Volunteer orientations are often the first thing on the to-do list when a new group of volunteers joins your organization. In times of COVID-19, volunteer orientations are just as critical – if not more – than they were before. The good news is that volunteer orientations can be held on-site or virtually. For virtual orientations, lean on virtual meeting platforms like Zoom!
The most important thing to remember when scheduling a volunteer orientation is determining what the purpose of the meeting is. Perhaps you want to get to know your incoming volunteers so you know how to best lead them. Then you want to introduce yourself and the organization in order to build trust and rapport. Finally, you want to instill some sort of passion and excitement about the organization and the event in these newfound volunteers. Most of the time these are the key goals within an orientation meeting, but if your goals differ, be sure to alter the meeting as needed.
Get to know volunteers
Depending on group size, there are a number of ways to get to know your volunteers. If you have less than 10 volunteers at the orientation, you could allow enough time to go around the room and have each person introduce themselves, including their name, their connection to the organization, and something silly like their favorite restaurant downtown.
If you have a large group, you might instead have everyone wear name tags and then play a game to get to know people. The “this or that” game is a great way to get a feel for people and their preferences. To play, have everyone stand up and give two choices (like chocolate or vanilla, beer or water, rock or country), with each side of the room representing one of the choices. With each option, have people move to the side of the room they most relate to. Playing a few rounds will give you an idea of where the majority lies on both silly questions and questions related to experience and community involvement (i.e. volunteered with a race or not, lived in the area for more/less than 3 years, volunteering with multiple organizations or this is your only one, etc…) Please note, this is more easily done in person than virtually.
Believe it or not, this section of orientation often gets overlooked. While you may think there’s not much to say, volunteers better relate and trust a leader they feel they know and understand. By no means does this have to take half the meeting, but make sure to touch on some important details about yourself. Share a bit about your role within the organization, your passions or what you like to do for fun, your first volunteer moment, why you’re excited about the organization or event, your management style, and your contact information. If you asked volunteers a silly question, be sure to share the answer about yourself, too. Bonus points if you include a cute picture of your puppy.
Express excitement about the organization
Okay, now that everyone knows a little bit about each other–why are you all here?! Share about your organization, and don’t assume the volunteers know all about it just because they chose to volunteer with you. Give a brief history, but more importantly–share the impact. This is usually what hits home the most for volunteers. Whether it’s a dollar amount raised each year by an event, or the number of people in attendance, give some data to support the influence you have in the community. Then, share some testimonials as it relates to your mission, be it from a family who benefitted from the paid medical expenses, or a quote from an article that raved about the musicians hitting the stage this year.
Perhaps this is the meeting you also share what volunteers will be doing as individuals or in teams. If so, be sure to explain tasks clearly with simple steps. If this isn’t the right time for that, just give an overview of what to expect, available volunteer positions, or a timeline of when volunteers will hear from you regarding their next steps and the tasks ahead.
Make sure you provide time for these new volunteers to ask questions –about the event, about their tasks, about you, or whatever! The purpose of the meeting is for new volunteers to feel comfortable, knowledgeable, and excited to volunteer with you. Ending it with an opportunity to tie up loose ends with any questions they may have not only gives them the confidence they need, but also might inform areas where you need to give more details in future orientation meetings.
Although these orientation meetings can seem redundant to you (after all, you’ve done them half a dozen times just this year alone), remember that the volunteers are new to it. Keep positive and upbeat as you aim to inspire them toward another great experience of volunteering (and hopefully retain them for future volunteering opportunities). There’s plenty of opportunity to have fun with it as you get to know each other, so don’t let this become merely another meeting on your to-do list.