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Volunteer Training: The Definitive Guide for Volunteer Managers

Creating a volunteer training program that works

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The best volunteers are both passionate about your cause and have the skills necessary to carry out the tasks that meet your objectives. While your volunteer recruitment efforts likely attract motivated, eager volunteers, most new recruits will require some level of volunteer training in order to make the most impact.  

In fact, organizations that take the time to implement engaging volunteer training are more likely to enjoy greater volunteer retention and engagement (prepared volunteers make for happy volunteers). 

In this article, we offer strategies for developing an effective volunteer training program, from developing a training manual to utilizing volunteer management technology, so you have the information you need to help your volunteers succeed. 

Article Contents

Let's learn about the basic foundation of a successful volunteer training program.

Volunteer Training: The Basics

Let’s start with the basics. Here’s everything you need to know before you get started:

What does volunteer training consist of?

Volunteer training will look slightly different depending on your program and the work you’re asking your volunteers to do. 

For most organizations: 

The purpose of training volunteers is to help volunteers fulfill their volunteer roles successfully, confidently, and independently. 

Fundamentally, volunteer training should provide volunteers with the knowledge and resources to complete tasks effectively. 

In addition, volunteer training should:

  • Outline role expectations, responsibilities, and tasks
  • Establish volunteer objectives
  • Acquaint volunteers with tools and procedures they’ll encounter on the job
  • Assess any knowledge and skills gaps, then work to fill these gaps
  • Create a framework for further evaluation

Where does training fit into the volunteer management process? 

Volunteer management typically involves four main stages: recruitment, onboarding, scheduling, and engagement. Training is just one important step in the volunteer management process. 

Volunteer Recruitment

Volunteer recruitment begins with sourcing new volunteers through strategic outreach. During recruitment, you may also choose to ask volunteers about their interests and skills to help guide placement and training. Additionally, many organizations choose to vet their volunteers (like performing interviews and background checks) in some capacity. 

Volunteer Onboarding

Onboarding acquaints volunteers with your organization and prepares them for volunteer work. A volunteer orientation serves to welcome new volunteers and introduce them to your mission, key staff, and other need-to-know information. Volunteer training provides hands-on instruction specific to the volunteer work and also establishes a baseline of proficiency. 

Volunteer Scheduling

Some volunteer programs enable volunteers to self-schedule using a volunteer management platform or automated scheduling tool. Volunteer managers who are scheduling on behalf of volunteers will likely take this step after onboarding. 

Volunteer Engagement

According to this study, volunteers who identify with your organization and its mission have the greatest impact. And volunteers are more likely to engage with your organization when they are appropriately trained and appreciated. Volunteer engagement activities typically include regular check-ins and evaluation, ongoing training opportunities, and appreciation initiatives. 

Why is volunteer training important?

At its most basic level, volunteer training prepares volunteers for their work. But an effective volunteer training program benefits all stakeholders. 

Here are a few key reasons to train volunteers: 

Volunteer training engages volunteers. 

According to this study, Engaged volunteers who demonstrate emotional involvement with your cause are the most impactful. One of the best ways to foster engaged volunteers is to provide basic training, as volunteer training aids in the formation of the volunteers’ emotional connection to your organization. 

Volunteer training empowers volunteers.

Training provides volunteers with the knowledge and resources to complete work independently and effectively, empowering them to have a measurable impact in your community. Plus, per this resource, volunteer training is associated with higher performance and long-term involvement. 

Volunteer training improves your community. 

Simply put, communities get more from your program when the volunteers are prepared for their work. Training should familiarize volunteers with the needs of the community and clients served. It can also help volunteers engage appropriately with sensitive or challenging topics they may encounter. 

Volunteer training boosts efficiency

Volunteer training takes time, but the long-term benefits can outway the initial time investment. Volunteer training can improve volunteer performance and efficiency, while reducing turnover,  therefore increasing your program’s return on investment

Download your free volunteer orientation checklist

Let's dive into how to create a volunteer training program.

Creating a Volunteer Training Program

The form your volunteer training program takes will depend on your organization’s goals. You’ll need to think about the information and skills you want your volunteers to glean through training in order to best support your organization. 

