Rarely does it happen that one gets to experience the grass from both sides. I am lucky I got the chance. It was almost 4 years ago, when I joined iVolunteer as a volunteer. I was called for a volunteer orientation. I wasn’t sure if I needed any orientation. I just wanted to start volunteering as soon as possible. Only after I attended the session did I realize how it helped me start my volunteering journey. It was an opportunity to get a better idea of what is expected from us as volunteers and to clarify any confusion that we may have.
Currently I am a volunteer relationship manager for the same organisation and from the one attending, I am now the one conducting the orientation. I can sense the same confusion in first time volunteers as was with me when I attended my first orientation.
A big reason for volunteers not continuing is a gap in expectations of the volunteer and the organisation. We try to bridge that gap during orientation.The objective of an orientation is to show volunteers how to make sure that their help has a positive impact on the organisations and the people they are volunteering for.
Here in Kolkata, we conduct volunteer orientations in an open space. The biggest advantage of using an open public space is that we can spread our message beyond our group of volunteers and very often we also get on-the-spot volunteers.
The orientation session starts with an introduction of
- our organisation, it’s history and the causes we support;
- our partner non-profit organisations;
- stories of other volunteers and
- what is expected of the volunteer including a general overview of the volunteering roles they may be taking up.
After this it is largely an open house, the volunteers interact with each other; if someone has volunteered before they share their experiences; there are Q&A sessions. Apart from the basic information that we want to give, the session completely depends on how the participants want to take it forward. There are times when we do role plays and put volunteers in the organisation’s shoes; we also do a lot of small energizers and games to keep it lively, interactive and fun. Over time many volunteers have come and said that the orientation sessions not only helped in setting expectations right but also led to new friendships.
In my experience I have found that organisations that conduct volunteer orientations are more likely to retain their volunteers than otherwise. An orientation session is a way to tell your new volunteers that you are welcoming them with open arms. It’s a way to make sure that everyone who wants to help understand what they are doing and why. We are showing volunteers that how their help is important for the organisation. Making sure they understand their positive impact on the organisation is one the best ways to make sure that the volunteers you orient today remains dedicated volunteers in the month and the years to come.