Volunteer Applications & Onboarding During COVID, and Other Topics! | Track It Forward

Volunteer Applications & Onboarding During COVID, and Other Topics!

Written by Kasey Murphy

Volunteer Coordinator Resource Community Recap February 16 - February 23 

There were many great topics and questions brought up this week in the Volunteer Coordinator Resource Community that got a lot of attention, or at least should get some more engagement! 

To start, the topics of recruiting volunteers, the volunteer application, and the onboarding process were brought up in different ways this week. Let’s dive in! 

Volunteer Onboarding 

Hi all! I work for an animal shelter in New England and I’m new to the volunteer world. I started during COVID, so I haven’t seen when things were “normal.” I am currently working on our new volunteer onboarding process. I would love to make it like a curriculum, so if anyone has any tips and things I should include that would be awesome. We had monthly info sessions and after that would be the training classes. If anyone has an order of bringing on new volunteers that work for them I’d love to hear! Thanks!

Volunteer Orientation and Info Sessions are an essential part of the volunteer onboarding experience, but sometimes it is the extra little bits of effort and detail that really make volunteers feel welcome and excited! 

With coronavirus, volunteers might not know their limits, so onboarding is a great way to explore the options with them of what might occur when COVID is less prevalent, and how they will handle activities until then. 

Here’s what the comments had to say: 

  • “We moved from monthly in-person orientations to online orientation with an in-person Shelter Tour.’

  • “We had in person orientation until covid. Then we moved it all online and just recently started requiring online scheduling for visits. Waldenhumane.org.

  • “We stopped on boarding thru the pandemic, we are only allowing a few volunteers in at this time. But getting everything together for when we do reopen”

If you find yourself in a similar boat as the above volunteer coordinators, or you have any advice on volunteer onboarding throughout COVID, comment here! 

Volunteer Application And Role Matching 

I work for a small non-profit with three branches of programming.  I was coordinating one of the programs and due to COVID-19 my role has shifted to support the organization as Volunteer Coordinator.  I'm curious how other organizations handle the volunteer application process and the matching of volunteers to roles.  What is your start to finish process (i.e. do volunteers call you and discuss opportunities then they complete an application then they are matched with an opportunity or do they start out by submitting an application)  I'm hoping to get things streamlined and to have all information in one space so it is easy to access for grant purposes, etc.

The way that different volunteer organizations decide to accept volunteers is completely up to them, but those that decide to do a volunteer application system should have a system in place so that all applicants are treated fairly, and know how their application is processed! It should be made clear if they are applying for a specific volunteer position, or if one is being chosen for them. 

Here are some of the comments from the post! 

  • “I work for a wildlife park. We have specific departments that our volunteers can work with, e.g. Animals, gardens, enrichment etc. If someone applys, I usually send them an application form, which gives me information such as what it is they are looking to do with us, when they are avaliable, previous experience (if any). This helps me to break down what I may or may not be able to offer. “

  • “I work for my local animal shelter and we have the volunteers sign up where I learn about their experience and interest and whatnot and they then attend an info session, and I email them the liability forms and the handbooks and all that and then they complete 3 one hour a day training sessions and then they are able to volunteer with the section they want (i.e. dogs, cats, surgery, etc.)”

  • “We have a Volunteer Interest Form on our website (simple Google Form that triggers an email to me) that helps them gauge volunteer opportunities. I follow-up with everyone's interest and its up to them to schedule a meeting with me. I have a 'You Can Book Me' account and have ample times on when we can virtually meet (links to Zoom account). From there I do 1:1 Volunteer Information Sessions where we talk about the organization, services we provide, volunteer opportunities, and next steps. I do an informal interview with everyone and gauge interests in specific volunteer roles. Afterwards, if I deem them fit for the volunteer role I send them the formal volunteer application/background check. Its the best way for us to make sure we are getting the best volunteers. I do prewarn that it takes about 2-3 weeks to become a volunteer with us. “

  • “We advertise specific roles just like a job. They apply for specific roles if interviewed I gauge not only suitable for that role but the 5 others I have available for alternate matching.”

If you have anything you would like to comment on with your process for volunteer application and roles, comment here! 

Resources For Volunteer Applications & Onboarding: 

Volunteer Management / Paid Staff Work Loads

Many people in a volunteer management role have experienced burnout or feeling overwhelmed. It is natural, but sometimes there is something that you can do to avoid burnout, or not put too much on your plate. 

