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7 Reasons Why You Need a Volunteer Onboarding Process

Lori Halley Avatar
Lori Halley
Published on July 16, 2021

Do you have a group of new volunteers starting at your organization? If so, you only have one chance to make a good first impression and welcome them into your community — it all starts with a great volunteer onboarding process.

Read on to find out exactly why you need a volunteer onboarding process in place, and how it can make a difference in your new volunteers’ experience and your organization as a whole.

What is Volunteer Onboarding?

Volunteer onboarding is more than just an orientation about your organization. It’s an opportunity for new volunteers to gain the necessary knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed in their new roles, as well as make sure that their experience is mutually beneficial and meaningful. It’s a chance for them to get a sense of your organization’s culture, create relationships with fellow volunteers, and deepen their sense of commitment.

Looking for help recruiting new volunteers? Check out our free Volunteer Recruitment Checklist!

Why You Need a Volunteer Onboarding Process

Here are seven reasons why you should have a volunteer onboarding process in place.

1. It inspires participation and commitment by creating a sense of belonging

Humans have a fundamental need to belong — we all want to fit in and feel like we’re a part of something larger than us.

Volunteers who feel like they belong to a group of people working towards a common goal find more meaning in their work. This, in turn, encourages them to participate more actively, meet challenges with enthusiasm, and feel a greater sense of responsibility and commitment.

A great volunteer onboarding process helps create this sense of belonging and results in volunteers who are engaged, fulfilled, and stay with your organization for many years.

2. It creates meaningful relationships among volunteers

A big part of what makes volunteering a great experience are the interactions volunteers have with each other. Taking on a special task or volunteering at an event is much more enjoyable when you can do it with someone you already know and like. Many volunteers form these kinds of relationships during the onboarding process and later specifically request to work together.

Volunteers who work together as part of a team or a pair are often much more motivated to do a good job because they don’t want to let their team or partner down.

Carving out time during your volunteer onboarding process for team-building or simply opportunities for organic interaction between members can massively improve your volunteers’ overall experience.

3. It creates a comfortable working relationship between the volunteers and the volunteer manager

Far too often, volunteers feel unsatisfied with their experience, but don’t know whom to turn to or don’t feel comfortable speaking up. Maybe they feel like their skills could be put to better use on another task, or maybe they’d like to volunteer remotely or request fewer (or more) hours. Whatever the case, it’s important that every single one of your new volunteers feels completely comfortable coming to the volunteer manager with these issues.

A volunteer onboarding process creates opportunities for volunteers to interact with the volunteer manager in a casual setting, before the work begins, and establish a sense of comfort and trust. It’s also not a bad idea for the volunteer manager to make a formal announcement, inviting volunteers to come to them with any questions, comments, or concerns.

4. It helps balance expectations

New volunteers come to your organization with a passion for your cause, but they also come with their own expectations about what they’d like to get out of the volunteer experience.

Your organization, on the other hand, has its own goals and requirements that your volunteers need to support.

The onboarding process is where you balance volunteer expectations with organizational goals and program expectations to create a positive experience for your volunteers. This process builds a foundation of mutual trust and deepens their involvement.

If, on the other hand, your volunteers don’t feel they are being heard or their expectations are being met, they likely won’t continue in their volunteer roles.

5. It helps motivate your volunteers

Even though individual volunteers have their own reasons for joining, all of your volunteers are looking for:

  • Autonomy: the freedom toself-direct tasks, teams and techniques.
  • Mastery:the opportunity to face challenges that are matched with their abilities, so they can learn, make progress, and eventually master.
  • Purpose: a sense of a higher purpose, one beyond their own self interest.

If you take time during the volunteer onboarding process to demonstrate how your volunteers will get the chance to practice autonomy, mastery, and purpose, they’ll be much more motivated to keep coming back and do their best work.

Banner admin roles - saving volunteers

6. It helps newcomers process conflicting emotions and acclimate to new surroundings

A volunteer onboarding process is your chance to help new volunteers acclimate to your organization or community. This involves understanding that they will experience a lot of conflicting emotions: surprise, anticipation, joy, fear, ambiguity. You also need to recognize that they will be looking to you for social cues and support.

For example, to reassure new volunteers and help them deal with uncertainty, you may offer a well defined schedule or calendar, provide a handbook, and/or have regular meetings or trainings.

To help your new volunteers through their emotional turmoil, try the following:

  • Be sure these emotions aren’t discounted or ignored
  • Prioritize trust-building, connecting, etc. in your onboarding process
  • Understand that people need time to get to know one another
  • Acknowledge that some people will feel very unsure and may need support from staff or other volunteers

7. It helps you better retain volunteers

Here are a few things you can do as part of your volunteer onboarding process to help make sure these volunteers keep coming back year after year:

  • Offer training:offer training to increase self confidence, help connect the dots, and provide a roadmap.
  • Establish rituals:let your volunteers know what to expect by explaining processes, sharing how things have been run in the past, or explaining how you’d like them to run in the future.
  • Provide a cost-benefit analysis:calculating and demonstrating the impact of your volunteers’ time will help them understand their purpose and feel more motivated to help.

Read More:The Top 15 Free and Inexpensive Volunteer Management Software Solutions For Any Organization

With effective onboarding, you can inspire deeper participation and commitment among your amazing team of volunteers and help your organization thrive.

Good luck with your volunteer onboarding!



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