New Approaches to Volunteer Orientation

Lori Halley 11 January 2012 0 comments

With a new year comes a new wave of volunteers. And this may be a banner year for volunteering - if the Governor General’s New Year’s message is any indication. David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada (the Queen’s representative in Canada), urged Canadians to spend more time and money on worthy causes to help build a better country. ... Canadians are already generous with their time, talents and treasure, but ... a new year is a new opportunity to enrich the country.”

If your organization is planning for or even in the midst of new volunteer orientations, here are a few ideas and resources that might help.

Developing new volunteer strategies

Tobi Johnson suggests that “a well-designed volunteer onboarding process helps volunteers both manage expectations and supports them as they negotiate uncertain and stressful waters.” She advises that if organizations want to “convert joiners to stayers” they need to implement strategies that involve:

  1. Implementing Regular Rituals
  2. Encouraging Relationships
  3. Offering Formal Training
  4. Demonstrating Return on Investment Early and Often

In her eBook – Volunteer Manager First 90 Days (available through Wild Apricot’s Membership Knowledge Hub), Tobi suggests that you consider:

  • Scheduling Regular Volunteer Orientations -- Include them in your annual calendar (the first and third Wednesday of the month, for example) and assign people (staff or volunteers) to conduct them. Invite anyone who’s interested in volunteering to come down and learn more about your program at that time. Make sure you schedule both day and evening orientations so that applicants with different schedules can attend. You can also post an on-demand webinar online, so that prospective applicants can get to know you from anywhere.
  • Using Standardized Training Materials -- Everyone wastes a tremendous amount of time if they each decide to create their own, unique volunteer orientation, for example. It’s just not necessary.

Rethinking Board orientation

If you are planning new Board member orientations, you might want to check out Patricia and James Hudson’s article – Today’s Board Orientation Just Isn’t What It Used to Be. In the article, the Hudsons (Melos Institute) suggest that organizations "abandon traditional thinking and practices about board orientation and replace it with those that make the best use of the skills and talents that exist within the board,” and offer 5 steps to help:

  1. Understanding the Nature of the Volunteer Leader
  2. Adjust Your Thinking from Board Orientation to Board Development
  3. Decide the Type of Board You Want to Develop
  4. Create an Agenda that Imparts Knowledge, Strengthens Skills and Shares Techniques
  5. Plan Ongoing Strategies to Reinforce Desired Behaviors

Building connections and community

While it is important to develop a structured process for orienting new volunteers to your organization and their new roles, it’s also important to help volunteers – old and new – get to know one another so they can work as a cohesive team. Here are a couple of ideas on how you can build a sense of community:

Volunteer orientation via speed dating

I heard about a fun idea in a Conference Basics blog post a while back. An innovation company – frog – implemented a “speed-dating” format to introduce new employees to one another. Rather than just setting up a meet-n-greet where folks had to mingle and introduce themselves, this group created a venue where each individual had a set time to sit down and talk face-to-face with each employee. After each discussion, everyone shifts seats until you’ve met the entire group one-by-one. This idea could be replicated for new volunteers – old and new. It could also be used if you want to facilitate passing the baton or portfolio to an incoming group or chairman.

Learning and connecting through an online community

In addition to face-to-face onboarding, you might also want to offer information about the organization, existing volunteer roles as well as opportunities for interaction through an online community. One way to enable online discussions is through a forum. As we’ve noted in earlier posts (including this one), “a forum provides a place for your members to virtually congregate in order to communicate, discuss and share ideas.” If you want more information, you might want to have a look at How to Start an Online Forum -- an article available through our Membership Knowledge Hub.

Do you have any fresh ideas for new volunteer orientations? If you do, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 11 January 2012 at 9:35 AM

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