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Improve volunteer training in 10 steps

Volunteers who are inspired by the mission and vision of your nonprofit are eager to help you help the community. When they sign on as a volunteer, they want specific duties so they can see how they contribute to the mission of the organization.

This desire to see results means effective volunteer training is critical to the success of your volunteer program. Volunteers will quit if they think their efforts are wasted, so do the work to get them engaged and productive from the start.

A strong volunteer training program provides the training and resources volunteers need to provide value to your organization. Quality training boosts volunteer motivation, which improves retention.

Even organizations with the tightest nonprofit budgets need to provide basic nonprofit, organization-based, and role-based training.

What is volunteer training?

Volunteer training is the process in which a nonprofit or other organization orients and trains new volunteers. Most nonprofits have a set volunteer training program that they use for new recruits that might include introductions, a hands-on learning activity, and general information about the nonprofit and its operations. Depending on how in depth your volunteer program is, training could last anywhere from a few days to a month or two.

Training your new volunteers helps them better understand your nonprofit, which can guide them in their volunteer work or when recruiting new volunteers themselves in the future. Setting them up for success via volunteer training is a must for any nonprofit or volunteer program.

1. Set clear goals for your volunteer training program

Goals help volunteers and the staff training them work together effectively. To set goals that everyone can understand, begin by reviewing the job descriptions you’ve written for your volunteer opportunities. Make it your goal that every volunteer you train knows how their work supports the mission of the organization.

Next, decide how you’ll train your volunteers and who will be in charge. Will you need a manual or workbook? Can the training be done partially online? How much hands-on training will you provide to your volunteers? Set goals that make sense to volunteers as they move through your training program.

2. Provide options for training

There is no one-size-fits-all way of teaching because there are seven distinct ways people learn: visually, verbally, aurally, physically, logically, socially, and solitarily. So a lecture will work for some, whereas others need hands-on instruction.

Your volunteer trainers need to understand that a volunteer who isn’t succeeding with their training might need to be taught in a different way. For example, if you provide a training manual on basic nonprofit education and organization-based training, you could supplement that with a slide presentation or with one-on-one time with the trainer.

3. Create a welcoming atmosphere

Your volunteer training program will make a lasting impression on your volunteers. Create an environment that welcomes your new volunteers and puts them at ease from the moment they walk through the door. Welcome new volunteers. Make sure the training room is hospitable. Provide refreshments during breaks to encourage mingling.

Volunteers are most likely to quit in the early stages of their experience with your organization, so volunteer retention efforts have to begin when they begin training.

4. Introduce yourself memorably

The introduction to your organization will set the tone for the volunteer’s experience. The very start of volunteer training is when you must establish mutual expectations. Explain the guidelines and procedures standard at your nonprofit and why these have proven effective.

Letting volunteers know what they’re getting into will help you determine which are the best fit for your cause. Discuss the goals of your organization so they know where you plan to go in the future. This will help you find those who will be with you for the long haul.

5. Make engagement a key component of training

Keeping volunteers engaged is essentially volunteer retention, so make engagement central to your training program. Keep volunteers eager to donate their time by showing them the value of their work in the community.

To increase engagement with training, consider including gamification, group activities, and role-playing. Ask volunteers for regular feedback on their training: what worked, what didn’t, and how they think the program can be improved.

6. Support your volunteers through continual training

Your volunteer training program will have a specific duration, but volunteer training is an ongoing process. Engaged volunteers are certain to have questions as they settle into new roles. Each time they help out is an opportunity to learn more, so never miss an opportunity for more training.

Provide supervision and feedback so volunteers know your organization isn’t just recruiting warm bodies without regard to how they perform. Treating volunteers respectfully and professionally makes clear they are valued just as much as paid staff. Your actions will assure them you’re committed to having the best people on the team.

7. Set up a volunteer mentorship program

Fostering positive relationships between volunteers is another great way to retain volunteers over time. Implementing a volunteer mentorship program is one way to do this.

Giving each new volunteer a mentor to guide them through the first few months of their volunteering experience benefits both new and seasoned volunteers. New volunteers get an onboarding buddy and someone reliable to ask questions to about the process. Established volunteers can grow their leadership skills and ease their mentees into the whole volunteering process.

Gather a list of potential volunteer mentors by creating a signup sheet with Jotform. Customize it however you like and send it off to your current volunteers to fill out. From there, you can manage all your mentors via Jotform Tables and pair them up with new volunteers.

8. Use interactive training techniques

Providing hands-on training for volunteers is another great way to improve your volunteer onboarding. Consider incorporating interactive elements into the training, such as role-playing, simulations, or practical exercises, to allow volunteers to practice their skills and gain confidence. Ask some experienced volunteers and staff to help facilitate these types of training scenarios to get all sides of your nonprofit involved.

9. Encourage questions and participation

Create a comfortable environment for your new volunteers to ask questions about anything and participate in activities. Make time at the end of every training for questions or host a panel discussion to make sure all new volunteers are able to get the answers they need.

You could even form breakout groups with new and experienced volunteers after every session to make participation less daunting. Some new volunteers might be shy and not want to ask a lot of questions, even if they have some. Fostering a kind and thoughtful onboarding process could mitigate that fear and instead inspire participants to feel more at home and ask more questions about the volunteer program.

Additionally, for those who might be shy about speaking in public during training, you could create custom forms for them to fill out. Build a form with Jotform to collect questions and encourage volunteers to participate in a way they feel comfortable with. You can create a form from scratch or use one of Jotform’s many volunteer form templates to get started.

10. Recognize and promote diverse skills

An important aspect of improving your volunteer training and volunteer program overall is making sure to acknowledge and reward meaningful volunteer work. Giving credit where credit is due and recognizing volunteers who go above and beyond is a great way to show your appreciation.

Perhaps one of your volunteers recently led an event that was a big success. Or maybe one of your volunteers made a significant impact on another new volunteer or a nonprofit partner. Show your gratitude with a shoutout or promotion! Volunteers make huge contributions to keeping your nonprofit running, so it’s only fair to treat them with respect and celebrate their wins.

To make volunteer recognition feel like more of a community-based effort, consider creating a shoutout form that other volunteers and nonprofit employees can use to highlight someone who went above and beyond recently. Build your own shoutout form with Jotform’s drag-and-drop builder, then share a link to your form or embed it in your nonprofit’s online portal or website.

High-quality volunteer training results in volunteers who are better prepared and more engaged with the organization. The more they learn about the nonprofit as a whole, the better they can see how they’re helping to fulfill the organization’s mission. Ultimately, that keeps volunteers working for community good for the long term.

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