Supercharge your volunteer training

Train volunteers better

I hear a lot of grumbling about volunteer training, both from leaders of volunteers and from volunteers themselves.

Leaders are concerned volunteers won’t have the skills and/or knowledge to do their work effectively and safely. Volunteers feel the time could be better spent actually doing something.

And, of course, both of them are right – to an extent.

There seems to be four main reasons people resent volunteer training.

1. It’s too extensive or unnecessary

I was talking with the branch manager of an animal shelter. He told me he gets a lot of complaints about the amount of training required for the volunteers. “Why do I need to know all that just to take a dog for a walk?” He said is a common question.

2. Retraining or continuing education happens too often

A disgruntled health care volunteer said to me: “I only volunteer an average of an hour a week, yet I’m required to complete a training module at least once a month.”

3. Training times are inconvenient

I was told by a frustrated volunteer applicant: “The training is always on a weekday. I understand that’s because of staff hours but I can never make it, and they won’t let me volunteer without being trained.”

4. It’s too boring

A new volunteer services manager confessed to me she saw many of her trainees surreptitiously looking at their phones, yawning or giving other indications they were not really listening. The high number of errors subsequently made by the volunteers confirmed her fears.

So those are the problems. Now, what can we do to supercharge your volunteer training?

1. Make the training relevant

Tell them about situations that have come up that required a volunteer to use those skills or that knowledge to prevent or mitigate a dangerous incident. If you have trouble coming up with examples, ask yourself why you are including that information.

2. Do continuing education at well-spaced, scheduled times

Rather than try to train everyone as soon as anything changes (unless it’s a serious safety issue), save up the training and make an event of it. Most people would prefer to spend two or three hours in a useful, well-run workshop four times a year, rather than half an hour here, an hour there, at random times throughout the year.

3. Build flexibility into the training

As much as possible, use recorded webinars or other e-learning tools to allow applicants or volunteers to do the training at a time convenient for them. Most platforms allow for a quiz or other testing component to be included so that you can be confident that they understood the content. If hands-on training is necessary (ie: CPR), arrange training for different days of the week and times of the day to give as many people as possible the opportunity to attend.

4. Spice it up with interactive elements, stories and visuals

As many people who have attended lectures at university can attest, sitting and listening to someone go on and on about something – even something interesting – is a cure for insomnia. It’s hard for an audience to stay engaged when they’re not doing anything. Ask questions, do a poll, have them play a game. The more they participate, the more they will remember. And tell stories. For millennia, humans have learned by listening to stories. We are hardwired to remember them and the lessons that come with them. Use that.

It is easy to supercharge your volunteer training. It takes thought and planning, but it’s not difficult.

Make it relevant, don’t over-do it, build in flexibility and make it entertaining—four simple steps.

You can do it. Good luck.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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