Skills-based volunteers offer tremendous advantages, but require some investment of time and resources. Without adequate orientation, management and recognition, volunteer retention drops. The Stanford Social Innovation Review notes about a third of volunteers do not continue beyond the first year.

Orientation Best Practices

Best practice checklists include: Experience Matters Encore Fellow Program On-Boarding/Orientation Considerations and the JV EnCorps Information and Guidelines for Partner Agencies. The following summarizes good onboarding practices:

Get excited

  • Explain your mission and history
  • Introduce your strategic plan and goals
  • Educate about programs and services
  • Highlight your organization’s social impact
  • Connect volunteer role with your mission

 Get settled

  • Physically orient volunteer to location, work space, technology
  • Inform volunteer about policies and procedures
  • Go over responsibilities and reporting relationships
  • Explain how work gets done, how decisions are made
  • Orient to the culture

 Get connected                       

  • Introduce volunteer to staff, leadership and board as appropriate
  • Help volunteer get to know communities served
  • Connect volunteer with stakeholder groups
  • Integrate volunteer into teams and social networks
  • Keep volunteers in the loop

 Get started

  • Explain the specific scope of work
  • Communicate goals and expectations
  • Establish reporting relationships
  • Set up check-ins and time frames
  • Determine communication channels and expectations


The Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s volunteer engagement toolkit (Matching Volunteers with a Role that Inspires) recommends sharing the values, norms and expectations of your organization and connecting volunteers with others in the organization. The more connected, the greater the likelihood that new volunteers will stick around. Try these strategies:

  • Offer group experiences over individual ones. Group experiences provide social opportunities to connect with others and form relationships.
  • Tap mentors. Partner new volunteers with people who have been in your organization a while.
  • Give positive feedback. Provide ongoing support and recognition.
  • Tailor the orientation process. Use tools and resources designed for new volunteers.
  • Structure experiences to follow a logical sequence. Develop training opportunities that allow for progressive learning.
  • If possible, offer orientation in-person instead of online. Online training is convenient and efficient, but in-person meetings offer more opportunity for social connections, which help new volunteers feel like they are part of your organization.

Tap Volunteers

Tobi Johnson, Tobi Johnson & Associates, courtesy Wild Apricot:

“The onboarding process is where you balance volunteer expectations with organizational goals and program expectations to create a positive experience for your volunteers.

Your volunteers come to your organization with a ‘passion for your cause or a commitment to your community’. They also have specific expectations, which are often lofty and possibly unrealistic. At the same time, volunteers bring skills, capabilities and interests to the table. Your organization has opportunities, goals and requirements that your volunteers need to support. When these things all come together, you have the perfect trifecta of opportunity.”