Onboarding is a crucial step in the volunteer management process. How you onboard and train volunteers to perform the duties of their position will impact the success of your fundraising event and your donors’ overall experience, and it may even determine whether volunteers return for your next event.
From the registration process to organizing logistics, almost all nonprofit events need volunteers to run smoothly. Are you hosting a silent auction? You’ll need plenty of volunteers to set up item displays and help guests during checkout. If you’re holding a 5K, volunteers can work at water stations, give out merchandise, and collect extra donations.
No matter what type of fundraising event you’re planning, you can use these four tips to ensure your volunteers are prepared, utilized well, and invested in your nonprofit’s future.
1. Welcome them to your nonprofit’s community.
Volunteer onboarding is your nonprofit’s only chance for a first impression on volunteer groups and individuals. When someone signs up to volunteer, send out an email to welcome them immediately. In the welcome email, give as much information about their volunteer responsibilities as possible, and include the next steps. Depending on when they signed up, there may be months or days until your event, so be sure to plan accordingly, depending on the amount of information you have on hand to share with them.
Giving training times, location details, and other essential information will set you and your volunteers up for success, but sharing why you’re hosting the event and why you need their help is just as important. Get their emotional buy-in by sharing your mission and how they are helping you achieve it. Show them they’re a vital part of your nonprofit’s community from the beginning.
2. Give out volunteer guides.
Whether new volunteers are committed to your long-term initiatives or consider themselves micro-volunteers for this event alone, they’ll need a rundown of your volunteer policies. Create a short guide to give out that includes the following important information:
- Rules/code of conduct. This section details what volunteers should wear, how they should behave around donors or guests, and any specifics about restricted areas of your event or where and when they can take breaks.
- Event details. Give them the Who/What/When/Where/Why breakdown, preferably in bulleted format. Ensure volunteers know how long they are expected to perform their duties. Give details about parking, any equipment they need to bring, and where they need to check-in.
- Contact info. Include the name, email address, and phone number of the point of contact for the day of the event.
- Time tracking guidelines. Many volunteers are part of groups where volunteer hours are required, and you may need to sign a form or acknowledgment of hours. Communicate how and when your team will complete this.
- How to volunteer again! If you have additional events coming up, include the dates and whom volunteers can contact should they want to return.
There is no such thing as too much communication when it comes to events. Not only should you communicate these details with your volunteers, but you should do it multiple times in multiple ways. Try making your information fun and easy to digest with videos and social media posts!
3. Provide in-depth event training.
Even if your volunteers have worked at another organization’s event or a school’s auction, they still need to be trained to work at your event. Once volunteers have been registered and welcomed, host a volunteer training session to give them all the necessary information and skills. Plan to cover logistics, division of responsibilities, and the basics of any technology they need to use for the event.
Suppose you’re hosting an auction, for example. In that case, you’ll need to train volunteers to use your online auction software and be able to answer questions from guests about registration, mobile bidding, and online checkout.
4. Be vocal with your thanks.
Don’t wait until after the event to say thank you! Let volunteers know how grateful you are for their support during onboarding, the event itself, and every other step. When volunteers are appreciated, they will feel more connected to your cause and will be more likely to return to volunteer at your next event.
Here are a few ideas to make your volunteers feel more special:
- Free food. If you’re hosting an event, chances are that the hours of the event will span over a meal period. Always have food available for your volunteers, whether it’s before the event starts, with a table or room of their own during the event. Have snacks or a boxed meal to send home with them as they leave.
- Social media shoutouts. Take photos and videos of your volunteers and post them on social media, thanking them by name for their time. You could even share the jobs they completed and how they helped to advance your mission. Just be sure to check with volunteers ahead of time to ask their permission before posting.
- Small branded gifts. Everybody, and we mean EVERYBODY, loves free stuff. Order simple t-shirts, stress balls, or branded cups to give to your volunteers as a ‘thank you’ gift at the end of their volunteer shift.
Just like you send out thank-you letters to donors, send out a letter thanking volunteers in the weeks after the event to remind them one more time how much you appreciate them.
Don't be afraid to ask for volunteer feedback when you send out information about other upcoming volunteer opportunities after your event. Give volunteers a chance to say what they liked and didn’t like about your onboarding and training process to improve them in the future.
When volunteers feel valued and appreciated, they will be loyal to your cause long-term, and you will have seasoned and trained volunteers at your events every year!
Jeff Porter, Founder & CEO of Handbid, has spent 18 years in the nonprofit industry. In 2004 he founded the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association of Colorado where he still resides as board chair. Jeff learned early on that nonprofits desperately needed better and more affordable fundraising solutions. Leveraging his software background, he built most of the tools his charities used, and in 2011 he launched Handbid at his own fundraising event. The goal was to improve the guest experience, reduce administration and increase revenue. Handbid accomplished all of those goals, effectively doubling revenue in its debut. Nine years later, Handbid's suite of tools has delighted over a half-million guests, generated millions of bids, and helped thousands of charities raise well over $100 million.