by Maria Lahiffe
Your volunteers are key to what you do. Make sure you let them know this, every chance you get. One of your first opportunities is the welcome letter in your volunteer handbook. The welcome letter is your earliest “opportunity to create an inviting environment for your volunteers and to explain their critical role in the fulfillment of your mission.” 
Why write a welcome letter?
A volunteer welcome letter serves the following functions: 
- Reinforces your commitment to your new volunteer and makes them feel valued. Volunteer recognition, one of the most important parts of retention, starts now.
- Reiterates details of service, such as start date and time, dress code, and any other things the volunteer needs to know, such as where to park or what is the best bus to take to your office. This saves your volunteer some feelings of insecurity, and maximizes their chance of being successful right off the bat.
- Informs your volunteers of any necessary screening procedures prior to beginning work, such as a criminal background check, security clearance, or language competency test.
- This could give you a chance to send, in advance, some of the paperwork associated with the volunteer’s service with you, such as emergency contact sheet, confidentiality policy to sign, photo consent, etc. Sending these forms in advance gives them a chance to go through them at leisure, perhaps with a spouse, and helps them to get down to work more quickly once they have walked through your door on their first day.
- Sends the message that you are organized, trustworthy, welcoming, and prepared.
How should I write a welcome letter?
Here are some tips to write a great welcome letter: 
- Keep it short. A half page is ideal; definitely keep it under a page. Other forms can be included as attachments to the email, or enclosures in the envelope if you send it old-school.
- Use plain language.
- Consider having this signed by your Executive Director or a member of the Board. This sends the message to your volunteers that volunteerism is supported right from the top.
- Technology tip: most of the content of your letter will be common to all volunteers. Keep your boilerplate letter on file, and use MS Word’s Mail Merge function to personalize the letters for each volunteer. Learn how to use MS Word at our upcoming workshop in August or December.
Here are some sample welcome letters to give you some more ideas:
Volunteer Ottawa will soon be hosting Write your Volunteer Handbook 201, a hands-on opportunity to write the first draft of your handbook, or update your existing one, with a group of your peers and under the expert guidance of a seasoned volunteer management professional. Bring your laptop and information about your organization’s policies and procedures.
Volunteer Ottawa offers a comprehensive suite of courses related to volunteer management. Click here for more information, and to register. Subscribe to our Event RSS Feed to be among the first to know when a new workshop is added to the schedule.
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Why write a volunteer handbook?
What should you include in a volunteer handbook? Part 1
What should you include in a volunteer handbook? Part 2