How to Get Volunteers Started

Like any athlete, a volunteer new to the job needs a period of warm up before being thrust into the thick of the action. For a volunteer, this warm up period should include orientation, a training session, and a volunteer handbook to take home as a ready reference.

Orientation. The volunteer should be provided with a job description laying out what he or she will be doing.[1] An orientation program goes beyond the job description by offering an introduction to what it will be like for volunteer once the work begins. A effective orientation can reinforce the volunteer’s initial decision to get involved, provide a connection with the wider purpose of the program, and reduce volunteer turnover. Of course, the orientation also should provide information a new volunteer will need. If you are unclear what to include, ask several of the more experienced volunteers for their opinion.[2]

Volunteer Handbook. At the orientation, plan to distribute a volunteer handbook. This book provides information about procedures and policies that may have been reviewed verbally in the orientation, but may not be readily rememberd due to information overload. Policies provide general guidance for what is expected of the volunteer on the job. For example, youth mission volunteers need to agree to a policy of never having an adult with a minor in a car alone. Procedures, by contrast, have to do with practical guidance on how to get the job done. For example, volunteers may need to be told the best procedure for lining up a substitute volunteer in case of sickness. In addition to policies and procedures, the handbook can include areas such as the ministry’s purpose and values, its organizational structure, dress codes, safety and security information, and how the work will be evaluated.

Training Session. Nearly all volunteer positions require some sort of training, anything from an informal conversation about how to operate that outdated office copy machine or a detailed set of instructions for volunteers canvassing the neighborhood door to door. If you plan to hold a training session, first determine the need. Some experts refer to this practice as “gap analysis” because it involves identifying the space between what people know and what they need to know. As any classroom teacher would do, write a few learning objectives for your students. What can you realistically accomplish by the end of the session? Next try writing a class outline. Some trainers might regard an outline a creativity killer, but it need not be so. Having a sequence of steps prepared ahead of time can lend confidence and cure unexpected jitters that may arise once the training session begins. Spontaneity can still occur within structure. Be sure to practice ahead of time by walking through the session, paying attention to the timing of the activities and thinking about how you will set up the location where the training will take place. Finally, ask for feedback from students through a simple evaluation near the end of the session. (For a sample evaluation form, see Marlene Wilson, Volunteer Orientation and Training, 101).[3]

[1] See Marlene Wilson, Volunteer Job Descriptions and Action Plans, Group’s Volunteer Leadership Series, Vol. 3 (Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, Inc., 2004) for detailed instruction on how to design job descriptions.

[2] Marlene Wilson, Volunteer Orientation and Training, Group’s Volunteer Leadership Series, Vol. 5 (Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, Inc., 2004), 9—19.

[3] Marlene Wilson, Volunteer Orientation and Training, 55—69.

Photo: Craig Chew-Moulding, 3.13.13. Flickr Creative Commons.


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