Promising Practice: Using Volunteers for Cultural Orientation

An IRC community engagement coordinator working at a day center for asylum seeking families

Delivery of Cultural Orientation happens throughout the refugee resettlement process and, as such, relies on the support and abilities of various individuals. While resettlement staff serve a critical role in delivering Cultural Orientation, some organizations have also opted to utilize volunteers in delivery. The term “volunteer” in this document is defined broadly to include students, interns, and AmeriCorps members as well as individuals from faith-based groups and the general community. Volunteers can have different roles in the implementation of Cultural Orientation, including serving as interpreters, working as trainers, assisting with childcare, providing transportation, or contributing to curriculum design.

What to Consider Before You Begin

Who is Involved?

Successful recruitment and management of volunteers requires engagement of various staff, starting with clear guidance and support from organizational leadership. Depending on the agency, organizational leadership may include national program management staff, who may provide guidelines, processes, and tools. Affiliate and field offices that have been successful at using volunteers in Cultural Orientation  usually have a designated staff member for volunteer recruitment and management. However, a point of contact for volunteers can also be a caseworker, manager, or a committed volunteer. Regardless of the title, the selected individual should have experience managing volunteers, be knowledgeable about the refugee resettlement program, and have strong communication skills.

Materials and Resources Needed

In using volunteers for Cultural Orientation, you will need to ensure you have in place a structured volunteer management system to include key components such as the recruitment process, onboarding requirements, and volunteers’ roles and responsibilities. The volunteer management system should also include the monitoring and tracking of volunteers’ contact information, hours, attendance, and other logistical information. You may have access to additional information and perhaps even volunteer management software either at your own offices or from your Resettlement Agency national office.


The time needed to recruit, train, and manage volunteers for Cultural Orientation will vary based on the scope of work required of them. In some cases, volunteers may be used for short-term projects or to complete an internship over a few months, while other volunteers may make longer commitments, such as delivering Cultural Orientation on an ongoing basis for a year or more. Regardless of the scope, you will need to invest the proper time to recruit, onboard, and continually engage with volunteers throughout their service.


Goal of Promising Practice

By using volunteers for Cultural Orientation, you will be able to:

  • Support staff to develop and deliver a successful Cultural Orientation program at your office
  • Enhance refugee learning and engagement by customizing and reiterating key Cultural Orientation messages based on refugees’ needs
  • Create additional opportunities for refugees to integrate into their communities, while also increasing community involvement in the refugee resettlement process

Assess need

Slide Content

Practice in Action

The CO programs at both the North Carolina office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) and the Boise, Idaho office of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) have benefited from long-term volunteers.

For three years, USCRI North Carolina has utilized two volunteers for CO delivery. Originally, the volunteers started as a part of USCRI’s Welcome Home Project, where they prepared and set up apartments for refugees and provided mentoring to newly arrived families. In conducting a regular check-in with the volunteers, USCRI North Carolina asked them about the possibility of delivering CO. In preparing them to take on this new role, the volunteers underwent additional training with USCRI and took CORE’s Online CO Certification Course. Their service has enhanced CO at the site on multiple levels. The volunteers enjoy the experience and have worked on improving delivery, including participating in CORE’s CO Knowledge Exchange Workshop. They have also trained a third volunteer. For the refugees, this model of CO promotes further integration into their communities and creates additional avenues to communicate about their experiences. Finally, the use of volunteers has allowed caseworkers, who previously delivered CO, to focus on other services.

At IRC Boise, the use of long-term volunteers started five years ago. Prior to using volunteers, CO was delivered by case workers. The office was experiencing challenges with administering CO due to staff time constraints and the need to provide childcare services during CO. To address these needs, the site secured a space in a local church which had a room for childcare. At the same time, they identified volunteers to provide childcare and assist in CO delivery. They have three consistent volunteers, who are also involved in other activities at the office, which strengthens their commitment and gives them a better understanding of the entire resettlement process. These volunteers also meet periodically to identify ways of enhancing CO delivery by focusing on different topics and their own teaching styles.

About three years ago, Interfaith Refugee Ministry (IRM), an Episcopal Migration Ministries’ affiliate in New Bern, North Carolina, asked the fire department to speak to the refugee community about fire safety. When the fire department requested to return each quarter, IRM realized they could build a CO program with other volunteers who could become an expert on a given CO topic.

Today, IRM has a continuous CO course, providing ongoing classes to clients as long as they wish. Classes are held four days a week for an hour and a half each day. IRM is able to hold these classes, in part, thanks to the volunteers that teach the classes. Volunteers from the community interested in teaching CO first speak with IRM to learn the overarching topics and process of CO. The volunteer is able to decide which topic most interests them and they are then trained thoroughly on that topic using CORE materials and other local resources.

The community has shown a sustained interest in this CO initiative and the CO coordinator currently only teaches CO in cases of volunteer absence. Volunteers and community members provide snacks for all CO classes and clients continue to be interested in attending. On any given day, 15 to 22 clients will attend CO classes, regardless of their arrival date.

Tips for Success

The following are a list of tips and recommendations based on feedback collected from Cultural Orientation leaders as well as research on volunteer use by nonprofits:

  • Conduct a needs assessment to identify any gaps in Cultural Orientation provision and where volunteers can assist in filling those gaps.
  • Establish clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations for volunteers.
  • Develop and implement a standard process for recruitment, onboarding, and continued management of volunteers.
  • Provide continued training and leadership opportunities for volunteers.
  • Establish a method to track volunteer contributions, including hours served, which can help demonstrate capacity and need when applying for federal programs and grants.