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Recruiting Volunteers Part 8: Onboarding Your New Volunteer

By Daniel C. Olsen, Senior Consultant, Special Districts Association of Oregon


The last step in your recruiting process: Onboarding. You have invested time and energy in recruiting quality volunteers into your organization. This last step of Onboarding is to affirm they have made the right volunteer choice.

Onboarding is introducing new volunteers to the organization’s environment and culture. The time for onboarding will vary from one organization to another. Estimate an onboarding period of 30 to 90 days.

A solid volunteer onboarding process helps your new volunteer in getting to know the organization, obtain clarity on their task aims, and develop good relationship with other volunteers and employees.

The onboarding experience makes new volunteers feel welcome and become a productive member of your organization.

Onboarding is a series of events (including orientation) that helps them understand how to be successful in their volunteering and how their efforts contribute to the overall service delivery of your organization.

Why Onboarding

You want to prevent “volunteer remorse”.  You want them to feel they have made an excellent choice. You want to increase volunteer engagement and invoke a sense of loyalty that will improve your volunteer retention rate.

A well-designed volunteer onboarding process does the following:

  • Minimizes the misunderstandings made by paperwork
  • Provides a consistent experience to all new volunteers
  • Offers volunteers a memorable onboarding experience

Is Onboarding the same as Orientation?

At orientation, new volunteers are formally introduced to your organization and its culture, mission, vision, and values. Typically, information is delivered through presentations and question-and-answer sessions.

On the first day of volunteering, most new volunteers may have mixed emotions. They may feel anxious, happy, excited, and nervous at the same time. Onboarding helps to make them feel welcome and comfortable. Your goal is to help them feel a sense of belonging resulting in feeling more committed and focus better on their task assignment and the service of your organization.

The orientation session gives the new volunteer an overview of the organization and an insight into goals and services. This phase offers new volunteer relevant information about the teams within the organization, team processes, and company policies.

Prior to attending orientation, you may want to offer an online, self-guided training, so that new volunteers have general knowledge about your organization.

Orientation is a one-time event focusing on the volunteer’s role in your organization. It is a classroom setting supplying a big picture view of the organization. The session introduces the company mission, vision, and values.  It also reviews policies, administrative procedures, and a tour of facilities. At orientation you can completion necessary paperwork.

Onboarding New Volunteers

During the onboarding process, volunteers learn about the culture and service aims. Managers should schedule regular check-in meetings with new volunteers so that they get comfortable talking to one another. They learn the specifics of their role and responsibilities, such as how to properly complete key tasks, who to go to with questions, how to get approval for their work and how to make suggestions.

During onboarding you might explain your department’s unspoken rules, such as how the phone gets answered by the third ring or how guests are greeted at your facility.

Onboarding process

Four key elements in the onboarding experience include:

  1. Identify a period or duration for the onboarding. The duration should be between one to three months.
  2. Find the check-in frequency for discussion with the new volunteer. The frequency can be every week or two weeks. The purpose is to see how things are going and address any questions or concerns.
  3.  Assign a coach or onboarding contact. This should be a volunteer who is knowledgeable about the organization and exemplifies the performance of an established member. This is the individual the new volunteer can contact if they have questions.
  4. Follow up on your contact schedule and discussion. Also, periodically check in with the person assigned as coach/onboarding contact and get feedback from them. Discuss new volunteer’s experience and see if it matches their expectations. Check to see if there are any issues or concerns. This is a suitable time to Identify future training needs.

When used together, orientation and onboarding help establish role clarity, volunteering satisfaction and organizational commitment, which can help lower volunteer stress, turnover while increasing retention rate for your organization.

Key Points

  • Your goal is to recruit quality volunteers for your organization or agency.
  • Once a volunteer, they are a member of your team.
  • Orientation and Onboarding serve to strengthen the relationship between volunteer and organization.
  • Onboarding is important to helping the new volunteer learn about the culture of your organization.


Are you trying to recruit Board Members for your agency?

SDAO has a great resource: “The Board Member Recruitment Toolkit”

Check it out at