Archive for September, 2012

Best Practices for Volunteer Orientation

Posted on September 24, 2012. Filed under: Good Ideas Stick, Tips for HandsOn Partners |

Originally posted on Volunteer Hub


Best Practices for Volunteer Orientation

by Shawn Kendrick | February 15, 2012

Back in 2007 we wrote a two-part blog examining why volunteers stay with an organization — and why they leave. In the latter half, we mention that lack of training and/or orientation is one of the reasons volunteers don’t stick around. If “on the job” training is your organization’s primary means of acclimating volunteers, it may be time to reconsider. Although it takes a little more effort, orientation is a volunteer management practice that sets the foundation for a successful relationship. To help get you started, we’ve pulled together some recommendations and best practices.

Start with Some One-on-One Time

Anytime an individual decides to volunteer for your organization, they deserve a chance to tell you what it is they want out of the experience. It doesn’t have to be formal. Just a casual conversation can make sure you are both on the same page. This is your opportunity to find out not only what the volunteer’s current interests and skills are but also to see if there’s any way you can help him or her grow as a professional or as a person. This conversation does two things. First, it sets the tone for a reciprocating relationship. Second, it helps you place the right people in the appropriate assignments.

Bring out the Paper

We all hate paperwork, but in today’s litigious society it’s necessary. Your orientation is no different. At the very least you’ll want to give him or her a copy of a volunteer handbook with a signature that it was received and understood. Aside from insulation from liability, having this will also show volunteers that there are expectations and that your mission is to be taken seriously.

Give a Sample

If possible, have new volunteers experience your organization’s services as a client would. Explain the circumstances under which a typical client would come to you, then ask them to imagine themselves in that position. Taking them through the process from the client’s viewpoint will at the very least add some perspective. Even better, it may lead to more empathy and better performance from volunteers.

Pair Them Up

When it’s time for your newbies to actually learn the job, it’s often wise to pair them up with an experienced volunteer or staff member. Make sure the mentor is patient, good with people, and has a knack for teaching others. Having a good relationship with a mentor can help “seal the deal” with a new volunteer, so put some serous thought into who you want to help bring folks onboard.  Also, take cues from the conversation you had with the newbie in the beginning. Consider a mentor that would be a good fit in terms of personality and possibly with helping the new volunteer meet some of the objectives they explained to you earlier in the process.

Give Feedback

Most businesses require 30- or 60-day reviews for new hires. The same should apply to volunteers. In addition to informal feedback from a volunteer’s mentor or other supervisors, make sure to have a formal sit-down with each new volunteer individually after a month or so to both praise them and to address any issues that may have surfaced. Volunteers will be more confident in their tasks with this insight, which leads to higher satisfaction with their experience.

In the end, you’ll see that investing just a little more time upfront in the orientation process can pay big dividends later. You’ll have better-trained volunteers who stay longer, which is well worth it.

Shawn Kendrick holds an MBA from Ohio Dominican University and has over a decade’s experience in the nonprofit and business sectors. He enjoys researching and blogging for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management system that offers online registration, email and text messaging, report generation, and much more.

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Is your Volunteer Program Part of your Brand

Posted on September 23, 2012. Filed under: Good Ideas Stick, Tips for HandsOn Partners |

Originally posted on the HandsOn Network Blog.

Dan Pallotta writes about nonprofit issues for the Harvard Business Review. He has written about the difference between a logo and a brand. A logo is something that is easily recognizable while a brand is something that permeates everything that your organization does. Your brand is even part of your volunteer program.

Your call to action in your volunteer program. It may seem obvious to have a call to action built into your volunteer program, but how does what you’re asking volunteers to do relate to your organization’s overall call to action? An animal welfare organization may have multiple volunteer positions, but if it can’t articulate how each of the positions relates to its mission, some of the positions may be harder to fill than others. Being able to demonstrate how each volunteer position supports the organization’s goal makes them more attractive to volunteers who support your organization’s mission.

Customer service in your volunteer program. You might not think of customer service when it comes to volunteer recruitment and retention, but it’s an important part of any volunteer program. From having an easy way to move from being interested in volunteering to being a volunteer, to knowing when to show up to volunteer, to simply being available to ask questions about volunteering, good customer service helps to support your volunteer program. Volunteers who have a a positive experience volunteering will tell their friends about their experience and be an advocate for your cause. Volunteers who have a negative experience volunteering will tell their friends, too.

How you talk about your volunteer program. How you talk about your volunteer program reflects on your organization. If your volunteer program is mentioned as an afterthought, then it affects how people outside of your program look at the program. It also affects how your volunteers look at the program. Highlight the work of volunteers whenever you can to show what an important part of the organization they are.

Your people in your volunteer program. The volunteers that serve with your organization are as public as any other part of your organizationYour volunteer program should have a deliberate approach to volunteer recruitment. There should be a screening process that ensures that you recruit volunteers that are passionate about your cause and are able to do the tasks that are asked of them. If they don’t know how to do the task, make sure you’re able to teach them how to do it well.

Your home for your volunteer program. Where your organization’s volunteer program lives reflects on your program and the organization. Do you ask your volunteers to work together with staff, or is there a “volunteer office” in a corner somewhere that staff don’t normally go? Is the volunteer office really a storage closet?

Your volunteer program is as much a part of the public face of your organization as any other part.


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3rd Annual Veterans Stand Down

Posted on September 10, 2012. Filed under: Volunteering is Hot! |

Service men and women in the United States offer themselves up to serve our county and keep all of us safe.  Together with their families they sacrifice so many things to ensure we continue to enjoy the freedoms we have.  A veteran’s homecoming can be a joyous occasion.  However, once the welcome home party is over and friends and family retreat to their own lives, veterans often struggle with reintegration into life as a civilian. Feelings of isolation and anger can strain their relationships with spouses, family members and friends. Help is available from Veterans Administration (VA), but many feel disenfranchised from the government and therefore, do not seek help.

On Saturday, September 28th, Serving our Veterans at Home (SOVAH), the Salem Vet Center and Community Action Agency are hosting the 3rd annual Veterans Stand Down.  This is an event to help those in need navigate the services and benefits available to them.  It is also an opportunity for veterans and their families to connect with one another, receive a hot meal, access medical and dental care and so much more.   This year’s event will be at First Free Methodist Church in Salem.  Doors will open at 10:00 and close at 7:00 pm.

Volunteers are very much needed for this important event.  Positions vary from greeting guest at the door to serving meals to working in the military surplus area.  Volunteers are needed in 2 shifts, 9:30-3:00 and 3:00-7:00.  We also have set up and clean up duties available.  Join us for one or multiple shifts.  Any and all interested volunteers can sign up at  Let’s serve those who have served us.

Melissa Gibler is the program manager for HandsOn Willamette —a program of Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency. She can be reached at (877) 372-4141, or

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