Induction and orientation programs

Many different induction and orientation programs exist. It's important to carefully research and plan induction and orientation programs by picking the best ideas from existing programs. When designing volunteer induction, make sure the process reflects your organisation and meets the needs of your new volunteer, their role in the organisation and the organisation itself.

Induction and orientation programs are normally run in-house and can range from half a day to one week.

In-house inductions

In-house inductions use the skills and resources from inside your organisation. It's about welcoming new volunteers to the organisation and making them feel comfortable and confident to ask for assistance and help if needed.

If your organisation has the space, it's best to run the induction session internally. This allows new volunteers to become familiar with the building and how to get there and more importantly, makes the volunteer feel like part of the team.

External inductions

However, if you don't have the office space to hold large scale inductions, don't fret. If your organisation is largely driven by volunteers outside of normal business hours, it is also acceptable to hold volunteer inductions where you usually have meetings for example, at a café or restaurant, or a neighbourhood house or community centre. It's best to complete the induction with new volunteers before inviting them to a regular meeting or before the meeting commences.

While this may seem unusual, it is important that new volunteers are up to speed with the organisational structure, policy and procedures, and vision and goals of the organisation before they start attending meetings. For many people, it is very easy to get lost in meetings and not feel comfortable contributing. This is particularly true for new members. It is important for new volunteers to feel welcome and confident that they can contribute to your organisation.

Group inductions

If you are recruiting a large group of volunteers to work in a team or undertake similar roles, it is ideal to hold a group induction. Group inductions are time and cost effective. They also build team spirit, give volunteers the opportunity to meet each other and allow group work.

Group work is particularly valuable because it provides the opportunity for everyone to have a say, especially those who are a little shy. It also allows the volunteer coordinator to identify potential leaders. Activities that are ideal for group work include identifying roles and responsibilities of volunteers, brainstorming motivations for volunteering and expectations from volunteering. Identifying why individuals are volunteering early will help your efforts to retain and reward volunteers. See our pages on Rewarding and recognising volunteers for more information.

It's a great idea to provide catering for the induction process. This doesn’t mean ordering a feast delivered by the local café but can be as simple as bowls of mints, lollies, a platter of fruit or plate of biscuits. You should also have tea, water and coffee available. Providing light refreshments will make volunteers feel welcome and pleased that you have put in effort.

Icebreakers – how to do it right

Icebreakers are essential for any induction process on the condition that they are executed well. The execution is vital. If the icebreaker lacks creativity or the delivery is weak, it loses effectiveness and can be a negative experience.

A bad example is going around the room saying your name and sharing something personal. It doesn't work. How many of us miss the majority of names because we're too busy trying to think of something to say? It can make people uncomfortable and anxious thinking about what to share, especially in a room of strangers.

Done correctly, icebreakers will release tension in the room, create commonalities and bring laughter.

Good icebreakers are not associated directly with the person and their role at the organisation.

For example:

  • Three truths and a lie, participants are asked to think of four statements and share with the group. Three of the statements are a true and one is a lie. The group is asked to guess which 'fact' is a lie. The advantage to this icebreaker is that it's more interactive, so everyone will have to think about each other.
  • Favourite vegetable – participants are asked to nominate their favourite vegetable
  • Sally likes skipping – participants are asked to create an alliteration with their name or think of a verb using the first letter of their first name. Participants are asked to go around the room voicing their name and what they like; the person next to them repeats what they said and adds their own name. This continues until everyone in the group has had a turn.

Good icebreakers can be creative, inclusive and fun. If done with the right level of enthusiasm, icebreakers can foster great team spirit and a fun environment.

Individual volunteer inductions

Individual volunteer inductions are similar to new employee inductions. They are a lot more businesslike and can be confronting for the volunteer. The emphasis is on discussing the volunteer's role, expectations and ensuring they feel comfortable working in the building and what to do if there is an emergency. Be mindful that the volunteer may feel like they are being interviewed or lectured. Rather than sitting in an office, take time out to sit at their desk, go out for coffee or walk around the office introducing the new volunteer to other volunteers and paid staff.

Remember, going through policy and procedures, organisational charts, communication and equipment systems and emergency procedures takes time. Make sure you allow enough time to spend with the volunteer or arrange for someone else to go through the more housekeeping topics.

Tips for making long term volunteers welcome:

  • If the volunteer has a desk, set it up with stationary and print off a welcome sign
  • Offer the volunteer something to drink when they first arrive
  • Thank the volunteer for coming
  • Ensure the volunteer doesn't feel stranded; either appoint a mentor or buddy who the volunteer can go to for help or establish an open-door policy where the volunteer can come to your office for assistance.

Individual inductions are great for specific long term volunteer positions because it allows volunteer coordinators to get to know the volunteer and their motivations for volunteering.

Tools and resources