Orienting Volunteers- Why Bother?

by Megan Welch

I used to volunteer early on Wednesday mornings at a soup kitchen on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I loved the high energy, vibrant conversation and constant flow of coffee that kept everyone moving in the tightly packed dining room. I felt right at home doling out soup and pouring coffee as fast as the old Bunn machine could make it. However, things didn’t start out so comfortably.

On my first day at the soup kitchen I was with a small group of other students from the university I attended. The site tour was minimal – “bathroom’s there, sink is there, brooms are over there, soup’s on the stove, doors open in ten minutes”. We didn’t really review any safety precautions and we weren’t given very formal instructions – “half of you out front serving coffee and soup, other half go clear plates and wash the dishes”. And with that, the doors opened and the seats were full.

My experience of making a difference for hungry New Yorkers at the soup kitchen was dimmed a bit by just how tough it was to get acclimated and fit in there. Volunteers are an immeasurable resource – they donate their time and multiply an organization’s efforts. In return for their service, volunteers deserve to be in the know, and will perform better if they are given a proper orientation to the organization that they serve and training pertinent to the tasks they complete.

As an AmeriCorps*VISTA serving to enhance volunteer engagement at Catholic Charities Maine (CCM), I am now on the other side of the volunteer relationship. I work closely with staff across the state to engage a large number of volunteers in a variety of service areas. Recently, I took on the project of developing a volunteer orientation to standardize the volunteer intake experience within Catholic Charities. As an AmeriCorps*VISTA, it is my task to build CCM’s capacity to engage and retain volunteers in a sustainable volunteer program.

Providing orientation and training for volunteers is important for the following reasons:
- Orientation provides background information on an organization’s history, mission and structure. The better your volunteers understand what you do, the better they can help you to work towards it!
- It serves as a review of the basics – who your clients are, what services are provided, how requests are handled etc. Learning this information will help your volunteers to feel more confident when they start their service. And you’ll feel more confident in your volunteers!
- It’s an opportunity to cover all your bases. Most non-profits are held responsible by accrediting bodies and funding sources, and organizations that provide social services are also responsible for meeting certain licensing standards. Volunteer orientation is an opportunity to formally review direct client service information that you may be required to go over with volunteers.
- It creates a formal beginning to a volunteer’s term of service. Orientation serves as an opportune time to give a site tour, introduce the volunteer(s) to key staff and sign any kind of agreement forms that are necessary for your program.

Developing a comprehensive volunteer orientation program can benefit your volunteers and your program. Orientation serves as an accompaniment to volunteer training and is a tool that officially welcomes new volunteers aboard and allows them to take a stake in the work that your organization does. Volunteers who receive orientation will feel confident in their work and included by the organization they serve. Fostering this positive relationship with your volunteers will be beneficial in the long run, as well as helping with volunteer retention in the short term. Look for more information next week on the process of developing a volunteer orientation to suit your program’s needs.

Megan Welch is a native of Fairfield, CT and graduated from Fordham University with a degree in History and Theology in 2011. After Fordham, Megan spent a year serving with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in San Jose, CA. Megan is currently serving as the AmeriCorps*VISTA member at Catholic Charities Maine (CCM), based in Portland with the Maine VISTA Project. At CCM, Megan’s focus is on capacity building and volunteer engagement. Megan is profiling her service as part of AmeriCorps Week 2013.

This entry was posted in AmeriCorps, Episodic Volunteering, Pro-Bono/Skilled Volunteers, Recruitment, Retention, Strategies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Orienting Volunteers- Why Bother?

  1. Pingback: Developing a Volunteer Orientation Program | From the Field

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