Improve volunteer training in 6 steps

Volunteers who are inspired by the mission and vision of your nonprofit are eager to help you help the community. When they sign on as a volunteer, they want specific duties so they can see how they contribute to the mission of the organization.

This desire to see results means effective volunteer training is critical to the success of your volunteer program. Volunteers will quit if they think their efforts are wasted, so do the work to get them engaged and productive from the start.

A strong volunteer training program provides the training and resources volunteers need to provide value to your organization. Quality training boosts volunteer motivation, which improves retention.

Even organizations with the tightest nonprofit budgets need to provide basic nonprofit, organization-based, and role-based training.

  1. Set clear goals for your volunteer training program

  2. Goals help volunteers and the staff training them work together effectively. To set goals that everyone can understand, begin by reviewing the job descriptions you’ve written for your volunteer opportunities. Make it your goal that every volunteer you train knows how their work supports the mission of the organization.

    Next, decide how you’ll train your volunteers and who will be in charge. Will you need a manual or workbook? Can the training be done partially online? How much hands-on training will you provide to your volunteers? Set goals that make sense to volunteers as they move through your training program.

  3. Provide options for training

  4. There is no one-size-fits-all way of teaching because there are seven distinct ways people learn: visually, verbally, aurally, physically, logically, socially, and solitarily. So a lecture will work for some, whereas others need hands-on instruction.

    Your volunteer trainers need to understand that a volunteer who isn’t succeeding with their training might need to be taught in a different way. For example, if you provide a training manual on basic nonprofit education and organization-based training, you could supplement that with a slide presentation or with one-on-one time with the trainer.

  5. Create a welcoming atmosphere

  6. Your volunteer training program will make a lasting impression on your volunteers. Create an environment that welcomes your new volunteers and puts them at ease from the moment they walk through the door. Welcome new volunteers. Make sure the training room is hospitable. Provide refreshments during breaks to encourage mingling.

    Volunteers are most likely to quit in the early stages of their experience with your organization, so volunteer retention efforts have to begin when they begin training. 

  7. Introduce yourself memorably

  8. The introduction to your organization will set the tone for the volunteer’s experience. The very start of volunteer training is when you must establish mutual expectations. Explain the guidelines and procedures standard at your nonprofit and why these have proven effective.

    Letting volunteers know what they’re getting into will help you determine which are the best fit for your cause. Discuss the goals of your organization so they know where you plan to go in the future. This will help you find those who will be with you for the long haul.

  9. Make engagement a key component of training

  10. Keeping volunteers engaged is essentially volunteer retention, so make engagement central to your training program. Keep volunteers eager to donate their time by showing them the value of their work in the community.

    To increase engagement with training, consider including gamification, group activities, and role-playing. Ask volunteers for regular feedback on their training: what worked, what didn’t, and how they think the program can be improved.

  11. Support your volunteers through continual training

  12. Your volunteer training program will have a specific duration, but volunteer training is an ongoing process. Engaged volunteers are certain to have questions as they settle into new roles. Each time they help out is an opportunity to learn more, so never miss an opportunity for more training.

    Provide supervision and feedback so volunteers know your organization isn’t just recruiting warm bodies without regard to how they perform. Treating volunteers respectfully and professionally makes clear they are valued just as much as paid staff. Your actions will assure them you’re committed to having the best people on the team. That can only happen if you provide feedback and let go of weak links.

High-quality volunteer training results in volunteers who are better prepared and more engaged with the organization. The more they learn about the nonprofit as a whole, the better they can see how they’re helping to fulfill the organization’s mission. Ultimately, that keeps volunteers working for community good for the long term.

This article is originally published on Jan 29, 2020, and updated on Jun 08, 2022.

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