Successful volunteer onboarding and deep volunteer engagement doesn’t happen by chance. It takes a thoughtful, multi-layered strategy to convert joiners to stayers and to set the stage for future leadership.
We often think of onboarding as simply training volunteers on policies and procedures and placing them, job done. But, effective volunteer induction is more than that.
Even after they have been recruited, volunteers will continue to observe the organization and the people who work there (paid and volunteer alike). Commitment is a process not a destination. Even after volunteers join, they are still making a decision about whether or not they will stay.
They wonder — Does this organization match my values? Do I feel included? If this a well-run outfit? Can I make a real difference here? Is it worth my time? The answers will influence how much they decide to invest and what they believe they can accomplish in partnership with you.
Volunteering is Like Skydiving
Think about it. Making a commitment to volunteer is a lot like jumping out of an airplane. You may get on that airplane and take the ride up, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to jump. You’re not going to jump unless you get over your fears and you’re convinced it’s worth it.
What volunteers imagine their volunteer experience to be is not always what they find. Because of this dissonance, during the onboarding process, newcomers negotiate a variety of conflicting emotions — surprise, fear, ambiguity, etc. — that result in changing perceptions and expectations. They feel stress, too.
New volunteers must believe they have the capability to learn their new role and perform it to satisfaction. They need to know they will be welcomed into the team and supported accordingly. If they doubt their capacity, they may reduce their commitment or leave altogether.
So, a key goal of volunteer onboarding is to convince volunteers to take a leap of faith with us.
Integrated Volunteer Onboarding
There’s a strong business case for developing or strengthening your volunteer onboarding process. It can help you …
- Reduce the replacement costs of volunteers
- Reduce the loss of customer service potential
- Accelerate the time to volunteer role competency
- Redefine the average level of productivity
To realize these benefits, consider integrating these four pillars in your onboarding process.
Interpersonal Connections — People commit to causes because they feel a connection to the people in them. Purposefully cultivating connections through mentoring, peer socializing, staff teambuilding, etc. can go a long way toward making newcomers feel welcome and quickly integrate them into the whole.
Organizational Culture — New volunteers also need to be provided clues about “how we do things around here” in their induction process. This includes sharing clear information about how the organization’s mission, vision, and values play out in the real world, not just on a piece of paper. It also helps for new volunteers to have a clear picture of team member roles throughout the organization and, of course, understand their scope of work and level of responsibility. Offering simple talking points volunteers can use to educate others about the organization’s work, also helps newcomers begin to contribute by raising community awareness from the get go.
Early Training Support — Although it may be weeks before the volunteer starts their first shift, their orientation should start on Day One, they day they are appointed or given a training date. Setting up ways to deliver bite-sized digital content is one way to start the acclimation process early. Helping volunteers develop personal development plans for learning will help them better map their new context and take responsibility for learning goals.
Exposure to Strategy — Finally, transparently sharing agency and program-level aims and objectives, disclosed in layers, so as not to overwhelm, can help volunteers align their goals with those of the organization and, at the same time, identify hidden skills and talents they might bring to the table. This is also an excellent time to gather new insights around current strategies from volunteers with fresh eyes and perspectives.
A tremendous amount of time and energy goes into finding and selecting volunteer talent. Consider how a purposeful, integrated new volunteer induction process might ensure deeper commitment and foster future volunteer leaders. Map our a step-by-step new volunteer journey and see how it can help propel your mission forward.