I’m a New Volunteer! What Now?
So you’ve made your mind up to be a volunteer. You’ve selected a cause that is close to your heart, or at least is in front of you, and a charity that is involved in that cause.
After reaching out to them, their staff helped you figure out options for the perfect role – as an event volunteer, client helper, organizer, fundraiser, or board member. What might happen next?
Non-profits today realize that volunteers are an important part of their team – they bring additional skills, energy and effort that can be called upon as needed. That organization’s mission depends on volunteers helping them to be successful.
Remember how much thought you put into where you wanted to volunteer? A good non-profit is probably going to put in a similar amount of time to make sure you’re a good fit and have the tools to impact their organization.
For instance, many organizations will ask you to complete an application to be a volunteer. “What is this, a job?” you may be wondering. In some ways, yeah! Even though you aren’t being paid, your involvement as a volunteer can mean just as much to a non-profit’s operation as an employee.
They may be putting nearly as many resources into you as a volunteer as they would if they just had staff do the job, including supervision, for good reason. You chose that agency because they make an impact, and they are hoping for the same from you in return. You are completing vital operational or policy activities. You’re serving as a representative of the organization, which means all your good and all your bad is reflected on them.
That is why many smart organizations put just as much investment into you as a new team member as you do in them – to make sure the relationship is a good fit.
Let’s take a look at some other things that might take place when you become a new volunteer:
- Background check – There are a lot of reasons to do background checks, especially if you’re working with vulnerable populations like children or have money responsibility. These are generally really easy and usually don’t include fingerprints. I try to stay squeaky clean, as I end up doing about one a year for various reasons. So far, so good!
- Orientation and training – Pretty tough to do a job if they don’t tell you what needs to be done, right? This is a critical step in getting to know how the organization operates, who you will be working with, and what you’ll be doing. I’ve seen everything from a simple job description and practice of a task, to 40 hours or more of formal training. No agency creates a training and orientation system for kicks – they do what they do because they’ve found it to be critical to mission success. You’ll also enjoy your “job” more if you have the tools to do it better, so it pays to pay attention.
- Mentor – For some roles you may be assigned a mentor, who can be either staff or another volunteer who has lots of experience. When you get past the initial training, mentors are great for follow-up questions you may have or even explaining those customs and norms you didn’t know to ask about!
- Surveys and evaluation – I just recently completed an entrance survey for a volunteer role, because the organization wants make the right match between me and the job or clients I’ll be working with. Post-job or event evaluations are also becoming more common, as organizations want to know the outcomes of their activities and how they can do better next time. If they are offered, please take the time to fill them out!
- Recognition – Many organizations like to recognize their volunteers, which may include small gifts, luncheons, and even awards. Personally, and I know I’m not alone, I’d rather skip it and put the resources toward the mission. However, in the grand scheme of things, it really does work to keep volunteers motivated and provide some goodwill publicity for the organization. So, I will usually grin and bear it, at least up to a point.
What experiences have you run into as a new volunteer, and how did it impact the work you do?
Agency managers, what other tools do you have to bring new volunteers on board?
Tell us in the comments below!