For nonprofit organizations, great volunteers are critical. Volunteers serve as your voice, your reach, and are essential in accomplishing your goals and mission. In for profit organizations, paid staff complete the tasks and keep items moving along. For nonprofits, this role is most often filled by volunteers. Your volunteers take your ideas and put them into action, programs and reality. Without your volunteers, where would you be?

Now that you’ve had a moment to think about your organization and the role of your volunteers, how do you onboard and train your new volunteers? Do you have a formal volunteer onboarding program? Do your volunteers receive the same attention and care as a new staff member?

In many nonprofits, volunteers represent and speak for the organization. Recently, I attended an outdoor festival and approached a nonprofit booth that interested me. I inquired about the general goals of the organization and how a donation from me might be used. The volunteer was unable to respond to my basic questions. Needless to say, I did not make a donation and a fundraising opportunity was lost. However, I don’t blame the volunteer for this. If the volunteer had been properly onboarded and trained, they would have been able to answer my questions with ease and I would have most likely made a contribution.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when onboarding and training your new volunteers and advocates.

  1. First impression is everything. When a new volunteer joins your organization, be sure to greet and welcome them properly. This can be an automated email or a call from you, a board member or a fellow volunteer.  This will make your new advocate feel valued and a part of the family.
  2. Educate. When paid staff join your organization, you train them. Think of your volunteers the same way. First, provide volunteers with an overview of your organization. Discuss your history, your advocates, your successes, your goals and mission.  Second, create volunteer specific training sessions for your different volunteer roles (i.e. Outreach Responsibilities, Administrative Duties, etc.) Remember, these sessions can be led by your seasoned volunteers or by board members in person or virtually. Get everyone involved and use technology to make sessions convenient and accessible.
  3. Check in. Throughout the year, schedule feedback forums. With feedback forums, your volunteers will have the opportunity to tell you what they need to better serve your organization and mission. These can be in-person meetings or a simple online survey.  Remember, your volunteers are your connection to the community.
  4. Updates. Provide at least quarterly updates to your volunteers and advocates. In many cases, your initiatives and focus will change throughout the year, and volunteers will better represent your organization when they are informed and aware.  Use a variety of channels – email, meetings, message boards and blogs for your updates.

Remember, a happy and informed volunteer is a mission maker for you and is one of your most important fundraising tools.

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