along the way, which I am glad to share with you.

First impressions are everything

Onboarding volunteers is an essential step in building a successful volunteer program. A strong onboarding process can set the tone for a volunteer’s entire experience with your organisation and can help them feel valued, prepared, and ready to contribute meaningfully to your mission. This could genuinely mean the difference between a volunteer for life and one whose engagement will never really get going. Here are some best practices for onboarding volunteers that can help you create a positive and productive experience for your volunteers.

Start with clear expectations

At the beginning of the onboarding process, make sure that you set clear expectations for what the volunteer will be doing, what their role will involve, and what your organization expects from them. This can include details about their schedule, the tasks they’ll be performing, and any policies or procedures they need to follow. Make sure that you are clear about what the volunteer can expect from your organization as well, such as training, support, and communication. Ensure that you cover the following:

  • What is the role
  • What are the expectations
  • What can they expect during the onboarding process

One thing we find is often lacking is to keep reminding them along the way why they are doing this. What is the impact that they can have, and how will this benefit them?

Don’t hang about

If you have ever sent off an application and not heard back swiftly, you know how your enthusiasm can wain. Make sure you are prepared to provide speedy and friendly responses. Keep them updated throughout so they have a clear understanding of where they are in the process and what is still to come.

Provide thorough training

Training is an essential part of onboarding volunteers, and it’s important to provide thorough and comprehensive training to ensure that your volunteers feel confident and prepared to do their work. This can include both hands-on training and written materials, such as manuals or checklists. Make sure that your training materials are easy to understand and that your volunteers have the opportunity to ask questions and receive feedback.

Build relationships with your organisation

Building relationships is an important part of onboarding volunteers, and it can help your volunteers feel more connected to your organisation and its mission. Take the time to get to know your volunteers and their interests, and encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas with you. Make sure that you are responsive to their needs and that you provide them with the support they need to succeed.

Create a community and culture

Volunteers are always keen to meet others. Find a way to facilitate introductions to other volunteers, new applicants and existing volunteers. This might be an induction video call or a volunteer meet-up. If people meet a friend, this will be another reason to continue on the onboarding process and remain a volunteer with your organisation.

Share stories of success and shout out the achievements of the volunteers. This should not be limited to those that are already onboarded, but bringing the applicants into the fold to benefit from this is a really powerful way of maintaining engagement.

Take feedback and improve

In our experience, onboarding processes are longer and more complex than needed. The more friction involved in the process, the fewer registered volunteers you will be left with by the end. Ask volunteers for their experience and assess every step with a fine toothcomb. Ask yourself is every step is needed. Is that data capture really required? Are we making it as easy as possible?

In conclusion, onboarding volunteers is a crucial step in building a strong volunteer program. It requires careful planning, attention to detail, and a focus on building relationships and creating a positive culture. By following these best practices, you can create a positive and productive onboarding experience for your volunteers and set them up for success in their work with your organisation.

Ashley Staines

Co-founder at volunteer management platform, Volunteero.

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