Three Tips for Developing Top-Notch Volunteer Training

Smiling woman wearing grey turtleneck under orange t-shirt putting on a large white "Volunteer" pin.At one point in my career, I had the honor of planning and delivering volunteer training sessions for an organization that grants wishes for children with critical illnesses.

These experiences are unforgettable. Children and families who had spent far too much time at hospitals, enduring constant worry and deep pain, sent photos of their wide smiles on tropical beaches. Parents’ eyes shone as their children – too many times defined by their illness – explored that freshly built playhouse, cuddled their new kitten, met their hero, or simply forgot their cares.

None of these experiences were possible without volunteers – people who heard about this mission and decided they must be part of it. The inspiring stories they heard – and sometimes, the transformational experiences they saw firsthand – gave them all the motivation they needed to call the office or fill out the online form.

What they didn’t have just yet was knowledge. But they were excited to learn about policies and expectations to help them make a difference for a child and family in their community.

As you look to develop training for your own inspired volunteers, here are three tips to keep in mind.

1. Look for a commitment to learning

Consider your volunteers’ willingness to learn. How much do they know about the training they need? Do they understand the importance of “refresher” training, and are they willing to set aside time to participate?

It’s important to be clear with volunteers about what kind of commitment they are making – not only to your organization but also to the training process, during the onboarding stage and in the months and years that follow.

Volunteers who feel they don’t have the information or skills they necessary may be less likely to engage with your organization over time. On the flip side, retention may also suffer if the training commitment becomes more than they expected.

The right candidates recognize that training is essential to their success as well as the organization’s.

2. Consider the delivery method

You’ve established that your prospective volunteers are committed to participating in training. Great! Now, consider what those training sessions might look like.

Many factors come into play here: geography, availability, and the type of information and skills to teach. Some ideas include instructor-led training, self-paced training, e-learning, and structured on-the-job training – although your perfect fit might be a blend of a few methods. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Will your volunteers need to think critically and apply their new knowledge?
  • Would they benefit from job aids and training guides?
  • Perhaps scenario-based learning would give them a chance to explore their new role or elevate their performance.
  • Your learners might also benefit from participating in a mentorship program that partners them with a more experienced volunteer who is ready for a higher level of engagement.

Choose or create the path that will make the most of your volunteers’ time.

A handmade book with a brown cover and a few pictures hanging out and "Shared Stories" written on the front.

3. Tell your stories

You can likely tell plenty of stories about your organization. Many of these will be stories you’re tremendously proud of, while others might involve episodes you’d prefer to forget. The good news is that they both have an important place in learning design. Storytelling and scenario-building are effective learning strategies that focus on problem-solving and exploring a potential situation without real-world consequences.

By anonymizing these stories and keeping them focused on dilemmas an actual volunteer might face, you can transform an experience you wish you could forget into a useful teaching tool that has the power to prevent a similar issue from recurring.

Now that you’ve learned about ensuring a commitment to learning, choosing the best delivery method, and thoughtful storytelling, are you ready to start designing training that will help your volunteers and your organization succeed? Ask us how we can help!


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