As a volunteer program manager, you know that your volunteers are some of the best assets and most passionate supporters of your mission.
Hosting volunteer opportunities is a great way to build relationships with supporters and get some much needed help without wasted revenue.
One of the best ways to prepare your volunteers to make an impact as well as set the foundation for future engagement is to implement a volunteer training program. However, it’s not as simple as sending a quick email introducing volunteers to the opportunity or event at hand.
Whether you’re building a new volunteer training program or looking to take your existing one to the next level, this guide can walk you through what a volunteer training program is, how to create one, and the best practices you should follow when developing one for your team.
What is a volunteer training program?
To start off this section, let’s first review why your volunteers are so important.
Volunteers are a driving factor towards accomplishing your organization’s mission and increasing ROI. Not convinced? Taking insight from this article on volunteer management, here are some key stats to keep in mind:
- The value of a volunteer hour averages to around $25.43 (source)
- Volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to a charity than those who don’t volunteer (source)
- Volunteerism has an estimated value of over $184 billion (source)
It’s clear that building relationships with volunteers is a worthy investment for your organization and can result in increased support, and even fundraising revenue, over time. But it’s not enough to just sign up some supporters and ask them to represent and work for your organization. Without formal training, you risk them becoming confused about their role and may lose out on their participation in future volunteer opportunities.
A volunteer training program is a dedicated way to set the foundation for lasting engagement and can help increase your retention rates. With a well developed volunteer training program, your volunteers should:
- Understand volunteer expectations, responsibilities, and tasks. After the training, your volunteers should know exactly what is expected of them during their first day out in the field (or behind the computer screen).
- Recognize volunteer opportunity or event objectives and how to accomplish them. What is the point of your volunteer opportunities and events? That’s something you never want a volunteer to have to ask you. Make sure that the training drives home exactly what the objectives are as well as the instructions to accomplish them.
- Be familiar with the necessary tools and processes. Volunteers often have to handle a lot of responsibility on their own. For instance, they might be in charge of logging their own hours or checking-in/out of events. They should know how to do this before the event starts.
- Have comprehensive knowledge of your mission and can perform the necessary skills. If anyone asks one of your volunteers what they’re doing, they should be able to explain your organization’s mission and goals in a way that aligns with your brand. They should also be familiar with the necessary skills your volunteers need. For instance, if your organization’s mission involves youth services and engagement, it makes sense to find volunteers who are comfortable or have experience working with kids.
The above information is the best way to set your volunteers up for success and get them excited to be working with your organization. With a comprehensive and fleshed out volunteer training program, you’ll only create more long term value for your organizations. Read on to dive deeper into how to create that volunteer training program.
How to create a volunteer training program
This section will walk you through the five general steps of creating a volunteer training program. After all, if you want to truly engage and show value to your volunteers, you’re going to need to put some real thought into planning all of the components, from your program budget to the training materials you develop.
Establish a budget
As a volunteer manager, no matter the type of event or program you’re creating, budget will always be in the back of your mind.
When establishing the budget of your volunteer training program, you’ll have to consider the following typical expenses:
- Staff time. You’ll likely need a dedicated staff member or team of staff to lead the program and ensure it’s running smoothly.
- Rented equipment and space. Does your training program require any equipment that needs to be rented?
- Refreshments/food. If your training program spans hours (or even days), it’s smart to keep a resource of refreshments and snacks handy. For those longer programs providing food is also a great idea.
- Venue. Consider where you might host your volunteer training program. Do you have to rent a venue?
- Training materials/tools. Often, you might print out training program resources like booklets or brochures. If you’re expanding your virtual volunteer opportunities, investing in the necessary software for that is also crucial.
- Volunteer management tools. Having a dedicated solution to help you oversee all of your volunteers can help your organization with your training program as well as future engagements.
If you feel like all of these components are pushing the boundaries of your budget, there are some ways you can stay within budget. For example, instead of asking staff members to lead volunteer training, ask your more established and experienced volunteers to step in. Or, instead of renting a physical venue, host your entire training program online!
Plan the content
What exactly are you planning on sharing during this volunteer training? What is the training for, what skills are required, and how will the volunteers accomplish this? These are all questions the content of your program should be answering.
You basic volunteer training should cover:
- Background of the organization and mission, as well as how to communicate this
- The general rules for volunteering with your organization
- Overview of all safety measures or necessary liability waivers
- Ways to record volunteer time and how to check in/check out of events
- Goals for the volunteer activity and how to know it is accomplished
- Instructions and details on the volunteer task
- Overview of equipment and how to use it
While your specific training content will depend on your unique organization, the above are essential elements you can’t miss!
Consider the type of volunteer training program
Traditional volunteer training programs usually take place in-person. But with new technology and the growing advancement of the internet, online training opportunities can be just as engaging and even more convenient. Currently, virtual volunteer training is now more necessary than advice as face-to-face interactions are likely on pause. This section will walk through both types of training programs.
With in-person training, you can include these elements in your program:
- Discussion groups
- Orientation days
- Printed materials
- On-the-job learning/shadowing
The above are great ways to interact and train volunteers face-to-face. However, whether extenuating circumstances keep people indoors or you don’t want to rent a venue, online training is a very viable and successful alternative.
