If you were dropped into the wilderness with no idea of where you were, you’d want a compass and a map before you felt ready to start exploring. An orientation gives the potential new volunteer their compass and map in this new environment. A well-done orientation can leave a volunteer feeling prepared for their relationship with the organization. It has let them know why they are there (cause), how they will be volunteering (system), and how they fit in with the organization (social).
What do you like about orientations that you have been through? For instance, I really like having the history of the organization explained because then I can understand their roots. If you haven’t been through one recently, take a look at orientation videos from the Red Cross and from the American Cancer Society. If there was something that sticks out in your mind as particularly good or particularly unhelpful, let that guide your approach. But be open to feedback from others, since everyone has a different learning style. Take the time to figure out what approach makes the most sense for you and your organization.
Maybe you normally have an hour or even several hours to orient new volunteers, but if you only had ten minutes, you would need to focus on a few key areas. As I mentioned earlier, an orientation can be broken into three sections. You have the cause; which includes the need in the community, who is being served, the organization’s mission, its programs and services, and a general overview of the organization. The system is usually introduced next; this can be the structure of the organization, how volunteers contribute to its programs, a tour, an overview of major events coming up for the organization, and the policies and procedures.
Finally, it is vital to include the social aspect. This makes for more comfortable and happy volunteers. The social aspect covers a welcome by the staff, leadership, and current volunteers, a description of the organization’s culture, and (always important!) information about how to share this volunteer opportunity with friends.
At our next In-Service Training for Volunteer Maryland, we will ask each Volunteer Maryland Coordinator to pretend we are potential volunteers and give us an orientation for their service site. Each will give us the lay of the land, and perhaps even get the audience ready to explore as a volunteer!