Onboarding Volunteers: 5 Steps

Guest blog by Asaf Darashof of Regpack

You’ve just gone through the process of recruiting a fresh batch of volunteers, and now it is time to begin onboarding volunteers. But while you and your new volunteers might be eager to get to work, you can’t quite set them off just yet. First, you’ll need to train them and get them ready to take on their new responsibilities, and to do that, your team will need to prepare for volunteer onboarding. 

Proper onboarding can take time and may seem overkill for simple volunteer tasks. But skipping straight to the action can confuse your volunteers and may even impact the quality of their work. 

Effectively onboarding volunteers help to start their experience off right, giving your program structure and an opportunity for you to meet each volunteer and answer their questions. 

Considerations for Onboarding

Volunteer onboarding will look different depending on the role they’re filling. It can be as simple as just walking through the tasks they’ll need to complete. Or something complex enough that you’ll need courses and training management software. Fortunately there are a few steps you can take to start planning your onboarding process right. In this article, we’ll cover these essentials, providing advice for how to:

  1. Assess each volunteer’s qualifications. 
  2. Create a handbook. 
  3. Set an agenda and stick to it. 
  4. Create training materials. 
  5. Encourage volunteers to connect with one another. 

It might take a few tries to iron out your volunteer onboarding process and find an approach that works for your nonprofit. Be ready to take feedback into account and adjust as you go to meet your volunteers’ unique needs, skill sets, and personalities. First, let’s dive into how to assess those volunteers. 

Via Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

1. Assess each volunteer’s qualifications. 

Onboarding volunteers should teach what they need to know about your organization and their new role. So your first step should be figuring out what they already know! For example, your nonprofit’s board comprises volunteers and their onboarding process will look quite different from someone volunteering to help plant trees. 

About the Volunteer

Take a look at your volunteer applications and assess them for the following:

  • Relevant skills. For some volunteer positions, it’s completely normal to provide a bit of training to help them out. However, some of your volunteers might come into your program with relevant skills. For example, you might recruit a volunteer with a technical background to help run your virtual events’ live streams. If they already have experience with live stream tools, you probably won’t need to provide as much training for them to get started. 
  • Prior volunteer experience. If someone has already volunteered at your nonprofit, your onboarding process can speed through the parts they already know. While there are some things you should cover every time—like waivers—you can often give them an abbreviated version of your standard onboarding materials. Spending the majority of your time discussing their new role. 
  • Pre-existing relationships. Often, people like to volunteer with their friends. If a volunteer already knows someone at your nonprofit, try and see if there’s a way you can use that to improve their volunteer experience. For example, if your current volunteers help train your new volunteers, put people with pre-existing relationships together for onboarding volunteers.

One more thing to check out early is your volunteers’ employers. Why? Some of them might work for a company with a volunteer grant program. You can help them discover if they’re eligible for a grant and if they are, make sure they know their employer’s requirements and the application process. 

Ready to learn more about your volunteers? Try out POINT to get the inside scoop. 

2. Create a handbook. 

Your onboarding processes help your new volunteers get acquainted with your organization, but sometimes it’s easy to overload with information. If your volunteers forget something, have a question, or want to double-check a few details, create a handbook that covers everything they need to know.

Handbook Basics

The exact content of your handbook will depend on your nonprofit, but most handbooks will cover the same essential topics. Make sure that yours includes sections on:

  • General expectations. Your handbook is a good place to lay a few ground rules. Ensuring you and your volunteers are on the same page about conduct and internal communication guidelines. These general expectations usually include basics like what to do if they can’t make a shift. 
  • Details about representing your nonprofit. Volunteers represent your nonprofit whenever they go out and work for you. Chances are that very few of your volunteers are PR experts or know the exact details of your communication strategy. Getting Attention’s guide to nonprofit branding recommends creating a style guide you can share with volunteers.
  • Contact information. Your handbook can cover a lot, but it’s impossible to account for every question a volunteer might have. Include the contact information of your volunteer manager, specific supervisors, or anyone else at your organization who volunteers can reach out to for help. 

