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How to Design the Perfect Volunteer Training Program

The most successful nonprofit organizations understand one thing: They must equip their team with the right tools and systems to be effective. This is true for volunteers as well as staff.  Any high-functioning volunteer management system has a high-functioning volunteer training program integrated within it.

More than a third of volunteers do not come back to volunteer with the same organization again (Volunteering in America).  If you want volunteers to stay with you over time and feel rewarded, it is critical to invest resources in volunteer training. What does that entail and how do you go about doing so? 

Many nonprofits have to offer certain training by law, or per the nature of the work (counseling and health services, for example). The majority, however, do not have a legal template to follow nor a guidebook on what a successful training program addresses. What your volunteer training program will look like depends on the nature of your work and the types of volunteers you are recruiting. 

At a minimum, you can think of volunteer training as staff orientation and a platform for dialogue. It is a way to communicate your mission, goals, expectations, and needs to volunteers. It is also a way for you to understand their expectations and where they need the most support to be able to help you best. 

It is also a platform for skills exchange. Many volunteers take posts specifically to learn new skills. They want to be trained! How extensive the training needs to be, depends on the work and the skills they bring with them as a base. 

Volunteer training looks dramatically different after the pandemic, with virtual training becoming part of the process. Virtual training is easy to incorporate with the many video conferencing platforms available to use, as well as organizational tools to send out reminders and structure the training. Even as organizations transition back to in-person, a virtual platform can make volunteer training more accessible to a wider group of future volunteers. Virtual training is perfect for initial training sessions, continuing education, and to recruit volunteers for certain tasks that can be done anywhere, whereas in-person training is great for bonding and any necessary hands-on training.

How to Design the Perfect Volunteer Training Program

In designing a program, you will need to consider how volunteer training fits with your organization, and then think about how you can most efficiently integrate volunteer training systems with your current resources and technology.

How volunteer training fits into your volunteer management system

The first step in designing your volunteer training program is to visualize your entire volunteer program and pinpoint where training will help you better achieve your goals.  At a minimum, it likely fits into the following parts of the process.

  • Volunteer recruitment. Training programs can help you with volunteer recruitment for a number of reasons. For some, like unemployed people who volunteer, the choice to volunteer is a conscientious strategy to add new skills to their resume.

    Some are employed but looking to boost their resumes. A growing number of managers hire in part because of volunteer experience. If the work is skills-based and shows completion of a training program or course, it is even more impressive.

    There is a balance with how intense the volunteer training program is and how it is offered.  Keep in mind whether each opportunity requires training at all. A good volunteer management platform like Golden will automatically track whoever completes certain training opportunities, to keep a current list of who is eligible for private opportunities, based on their successful completion of associated required training.
  • Volunteer scheduling. You will need to consider volunteer training in a context of your scheduling needs.  For instance, if you have an event upcoming in two months but want to provide event volunteers an online orientation first, you will have to post the opportunity even further in advance and give them time to work the requirements into their calendars. You then schedule a gating opportunity (the training opportunity) for volunteers to complete in advance of the subsequent opportunity that requires the training be completed.
      • Training program design. You should design your curriculum as any good teacher would. First, consider what the outcome you hope for is. What do volunteers need to know by law?  What soft skills and practical skills do they need to be effective?

        You need to consider both areas and design your coursework for training based on best practices for educating adults. First, you should take baselines of where each volunteer is starting. If your training is in person, you can then easily break your volunteers into groups by experience. If it is online and/or self-guided, more experienced volunteers may be able to jump forward in the training curriculum based on their knowledge.

        Then, make sure your content is fun and interactive. You can do this effectively online, even in self-guided resources. Mix up the content between videos, narrative, and problem-solving activities, and focus on the quality of your imagery.

        Mapping out the curriculum and the delivery methods is important to see how much your desired program would cost. You might want to dedicate a larger portion of your overall volunteer management budget to the volunteer training programs to make sure they will be effective! In planning, you could also discover ways to free up budget lines by integrating more virtual resources and automating training. 
      • Volunteer retention. Volunteer training may be one of the best ways to help you engage and retain your volunteers. If you were using a platform like Golden, you could set notifications for when volunteers have passed a year mark since their initial training (or another time frame of your choice). It is a great reason to reach out and ask them if they want to work with you again.

