Planning for On-Site Orientation and Training (OSOT)

A VISTA member’s orientation begins with the VMO, which combines self-directed online tutorials on the VISTA Campus and live webinars and continues through to the face-to-face OSOT provided at the project site. OSOT begins on the VISTA member’s start date. During OSOT the VISTA is formally oriented to the assignment, sponsoring organization and community by the project sponsor/supervisor. The OSOT differs from VMO is several important aspects:

  • The OSOT is presented by the project sponsor/supervisor, and addresses the specifics of the project, the VISTA’s assignment and the community; the VMOs are conducted on a national basis by CNCS staff, presenting a national curriculum.
  • The OSOT is a longer, slower-paced training, typically lasting four to six weeks after the VISTA member’s start date and is implemented by the supervisor, co-workers, community members, and others; the VMOs are self-directed online tutorials on the VISTA Campus and live webinars which typically take about two weeks to complete prior to the VISTA member’s start date.
  • The OSOT prepares a VISTA member to serve effectively in the sponsoring organization and the target community; the VMO orients the VISTA member to the VISTA program and support system of CNCS.


OSOT is the second step in the VISTA member’s training continuum. Its primary purpose is to build on concepts introduced through the VMO. OSOT introduces the VISTA to the sponsor, the community, and the goals and operation of the VISTA project and provides VISTA members the basic knowledge and skills they need to get started on the project.

The scheduling of OSOT should be timely enough to provide the VISTA member with the immediate information and skills needed to begin their service, yet flexible enough to allow VISTA members to satisfy personal and adjustment needs.

Develop an OSOT plan that is consistent with project goals and that meets minimum desired outcomes.

  • Submit OSOT plan to the CNCS State Office 30 days prior to the VISTA member’s start date
  • Involve the VISTA in an ongoing evaluation of activities of OSOT and adjust plans, as necessary, to meet individual VISTA’s needs
  • Begin process of defining in-service training needs based on OSOT outcomes and evaluation

NOTE: For multi-site VISTA projects, sponsors should provide a general OSOT to all VISTAs to orient them to the sponsor, the larger VISTA project, and relevant policies and procedures to the VISTA project. Additionally, sponsors should be collecting and reviewing OSOT plans from each site 30 days prior to the VISTA member’s start date. The site OSOT plans should be on file at the sponsor and available for review by CNCS.

OSOT Learning Objectives

By the end of OSOT, the VISTA member should have achieved the following learning outcomes:

  • Understand common expectations and agreements for a working relationship between the VISTA member and supervisor:
    • Supervisor’s other roles and responsibilities
    • Supervisor’s management style
    • Scheduled meetings and interactions between VISTA member and supervisor
    • Clarification of the lines of communication between VISTA member and supervisor
    • Delineation of the support provided to the VISTA member
    • Mutual understanding of the terms and conditions of VISTA service
    • Chain of command
  • Understand the mission and goals of the sponsoring organization:
    • Mission
    • History
    • How the organization functions (as a nonprofit, municipality, state, county, or federal entity)
    • Role in the community
    • Staff (introductions)
  • Recognize the context of the VISTA project:
    • VISTA project and its history
    • How and where the VISTA member fits
    • Introduction to the community
    • Socioeconomic and political structure of the community
    • Potential resources that can be applied to achieve project goals
    • History and present status of community self-determination and problem-solving efforts
  • Understand the organization’s culture and policies (and where VISTA policy overrides organizational policy):
    • Roles and responsibilities
    • Time and attendance, service hours
    • Personal leave
    • Medical leave
    • Teleservice
    • In-service mileage reimbursement/travel policy and procedure
    • Working with the media
    • Fundraising activities
    • Evaluation of individual VISTA members and of the project
    • Reporting requirements for the VISTA project
  • Develop, with the supervisor, a personal work plan, based on the VAD that specifies:
    • Tasks and activities for a specific period to accomplish the goals and objectives in the project work plan
    • Training needed for the assignment, which builds on the VMO and OSOT toward the personal and professional development of the VISTA member

Depending on the project, the supervisor may deem it necessary for the VISTA member to receive training in such areas as computer skills, public speaking, group facilitation, conflict resolution, needs assessment and asset mapping, grant writing, and/or negotiation and interviewing skills.

A VISTA member may also need specific training in issue areas and on such topics as domestic violence hotlines, early childhood literacy, laws regarding foster care, credit management, and microenterprise VISTA development. The VISTA member’s actual needs depend on the requirements of the project and the experience, skills, and educational background the VISTA member already possesses.

Suggested Orientation and Training Methods

The methods the supervisor may use for orientation and training include:

  • Brainstorming, discussion, and negotiation between the sponsor and VISTA member, or among the supervisor, VISTA member, and a larger team (e.g., with other project staff)
  • Interviews and discussions with key community leaders or even with a random sample of residents and community members
  • Homework – e.g., have the VISTA member review the project proposal the sponsor submitted to CNCS, the MA between CNCS and the sponsor, the VAD, and other pertinent organization position papers
  • Field trips and strategically assigned tasks the VISTA member needs to complete
  • Shadowing others who are performing similar work
  • Attendance at staff, advisory board, and community meetings
  • Asking staff, colleagues at other organizations, and experts to share some time reviewing their “tricks of the trade” or providing specific skill training
  • Free or low-cost skill training from various community resources, such as:
    • Community colleges
    • Libraries
    • Community resource and technology centers
    • Trade associations
    • Community adult education programs
    • Resources located on the VISTA Campus including Early-Service Coursework (can be incorporated into the orientation process)
    • The VISTA Professional Webinar Series calendar of events, located on the VISTA Campus
    • The in-depth VISTA Blend courses accredited by the American Council on Education. The two courses address “Volunteer Mobilization” (10 weeks to complete/three credit hours) and “Resource Development” (13 weeks to complete/three credit hours). The registration page is located on the VISTA Campus
    • Additional resources are available on the CNCS Knowledge Network