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Help Sheet

Putting in place a volunteer orientation process

The purpose of an orientation process is to give volunteers the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will allow them to work productively towards the goals of the organisation.

It may seem like a lot of work but remember that the more effort you put in at the start to ensure that your volunteer workforce is well-informed and valued, the more likely your volunteers will fully commit to achieving the organisation's objectives.

All staff also need to be made aware of the aims and processes of your volunteer program.

The amount of orientation required by the volunteer will depend on the nature of the job they have to do and the length of their commitment to the work. Button sellers can get by with a 15-minute talk on the purposes of the campaign and the way to handle cash and give receipts. People who are taking up significant, though unpaid, roles in the organisation need as much attention as any other employee.

Getting ready

The volunteer has come forward to offer their services. This means that they are interested in your cause. This is a strength on which to build, but it can also be at the early stage shallowly rooted and vulnerable. Do not abuse it, or even count too much on it. Once you've got them to the door, don't lose them.


The volunteer should have gone through the organisation's screening processes (see the Screening Volunteers help sheet for more information on this). This can be a testing time and if not properly handled can put the volunteer off.

Ideally, the screening process will have been presented as a tribute to the value of the volunteer, the importance of the position, and the trust you will be placing in them.

Position defined

Before the volunteer appears you should also have gone through the processes of establishing a position description for the role you want the volunteer to fill. You will know the job you want them to fill, the duties they will be performing, and the degree of supervision that will be necessary and available for their work.

The vision

You have a sympathetic audience, but don't assume that they're totally sold yet, or that they know much about the organisation.

Tell them what you do, and why it is important. Explain to them where they fit and why they are needed. Volunteers are both important in themselves and also ambassadors for your organisation in the community. Word of mouth is important in gaining more volunteers, more donations, and more public support.

Preparing the paid staff

Before involving volunteers, you will have sought the opinions of the organisation's staff and involved them in the decision.

Reinforce this with a talk to staff just before the volunteers come on board.

Run through a brief history of the volunteer program. Remind them that they have been involved in the design of the volunteer's job, recruitment, screening, and acceptance, and that they will be involved in training and supervision - and that this work will be recognised.

First impressions count

The workplace

Show your new volunteers around the site. Cover the absolutely vital elements:

Introduce the volunteers to people. Introduce them again tomorrow if you see any hesitancy; it's hard to remember everybody's names in the first 10 minutes.

Briefing session

A volunteer manual should be presented to each volunteer. It should be easily accessed and contain a copy of the position description, any procedures for specific operations, and other policies and procedures such as confidentiality, privacy, grievance.

As soon as practicable after their arrival, hold a briefing session with the volunteers and include the following topics.


Introduce the volunteers to their supervisor/s. Clearly explain the expectations of the role and what kind of feedback he or she can expect.

Emphasise to the volunteer that it's likely that he/she will take a while to get on top of everything - and not to take the occasional correction or suggestion as personal criticism.

Ensure that the supervisor is on hand in the earlier stages.

Don't expect to cover everything in the first run through - some things you can only remember if you do them, and some questions only emerge from actual practice.


The job may need some more formal training. Do they need training in how to use the computer, or a particular computer program? Do they need instruction in a specialist procedure? If they are receiving in-depth training from staff, make sure that the staff are working from notes that they can keep and use again.

Valuing volunteers

Pick the simplest parts of the work, with the least to learn, to begin with, but do try to have work ready from the start for the volunteer to do.

If you have to go around and find work, or if they run out of work, this sends the message that the volunteer isn't really needed.

What if they leave?

There is the risk, as with any employee, that they will leave just as you have put in all the work to induct them and before they can start putting value back in. This, unfortunately, is a risk you will just have to wear.

As with any employee, if you lose too many volunteers like this perhaps you need to ask yourself where the organisation is going wrong.



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