Planning your volunteer training program

The best volunteer programs are well-planned and thoughtfully considered. Allow yourself enough time to build a comprehensive volunteer training guide. First up:

Establishing a budget

Establishing a budget for your volunteer training program will help you allocate resources, like funding and personnel. Typical volunteer training expenses may include: 

  • staff time
  • rented equipment and space
  • refreshments
  • printing

To reduce costs, consider repurposing materials, go paperless where possible, and create materials in-house (like videos and training manuals).

Planning the content

What do you want your volunteers to learn? How extensive will your volunteer training be? These are the questions you’ll want to consider when planning the shape of your volunteer training. 

Basic training generally covers the following information: 

  • Background of the cause or community need 
  • How to communicate the organization’s mission
  • Goals for the activity and evaluation methods
  • How to perform the volunteer task
  • Safety measures
  • Rules of volunteering with your organization
  • Overview of equipment and how to use it
  • How to submit volunteer time

The level of training your volunteers receive will depend on the complexity of the task you’re asking them to do. Training will be more extensive for skilled volunteer roles.  

Planning your teaching methods

Next, you will need to consider how you will conduct your volunteer training and the tools you will use to support your training. 

To make the most of your volunteer training program, think about how you will keep your volunteers interested in the material. 

Studies show that adults retain only 20% of the material presented in a lecture setting. In fact, there’s no one right way to teach. That’s because people learn differently and tend to fall into three main categories: visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners. Learn more about these learning styles.

The secret to engaging all learning styles? 

Switch up your teaching methods!

Check out our suggested teaching methods to ensure all your volunteers are getting the most out of your training:

  • Problem Solving – Present volunteers with a problem they may face while volunteering. Ask trainees to work through the problem together and assist by asking open-ended questions. 
  • Group Discussion – Provide volunteers with a prompt, and open the floor for discussion. For example, invite trainees to discuss what they think means to be a great volunteer.. Or, encourage volunteers to reflect on their previous volunteering experiences. Some of the best learning is accomplished through open and collaborative discussion. 
  • Simulation –  Simulation is a form of experiential learning, and an essential training tool for skills-based volunteer work. For those hands-on learners in the group, simulate an activity or task that the volunteer will carry out once trained, like a mock tutoring session.
  • Interactive Quiz – Test your trainee’s knowledge with a fun (and low-pressure) quiz! Appeal to visual learners by creating your quiz online, and ask volunteers to complete as part of their online training. 
  • On-the-Job Learning – Some of your trainees will learn best on-the-job. Experiential training works best after your volunteers have participated in basic training or orientation. Then, partner your beginners with experienced volunteers or training staff during the volunteer activity. Encourage feedback and collaboration. 

Trainees are more likely to retain important information when it’s delivered in a variety of ways. Mix up your training by incorporating independent, self-paced elements (like reading and quizzes), interactive group work (like problem-solving), experiential training, and instructor-led direction. 

Online volunteer training:

Many volunteer programs prefer to carry out a portion of their volunteer training online. Online volunteer training is cost-effective and allows your busy volunteers to learn in their own time. 

Online training tends to work best when accompanied by a brief in-person session–you’ll be able to answer questions as they arise naturally and engage in more meaningful conversation face-to-face. Furthermore, some role-specific and skilled training is best carried out in person (like CPR training). 

Want the free volunteer orientation checklist? Click here →

Creating a communication plan

How will you let newly registered volunteers know about your volunteer training program? Develop a plan to welcome new volunteers and let them know about how to attend training. We find the simplest way to reach your new volunteers is usually via email (but it’s always useful to have a backup plan for volunteers without email).  

You’re email communication plan may incorporate these steps: 

  1. Welcome new volunteers, and thank them for their interest in your program.
  2. Introduce your volunteer training program. Provide information for training session sign-up, with available times, dates, and locations. 
  3. Confirm training date, time, and location. 
  4. Send online training instructions, links, and materials. 
  5. Check in with volunteers currently participating in training, especially during online training activities or if your program requires multiple training sessions. 
  6. After training, send next steps and a thank you. 

Did you know that you can automate volunteer communication using volunteer management software? See how it works in a free demo of Get Connected!

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Developing your training materials

You have a plan, now it’s time to develop your volunteer training materials: 

Composing a volunteer training manual

Nearly every volunteer manager’s toolkit should include a volunteer manual. The manual serves as a volunteer training guide and reference for volunteers during their onboarding process. 

