What is your organization doing to “onboard” new volunteers? If “on the job” training is your organization’s primary means of acclimating volunteers, it may be time to reconsider.

Although it takes a little more effort, orientation is a volunteer management practice that sets the foundation for a successful relationship. To help get you started, we’ve pulled together some recommendations and best practices.

Start with Some One-on-One Time

Anytime an individual decides to volunteer for your organization, they deserve a chance to tell you what it is they want out of the experience. It doesn’t have to be formal. Just a casual conversation can make sure you are both on the same page. This is your opportunity to find out not only what the volunteer’s current interests and skills are but also to see if there’s any way you can help him or her grow as a professional or as a person. This conversation does two things. First, it sets the tone for a reciprocating relationship. Second, it helps you place the right people in the appropriate assignments.

Bring out the Paper

We all hate paperwork, but in today’s litigious society it’s necessary. Your orientation is no different. At the very least you’ll want to give him or her a copy of a volunteer handbook with a signature that it was received and understood. Aside from insulation from liability, having this will also show volunteers that there are expectations and that your mission is to be taken seriously.

Give a Sample

If possible, have new volunteers experience your organization’s services as a client would. Explain the circumstances under which a typical client would come to you, then ask them to imagine themselves in that position. Taking them through the process from the client’s viewpoint will at the very least add some perspective. Even better, it may lead to more empathy and better performance from volunteers.

Pair Them Up

When it’s time for your newbies to actually learn the job, it’s often wise to pair them up with an experienced volunteer or staff member. Make sure the mentor is patient, good with people, and has a knack for teaching others. Having a good relationship with a mentor can help “seal the deal” with a new volunteer, so put some serious thought into who you want to help bring folks on board.  Also, take cues from the conversation you had with the newbie in the beginning. Consider a mentor that would be a good fit in terms of personality and possibly with helping the new volunteer meet some of the objectives they explained to you earlier in the process.

Give Feedback

Most businesses require 30- or 60-day reviews for new hires. The same should apply to volunteers. In addition to informal feedback from a volunteer’s mentor or other supervisors, make sure to have a formal sit-down with each new volunteer individually after a month or so to both praise them and to address any issues that may have surfaced. Volunteers will be more confident in their tasks with this insight, which leads to higher satisfaction with their experience.

In the end, you’ll see that investing just a little more time upfront in the orientation process can pay big dividends later. You’ll have better-trained volunteers who stay longer, which is well worth it.

Shawn Kendrick holds an MBA from Ohio Dominican University and has over a decade’s experience in the nonprofit and business sectors. He enjoys researching and blogging for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management system that offers online registration, email and text messaging, report generation, and much more.