So, I currently have 250 (normally 450 a year) volunteers working remotely, 140 were brought on since April 2020.  These are fewer volunteers than normal, but the same approx new recruits in a year( for me). This year I recreated 4 programs, my recruiting and intake procedures to the virtual world.  Although staff look after the day-to-day support of the volunteers, and they have a consistent schedule that doesn’t change, I do everything else. 
Also precovid I felt like this job was more than a one person job.
 I’m working hard on figuring out what is “normal” and “reasonable “ for a work load.  I’m currently on medical leave from getting burnt out. I have found it too easy to loose track of boundaries and balance working from home, also given concerns for loss of job. It’s not so easy when your office is your bedroom.  Before I go back, I want clear boundaries for myself and a plan that I can look at/ work from. I also want it so I can either get support or start downsizing the program to be manageable. 
The thing is I can’t find anything in the literature. There is no clear ratio of staff to volunteer (my hr department is 3 people for 250 staff). There is nothing that say 20-25 individual interviews a week is the norm.  I’ve always estimated it takes a bout 7hrs to on-board a new volunteer,but that is as far as I’ve gotten.  
I’d like a plan to say if we X number of new volunteers to start on Y day, then I need Z weeks to train, A weeks for interviews, B weeks for recruiting. Therefore, we need to start advertising (as an example) 16 weeks before Y day.
So what are your thoughts? If you have similar interviews,how many individual interviews do you do in a week?  How many people do you manage?
Updated for more info - I work in Canada, at a Library, in a unionized environment. I do have and “admin volunteer” role but they do things like birthday wishes, when we were in person they would help me with filing and log hours of volunteers in programs. Right now everyone is virtual and they log their own hours. I have not been able to get the union to approve anything more since interviews and things like that are in paid staff Job descriptions (HR and mine).

Advice From The Comments About Volunteer Management 

  • “I think it really depends on each unique organization. I volunteer with an organization that spends about 5 minutes on boarding new volunteers (which is not good, but it's outside of my control). Another one spends about 10 hours doing a formal training and certification. Can you track your own experiences and come up with an average based on your own organizational culture and expectations?”

  • “I have not seen anything for ratios for paid support but have seen recommendations about building out your own volunteer team to support you in volunteer management. I think you are barking up the right tree with quantifying the “cost” of a new volunteer at your organization but would also challenge you to start outlining job descriptions to identify how the work would be split if you got your dream team hired. It always helps me to split out tasks as I can better picture how many people (paid and unpaid) it will take and then work the numbers to advocate for that.”

  • “When I felt very, very overwhelmed I hired an AmeriCorps member and it helped tremendously. Has your organization looked into that for?”

  • “Also one thing that helped me is to remembee that volunteer coordinators also need volunteers. I was so busy supplying them for everyone else I forgot to recruit some to help me.”

  • “1. Work 40-45 hours a week and see what happens. Keep track of what doesn’t get done and ask for help with that. 2 Do you have volunteers helping you run the vol program? Can they help onboard and train? Can they run info sessions? Are you still doing filing/data entry or do you have volunteers doing it? 3. Figure out how many full time equivalents (fte) your volunteers equal and compare to what other staff are managing?”

Resources On Volunteer Management 

Volunteer Background Checks 

Hi everyone! Three-part question for y'all.
Do any of you require volunteers to pay for their own background check?
If so, do you offer to reimburse them after meeting

We have discussed volunteer background checks before in this group, but it is an important topic to bring up. And, specifically, the questions of who is paying for volunteer background checks, and are volunteers ever reimbursed if they pay? 

The comments about Volunteer Background Checks: 

  • “Our volunteer are in the public school system and yes they have to pay for their background check and we don't reimburse.”

  • “We cover our county volunteer background checks but did require our affiliate groups ( coaches) to pay for theirs.”

  •  “We background check and have historically asked volunteers to cover the cost. For equity and not wanting ability to pay to be a barrier, I advocated for a fund to pay for checks if anyone would like. In the description I send, it says to reach out if they would like us to cover the costs. It has worked well!”

If you would like to add on this topic, or propose a new idea - comment here! 

We have written a great resource on Track It Forward about Volunteer Background checks - take a look! 

Feeling Zoomed Out? 

You know what we mean, you are trying to do so many at-home opportunities, but most people are getting pretty annoyed with the whole zoom meetings, zoom games, or breakout sessions. 

So, what’s next? How do you keep entertaining and retaining volunteers without video chats? 

We are hoping to start a working forum of ideas for creative volunteer coordinators and managers to help each other by creating a creative list of non-zoom-related ways to recognize, interact with, and engage volunteers! 

Check it out here!