Everything You Need to Know About Onboarding Employees at Your Charity

It doesn’t matter how big or small the charity, or how junior the role—good onboarding is essential if you want to retain the best talent. The first 90 days in a new job – otherwise known as the golden period – is a vital time for employers, allowing them to reap unparalleled rewards in terms of employee retention, engagement, satisfaction and productivity. According to research conducted by the Aberdeen Group, an engaged employee is 87% less likely to leave a company in the first twelve months, and effective onboarding increases that employee engagement by 20%.

Earlier this year, Andrew Hyland (Head of Recruitment and Resourcing at Macmillan Cancer Support) spoke at Fundraising Week, putting onboarding as the HR practice with the second greatest impact on a business after recruitment. And it’s likely to become more important post Brexit when it’s expected there’ll be an even greater premium on attracting and retaining good candidates.

So, how can you make sure you’re using the best practices to integrate a new starter into your charity?

Charity specific considerations

It’s worth mentioning that onboarding can vary from charity to charity. Size of often dictates how streamlined your practices can become, so not every organisation will be able to set up the same onboarding system. Big brand charities can operate just like corporations in the private sector with large HR departments and sophisticated onboarding procedures. Most charities don’t have these resources, but the same principles apply and can be adapted to any budget. What’s essential is that you don’t leave this to chance or think you can call in favours from colleagues just before the new person walks through the door. Preparation is key and far more important than any onboarding software package or induction programme.

Don’t forget that an onboarding process is also an opportunity to introduce new starters to the culture and ethos of your organisation; it’s doubly important to do this well in the charity sector where it can be more meaningful than in other sectors. Even if it’s a role that isn’t as hands-on with your charity’s mission—like IT or finance—all new starters will benefit from feeling valued as part of an organisation that’s making a difference.

It starts with recruitment—and includes the interview

The onboarding process doesn’t start the moment someone accepts the job. It’s earlier than that. The impression you, your organisation and your brand make during the recruitment process is critical. Make a good impression here and you start building integration early. Like eating well during pregnancy, it provides the best circumstances for a healthy start!

According to the Aberdeen Group, 70% of new hires make the decision to stay or leave within the first six months. Make a bad impression and it’ll affect how a candidate views the charity in the longer term, whether successful or not. And of course, bad experiences and bad reviews spread like wildfire, particularly in an era of Glassdoor, LinkedIn and a growing candidates’ market.

Don’t be a stranger. Make contact before the first day.

Get in touch in the week before a new starter’s first day in the way that seems most appropriate for the role. It could be a phone call or friendly email to check they’ve got everything they need. Or you could see if they’ve time to meet up for a coffee with you and/or one or two other colleagues before they begin. Larger organisations may have a portal that new starters can log in to before their first day.

Take whatever seems the right approach for the job and size of the charity, but make sure that a new starter at least knows the start time for the first day, how to get there and who to ask for when they arrive. It helps give them a rough outline of what to expect from that initial week.

How to prepare for the first day

Have a checklist of the things they’ll need on that first day and make sure they’re all done in plenty of time. Things to tick-off include:

  • Someone to meet them in reception
  • Staff pass
  • Desk/workspace ready
  • IT set up complete
  • Necessary paperwork readily available
  • Company (or department/team) email introduction


Schedule for the first day and beyond

The first day can be intimidating for any employee, no matter their experience level, so prepare for this carefully. Draw up a schedule you can give to the new starter and make sure that everyone involved in their induction knows exactly what they’re being asked to do and that the time is booked out of their diary.

Things to consider here include:

  • A first-day lunch, coffee or informal team meeting.
  • An induction meeting with their manager.
  • Who do they need to see from other teams? Set this up.
  • Work shadowing? Be careful here. It can seem an easy fix to send a new person to spend time with a colleague in a similar role, but it can also come over as lazy on your part and often doesn’t achieve much. Make sure the new starter is learning something productive rather than feeling like a nuisance.
  • Keep a tight schedule for the week and have complete clarity over who’s responsible for them during those first few days. If it’s you, then you must own this and make sure you’ve put time into your diary for regular catch ups.


Clarity, clarity, clarity

Overall, it’s absolutely crucial that you provide complete clarity around expectations for the new person for the first day, week and beyond.

Set up short-term and long-term targets with a clear time frame. Stick to a schedule for regular catch-ups and always provide clear feedback. Follow up in writing.

Have complete transparency around expectations and make sure they’re communicated to everyone involved so that your new starter isn’t confused by conflicting expectations of their role from different people within your organisation.

Remember, no one hits the ground running

In fact, it’s a physical impossibility. So, be prepared that however excellent and committed, a new person will make mistakes and learnings are inevitable. They also won’t do the job in exactly the same way as their predecessor, so give them some slack here and let them make the role their own.

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About the author

Jean Merrylees

Jean Merrylees is a freelance content writer and editor who has previously written for the BBC. Jean is now taking her first steps into the charity sector after spending some time writing for both Diabetes UK & CharityJob.