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Induction vs. Orientation

Two volunteer managers, Jessup and Chloe were both excited when the brought in new volunteers.

Jessup, who manages volunteers for a start-up, said, “I was asked to find volunteers to help with our kick off campaign. I brought in a trio of talented volunteers and one of our marketers patiently showed them what needed to be done. The volunteers did exceptionally well, but they didn’t stay with us very long. I had to recruit again and again.”

Chloe, meanwhile, who manages volunteers at a different start-up said, “I recruited a few volunteers to help with our kick-off. I was a bit worried because the volunteers were from varied backgrounds and had really different talents. But, you know, although it took them a bit to get going, all the staff here helped out. Those volunteers are still with us today.”

Volunteer retention is a nuanced and complicated concept. Some parts of it can be controlled and some cannot. But one thing we can control is induction and orientation. Why does a seemingly perfect volunteer become disinterested? Why does another volunteer fit in like a glove? How do volunteers gel with the mission?

Let’s look at induction and orientation: Can we get away with offering one and not the other?

Induction is the formal process in which to introduce a volunteer to their job. (the mechanics)

Orientation is the integration of the volunteer into the organization. (the gel)

Jessup’s organization lost volunteers because they did not orient them. Chloe’s on the other hand, used both induction and orientation.

As volunteer managers, we need to use both induction and orientation to retain great volunteers. And, our entire organizations must be involved. Here is an example:


  1. Volunteer manager shows volunteer where break room is, supplies are kept, what the policies are, etc.
  2. Staff member who best knows the job shows volunteer how to do the work, where bathroom nearest station is located, etc.


  1. Volunteer manager welcomes, presents organizational goals, history etc.
  2. CEO welcomes volunteers to organization, emphasizes contributions from volunteers.
  3. A seasoned volunteer is paired with newbie to mentor and encourage.
  4. Staff introduces themselves to volunteer, thanks, offers assistance, assures volunteer they are appreciated and part of team.

Both induction and orientation are vital to engaging volunteers. If we make them feel a part of the team, but do not give them the knowledge and equipment to do their jobs, they will leave. If we give them all the training in the world, but do not integrate them into our mission, they will also leave.

And here’s the thing. Most of us toy with the idea of having a volunteer sign a one year commitment. But maybe that’s just backwards. What we might do instead is ask our entire organization to sign a commitment for each and every volunteer. This commitment would look something like this:

I, the undersigned, ___________________________ commits to do my part in  orienting, inducting and engaging each and every new volunteer for as long as that volunteer is ethically representing our organization and mission.

Ask the CEO to require each staff member to sign this commitment. And maybe if you are feeling a bit ambitious, you can point out that volunteer engagement should be part of each employee’s yearly evaluation.

Woah, be still my heart.