Three Tips for Developing Top-Notch Volunteer Training

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, immersed in the gaming system of their dreams.

And none of these experiences could have happened without volunteers – people who had heard about this mission and decided they had to be part of it. The inspiring stories they had heard – and sometimes, the transformational experiences they had seen 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 because it would move them closer to their goal of making that 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.

Look for a commitment to learning

As you get to know prospective volunteers, consider their willingness to learn. How much do they know about the training they would 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’ll be 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 that they don’t have the information or skills they need may be less likely to engage with the organization over time. On the flip side, retention may also suffer if the training commitment turns out to be more than they expected.

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

Consider the delivery method

So, you’ve established that your prospective volunteers are generally committed to taking part in training opportunities. Great! Now it’s time to consider what those training sessions might look like.

Many factors come into play here, including geography, participant/trainer availability, and of course, the type of information and skills that must be taught. 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.

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? We would be happy to help.