Consider the following:
- Video conferencing so that volunteers and program leaders can engage face-to-face
- Online live webinars where volunteers can experience the program from the comfort of their own homes
- Online quizzes to quickly test how much the volunteers retained after the program
- Interactive slideshow/learning tool so that volunteers can experience the training on their own time
- Video tutorials as an easy way to visually demonstrate concepts to volunteers
You can even mix both in-person and online components to your training program! For instance, you can train for a skill in-person and then implement an online quiz afterward.
Create a communications strategy
A volunteer training program is only successful when program leaders and volunteers are consistently on the same page. This means creating a dedicated communications strategy to implement when engaging with your training program participants.
The easiest way to communicate with your volunteer training program participants is through email. Use your volunteer email tool to:
- Welcome new volunteers and thank them for their interest.
- Introduce the basics of the training program.
- Confirm relevant details like training date, time, and location.
- Provide quick access with links to online training instructions or materials.
- Check-in with participants to see their progress within the program (especially if it has multiple steps).
- Send next steps and a thank you after the training program is done.
Setting up an active communication channel now will strengthen your relationships with the volunteers from the start and set the precedent for future engagement.
Develop training materials
One of the best resources of your volunteer training program is the training materials you develop. For instance, you might like to compose an official volunteer training manual. This can be a resource that outlines information about your organization as well as basic volunteer expectations and responsibilities.
Make sure your volunteer training materials have the following details:
- Information about your organization: This should include your program mission, the community needs or gaps you hope to fill, details and contact information of key staff members and leadership, information on funding sources and partnerships, as well as introducing development or other future plans. For instance, let your supporters know if your organization is planning on expanding its volunteer program to multiple locations.
- Volunteer expectations and responsibilities: This should include exactly how to communicate the organization’s mission to others, conduct general work safely, and other general organizational processes.
- Role-specific volunteering training: This should include any training to develop the necessary skills and knowledge for the specific role. For instance, if all of your volunteers need to learn CPR, there should be a dedicated training event for it.
- Role-specific procedures: Certain volunteer tasks may have specific procedures. For those roles, all volunteers need to be familiar with any emergency procedures or contacts to know.
The best part of developing comprehensive training materials is that you can continue to use them well into the future. You can even provide a digital PDF copy of the manual for online enjoyment (and to save cost on printing!).
Volunteer training program best practices
Now that you have the basic steps to creating a volunteer training program down, it’s time to start putting that to action. In order to prepare you, here are three best practices to keep in mind.
Don’t be afraid to depend on tools
A great way to manage your volunteers and donors alike is to use dedicated software and tools. Since overseeing volunteer programs consists of keeping track of multiple opportunities, engaging with more than one volunteer group, and other tasks you have to juggle, depending on tools can lift some of that weight off your shoulders.
From a dedicated volunteer management system to learning platforms, the right tools can help facilitate and improve your training program by simplifying the processes of:
- Communicating with volunteers through tools for email, text, or even notifications on a mobile app
- Signing volunteers up to programs that they’re skilled for
- Organizing which supporters are training for which opportunity
- Allowing volunteers to smoothly check-in/out with a mobile app
- Hosting virtual volunteer training sessions for at-home programs
- Creating pre-recorded video to aid training
- Testing your volunteers’ knowledge with quizzes
Depending on tools can help you and your staff save time from trying to organize your training program and distribute it to your participants. Make sure that the system you use is integrated with your organization’s CRM so that you don’t have any data issues down the road.
Set measurable learning objectives
Sometimes, volunteer training programs are thoughtfully designed but aren’t motivating the participants in the way you want. A great way to get them excited and active in the program is to set measurable learning objectives.
This type of goal setting is a key way to motivate your volunteer trainees while also creating criteria for evaluation. For example, let’s say your organization is dedicated to handing out leftover food to shelters. Set a measurable learning objective like “Make sure you can distribute X amount of food to Y shelters in Z time span.”
This example goal shows volunteers that to be successful, they have to perform a specific task within a specific time frame. To set these types of learning objectives at the beginning of your training session, make sure to answer this question: What task should the volunteer perform in a specific time-frame, given the conditions?
Now your volunteers know what to work toward and what deems them successful in your program.
Remember to follow up after the program is over
Just because your volunteer training is over, doesn’t mean your job is. A crucial part of any successful program is to thank the participants afterward. After all, they just took their free time to learn about your organization and help you towards your mission. If you don’t follow up after the training, they might even just forget about your program altogether.
Along with thanking volunteers for their participation, your follow-up should also include calls-to-action that encourage them to sign up for the volunteer opportunities that they are now trained for. Take a look at your volunteer management tools and see if they’ve marked that they’re interested in any type of events, and be sure to cater to that in your suggestions.
Following up after the program sets the stage for additional engagement and even gives your volunteers an opportunity to provide some feedback. You can even send them a survey to gain a sense of how your volunteer training program was from the participants’ points of view.
Your organization wouldn’t be where it is without your passionate volunteers. It’s clear that they are a worthwhile investment if you want to continue towards your mission. Creating a dedicated volunteer training program is the best way to do this, especially if you want to build the foundation for long-term support.
Hopefully this guide has walked you through the basic steps of setting up a volunteer training program, as well as some best practices. Make sure you invest in capable tools and aim to create an experience for volunteers that is as seamless and valuable as possible.