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VT readers ask questions about volunteer management and administration. Ask Connie, an experienced volunteer manager, consultant and trainer, provides the answers for all to see.
Send questions to AskConnieP@cs.com

~ June 2006 ~

Volunteer Awards
Orientation and Refresher for Volunteers

Dear Connie:

My company is looking to develop a volunteer recognition program. I was curious if you had any particular advice on the 'volunteer of the year' concept.


Dear Leman:

I believe that a "volunteer of the year" award works well only when there is quantifiable, objective criteria - such as number of hours worked, number of tickets sold, dollars raised, etc. (This assumes that there is a system in place at your organization to track these things accurately.) The risk of recognizing only one individual annually as the "top" volunteer is that it sets up artificial competition that's contrary to the purpose of recognition (to recognize ALL volunteers for the time and talents they contribute). Competition can also easily lead to volunteers forgetting about how important it is to accomplish an organization's mission and focusing instead on the numbers required to receive the annual award. I know many organizations have monthly or annual awards, but I personally vote for recognizing all volunteers in appropriate ways.

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Dear Connie:

I am looking to develop training sessions for the volunteers – old and new, reinforcing the policies and procedures and introducing some new ones. What would be the best approach? Also, I will be giving each one a volunteer manual, and other components that will develop a foundation of the volunteer department.


Dear C.B.:

Most successful volunteer programs require new volunteers to attend an orientation. In my humble opinion, orientation is one of the most important activities for new volunteers. It's the best opportunity to share with them your organization's mission, introduce volunteer and staff leaders, get a tour of the offices, and meet the other new volunteers. Orientation is the time to introduce new volunteers to the culture of your organization and your volunteer program. It is the best time to share your expectations for how volunteers support your organization's mission and each other. The primary purpose of orientation is to provide volunteers with the context within which they'll work.

An effective orientation will provide your volunteers with the following:

A description of the overall programs and clients of your organization.
A brief history of your organization.
An overview of your organizational charts.
An orientation to the facilities and layout of your organization.
Knowledge of general policies and procedures in your organization and your volunteer program.
A description of your volunteer management system.

I encourage you to read an excellent article, "The Importance of Good Orientation," written by my late colleague Mary Merrill.

To expand your orientation into a refresher for long-term volunteers too, simply involve them in implementing it. By this I mean, ask some of them to lead different parts of the orientation, such as a tour of the offices or a review of how the volunteer program works. You may have some volunteers who would be willing to share their experiences when they first became a volunteer at your organization. There's nothing like one volunteer sharing with another. It's much more powerful than anything you could do as a staff member.

Finally, there are many good articles and resources here on the Volunteer Today website about orientation. Simply click on "Archives Search" in the left column at the top of the page. Then type "orientation" in the "Search by Keyword or Phrase" box.

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Do you have a question? Now you too can ask an expert!

Connie Pirtle, of Strategic NonProfit-Resources, has 15 years' experience in working with volunteers. She has consulted and/or trained for such organizations as the Washington National Cathedral, Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Music America, and the Association for Volunteer Administration.

Send your questions to Connie at AskConnieP@cs.com.
Connie Pirtle
Strategic Nonprofit Resources
10103 Edward Avenue * Bethesda, MD 20814 * VOICE: 301-530-8233 * FAX: 301-530-8299

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