I’ve Got Volunteers – Great! Now What?

1 10 2010

You’ve done your homework. You’ve got your plan in order, you know what direction you want your non profit to move in. You’ve got your volunteers line up. That’s great! Now what are you going to do with them?

It is very likely that the group of volunteers that have agreed to work in your nonprofit don’t come as “plug and play.” They are likely a great group of people whose hearts are in the right place, but they aren’t sure what you expect of them. Enthusiasm is a wonderful attribute but only part of what you need. You need your volunteers to have certain skills. This is completely normal and very easy to fix. But just like it took work to gather the right type of volunteer, it’s going to take some work to train them, too.

Some nonprofit organizations don’t necessarily need an organized volunteer training program. An Animal Rescue group is not one of them. It takes a special person to volunteer in the animal community. It takes compassion and patience but you also have to know what to expect when dealing with different animals and their backgrounds. Take a look at your mission statement and what you have brought your volunteers in to do and consider the following before implementing a training program:

  • Training helps new volunteers get to know the people, the program, and the job quickly and efficiently.
  • Training your volunteers establishes that there is a minimum competency that all volunteers are expected to obtain.
  • Many volunteers see training as a benefit of being part of an organization. Training teaches them skills that may be helpful to them elsewhere, and may even help them get a paying job.
  • Training publicly acknowledges a necessary level of proficiency. By training your volunteers, you are making the statement that the organization is professional and capable of doing important work and doing it well.
  • Some organizations use training as a “weeding out” technique, making sure that volunteers who have signed up will be likely to live up to their commitments.
  • You’ve Decided You Need a Training Program – But Who’s Going To Do The Training?

    If you are the Executive Director, it’s likely that you know your organization better than anyone and it makes sense that you should do the training. However, is it logical? Would taking on volunteer training taking you away from your other duties? Obviously, if you are the chief cook and bottle washer, the training will fall into your lap. But if you are fortunate enough to have someone who has worked with volunteers in the past, who can act as a designated volunteer trainer, it may be better to go that route; particularly if you either have or plan to have large groups of volunteers and will offer several training sessions each year.

    Deciding The Particulars

    Ok – you’ve got your volunteers. You’ve got your volunteer trainer. Now what?

    There are a few steps you will need to follow in order to develop your volunteer training program:

    1. Decide what to teach. Why are you training your volunteers? What should they know or be able to accomplish upon completion of the training?  Set measurable goals that both the volunteers and the trainers can use and build your training program around these goals. Food for thought: if the trainer doesn’t know what he/she wants the volunteers to know, the volunteers aren’t going to know what they were supposed to have learned. Confusing right?
    2. How are you going to teach? This is a two-fold question. First thing to consider is everyone has different thought patterns, and as such, will have different learning patterns. Your training program and your volunteer trainer need to reflect these differences. Secondly, if your organization is small, you may be able to get by with a “buddy system” type training rather than a full training program.  In the “buddy system,” the new volunteer works with an experienced volunteer through day-to-day tasks until the new volunteer is comfortable in taking over.
    3. Do you have a training budget? Training can be done fairly inexpensively, particularly if you are doing the training yourself, but even then you will still incur some expense. If you don’t have your own facility to hold the training in or your own equipment (audio/visual, computer, etc.) you will need to rent room space and or the necessary equipment. Are you planning an all-day training session? If so, you’ll need to provide food and drink for the attendees. What about handouts? The costs to print these should be considered as well. Use materials that will fit into your budget: flyers, brochures and web pages are inexpensive, but if you plan to use videos and workbooks, plan to spend a little more.
    4. Use lesson plans. Lesson plans are an important part of any training program. They help to keep you in a designated time frame while making sure you cover all of the important and necesssary information. Your lesson plans should carefully outline the learning objectives, how much time each lesson should take and a detailed explanation of the activity.
    5. Evaluate your students. Evaluation is an extremely important part of training – both for the volunteer and the volunteer training. For the trainer, evaluation of the student shows what was learned and understood in your class. For the volunteer, it is a way to rate the trainer and show ways to improve the program.

    Training volunteers may seem like a long and tedious task. You’re right, it is. But in the end, when you have a solid, core group of volunteers who know the ins and outs of your organization and are willing to reach the goals and dreams you’ve set forth for the organization, isn’t it time well spent?

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