        It also is a critical way of engaging volunteers and helping them rally behind your cause. In some cases, your volunteers may be working virtually or independently. Without regular volunteer training programs, they might not have an opportunity to engage with your staff and with other volunteers.

Want trusted hands to take care of your precious projects? Train your volunteers well and manage them using Golden, the smartest volunteer management software.

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Key elements for the best volunteer training programs

Every great volunteer training program will make sure to focus on a few best practices while designing and implementing the system. It will also understand how to best utilize technology tools to make systems more effective and efficient. 

      • Stay true to your mission. Your training should align with your goals and priorities. It should also align with your brand. A good volunteer management software like Golden can seamlessly integrate your brand into online training sessions and schedules, all on one platform.
      • Targeted, specific training. Depending on the nature of certain activities, it’s important to keep volunteer training concise and specific to the needs of their roles. They only need volunteer training for specific context, instruction, or skills for a given activity or set of responsibilities. This keeps volunteers engaged and reduces churn rates. It also allows volunteers to be utilized sooner and be more productive than having to do extensive periods of advanced training. Remember - you and your volunteers show up because they want to contribute, not just spend time in the classroom.

        Software can help tremendously with scheduling and keeping track of the specific steps for each volunteer. For example, with Golden, you can post different opportunities for online training and event support. The system will link volunteers to your required training program steps for each different type of opportunity. Along with helping volunteers track their progress, it helps you track volunteer progress.
      • A welcoming environment. You want volunteers to feel like part of your family. Ask them personal questions, be supportive, but, most importantly, create a welcoming environment that makes them feel appreciated. If you are meeting in person, provide snacks and decorate your room.

        If your program is automated or self-guided, a great way to help the volunteers feel welcome is to send automated messages before and after they complete a course. A program like Golden can alert you and the volunteer the moment a new volunteer completes a course. You want them to know you value their support and care about their experience!
      • Clear introductions. Be very straightforward about your expectations of their service at the introduction of your volunteering training. Share organizational guidelines and how they will be tracked and evaluated. Make sure they understand, too! Follow up with a quiz or other evaluation tool to ensure that everyone on the team is on the same page.
      • Training execution. It’s important that you have clear staff roles and evaluation supports established in your volunteer training system for the execution of the training itself. It should be written into the job description of a specific lead, and that should be properly trained for training.

        In the cases where your trainers are volunteers, it is important to make sure the appropriate staff person is overseeing and evaluating the program. Have regular team meetings to troubleshoot barriers and take time to fix problems.
      • Capture records.   You want to keep detailed track of the hours volunteers are logging, the training steps they are completing, and other milestones. This way you can keep a good database of people who are qualified to support your different volunteer roles. Also, it helps you automate celebrations. You want to receive alerts to thank volunteers and award them for their service. Again, Golden does this for you automatically.
      • Supervise, support, and evaluate. Good volunteer training programs show a deep involvement with the progress of their volunteers. Make sure you are evaluating success throughout the training with pop-up quizzes, questions, and other checks for learning. After the training, follow up with volunteers to understand what other skills they might want to learn to be more effective in their posts.
      • Track and reward volunteers. A program like Golden makes it simple to track volunteers and provide rewards for their training and service. It has integrated volunteer hour tracking support, which will notify you when a volunteer completes a certain number of training or service hours. It can also automatically enter them in rewards systems for completing training and other milestones. You can set them up for Karats points to be put into drawings for prizes and rewards, all automatically!  

Time to get started on your perfect volunteer training program 

Now you only have to get started on your volunteer training program! Once you have an outline of what your program might look like, based on your goals and your overall volunteer management system plan, make sure you consider how technology can best support your plan. 

Time to get started on your perfect volunteer training program

At a minimum, using technology for recruitment, scheduling and evaluation is a must. The average organization wastes 12% of its time on manual scheduling - and we have evidence that organizers who use Golden immediately save 1 day per week of time, on average.  Volunteer management software makes it simple to sync calendars and even offers multiple options for training that can improve your recruitment and retention rates.  

Technology can make such a difference in streamlining systems that you can easily integrate volunteer training into your volunteer management program, even if you haven’t budgeted much for it this year.