If you have a variety of set volunteer positions, consider adding sections to your handbook that provide details about those specific roles. For instance, an animal shelter might have separate sections for volunteers working with animals and those in more administrative functions. 

3. Set an agenda for onboarding volunteers and stick to it. 

Have you sat through a training session that seemed overly long and maybe even scattered? If you have, chances are that the organizers either didn’t create an agenda or ended up straying from it at some point. This is an easy problem to run into. Especially when you have people who ask lots of questions, making it hard to stay on track and avoid tangents. 

Setting the Agenda

Before your onboarding volunteer sessions, create an agenda and brainstorm strategies you can use to make sure you stick to it. Here are a few methods that might work for your nonprofit:

  • Set a timer. Write down approximately how long you plan to spend on each activity. It’s okay if your estimates are a little off, but giving yourself a ballpark number makes it easier to keep track of time. If something does end up running over, consider tabling it and coming back to address it at the end if you have extra time. 
  • Get resources ready beforehand. It’s not uncommon to start running a training session and then realize you forgot to set something up ahead of time. This can be a minor speed bump, but multiple instances can leave your volunteers with little to do while you get ready. Create a checklist before onboarding volunteers to help make sure everything is prepared and ready to go. 
  • Use management tools. Volunteer management software (VMS) and productivity tools are designed to help you create an onboarding experience that will work. Plus, take into account tools for other parts of your onboarding sessions. For example, use your registration software to take note of how many people completed the course, any problem areas, or other items to add to your agenda. 

While it might be tempting to create one onboarding agenda and use it repeatedly for each group of volunteers, it can be helpful to change it up based on past data. If your last group of volunteers struggled with something in practice, consider penciling in something to address the issue and get ahead of it.

Need volunteer management software? See what POINT can do for you.

4. Create training materials for onboarding volunteers. 

Your volunteers are ready to help, but sometimes they need more knowledge about your specific projects before they can hit the ground running. In these cases, be sure to prep your training materials ahead of your onboarding sessions. 

What training materials do you need? In some cases, the only training material you might need could be your handbook. Other times, it might be better to require volunteers to take a whole training course. 

This might sound like a lot, but chances are that many of your volunteers will be excited to learn a new skill while helping out. For some of them, it may even end up being the highlight of your program!

A group of humans coming together for onboarding volunteers.
Via Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

5. Encourage volunteers to connect with one another.

It can be hard to cover everything in your onboarding session. With your handbook and training materials, volunteers should be armed with resources to review what they learned during onboarding. But there is one more resource you should make them aware of: each other

Just like when you missed something in class during school, your volunteers can share notes and help each other out. If they go to each other for help, your volunteer supervisors won’t need to spend as much time answering questions. 

For example, imagine if your volunteers are out canvassing for a new advocacy campaign and are confused about which houses they should go to. They could shoot a message to their supervisor, who’s a bit busy managing every volunteer or get a quicker response by texting another volunteer who is also out canvassing that day. 

Plus, volunteering is often most rewarding when it’s a social experience. If a new volunteer ends up making a few friends during onboarding, chances are they’ll be eager to come back. 

Not sure how to engage your volunteers? See how POINT can help.

Your volunteers are eager and ready to help your programs. Help them start on the right foot by building out a volunteer onboarding process. That lets them play to their strengths and teaches them skills that will help them succeed. Good luck!

Asaf Darash, Founder and CEO of Regpack, has extensive experience as an entrepreneur and investor. Asaf has built 3 successful companies to date, all with an exit plan or that have stayed in profitability and are still functional. Asaf specializes in product development for the web, team building and in bringing a company from concept to an actualized unit that is profitable.

Photo Stephanie Page
Stephanie Page
Head of Outreach

No guilt trips, no sad stories. Just a chance to do something good.