A volunteer manual typically includes organizational policies and procedures, but should also feature enough information to empower volunteers to work independently within your program’s guidelines. To accomplish this, consider including the following information in your volunteer training manual:

  • Welcome Letter
  • Organization Mission Statement
  • Brief History of the Organization
  • List of Services the Organization Provides
  • Organization Policies
  • Directory – Important Phone Numbers and Contacts
  • Scheduling and Sign-in Procedures
  • Training Requirements 
  • Evaluation Procedures
  • Confidentiality Policy
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Safety Procedures

Training leaders should refer to the manual throughout the volunteer training process. The manual is most effective when easily accessible to all volunteers; so we recommend organizations store a volunteer training manual PDF version online for easy sharing.

Check out these volunteer training manual examples to help inspire yours:

Women’s EmpowermentThe Johns Hopkins HospitalBest Friends Animal Society

Gathering digital volunteer training elements

It’s time to get creative by switching up your training materials. Create digital materials–like videos and interactive quizzes–and post them online for volunteers to access at home. Check out this virtual volunteering guide for more ideas on engaging volunteers virtually during all phases of the volunteer management process. 

Developing a volunteer training program outline

Think of this as your volunteer training program’s table of contents. An outline will help you stay on track and shape your training sessions. Provide your volunteers with the outline so they too can follow along. 

A typical volunteer training program outline may look something like this:

  • About Your Cause
    • Program mission
    • Community needs or gaps addressed
    • Key staff members and leadership
    • Funding sources and partnerships
    • Development or future plans
  • Volunteer Expectations and Responsibilities
    • How to communicate organization’s mission
    • How to conduct general work safely
    • Other general organizational processes
  • Role-Specific Volunteering Training
    • Skills development
    • Knowledge development
    • Role-specific procedures
  • Emergency Procedures and Contacts
Use these strategies to bring your volunteer training program to the next level.

Bringing Your Volunteer Training Program to the Next Level

You’ve got the basics down, now it’s time to ramp up your program with these best practices and next steps. 

Volunteer Training Best Practices

Training requires volunteers to take more time out of their busy schedules. While your volunteer training program should be comprehensive enough for trainees to perform their tasks well and safely, it should also be respectful of their time. 

With this in mind, here are some best practices to help shape your volunteer program:  

Supporting your training with technology

Technology has changed the way a lot of organizations manage and engage volunteers. Introducing technology into your training program will not only help volunteers get acquainted with the systems you use, it will also keep them engaged in the material. 

You may also choose to take advantage of the benefits of blended learning. Blended learning involves online and in-person teaching methods. 

Here are some ways to embrace technology in your training:

  • Webinars – Host live virtual volunteer training sessions for at-home training. Tools: Zoom
  • Videos – Create engaging pre-recorded videos to help aid training. Tools: Animoto, Vimeo, Youtube
  • Interactive e-Learning – Create online training that includes slides and other clickable elements. Tools: PowerPoint, Prezi
  • Online quizzes – Test your volunteers’ knowledge with fun, low-stakes quizzes. Tools: SurveyMonkey, Google Forms. 

Establishing a mentorship program

When training volunteers, it’s important that they feel supported. One of the best ways to support new volunteers and build trust is by providing them with a volunteer mentorship program. 

The volunteer mentor may be a member of staff or a seasoned volunteer. Hold a mentor meet and greet so that volunteers can get to know their new mentors in a relaxed setting. Mentors can assist with on-the-job training and evaluation. 

Setting measurable learning objectives

Goal-setting helps to motivate trainees while creating criteria for evaluation. Work with your volunteers to set learning objectives at the beginning of your training session. The goals should address this question: What task should the volunteer perform in a specific time frame, given the conditions?  For example, a learning objective may be:

At the end of this lesson, volunteers will be able to assess an adult’s literacy level using the standard assessment methods provided. 

Learning objectives should be relevant to your training activities, measurable, and attainable within a given time frame. 

After the Volunteer Training Program

After your new participants complete their initial volunteer training courses, it’s time to celebrate! Thank your volunteers for their time, and celebrate their successes, no matter how small. 

Successful volunteer engagement is an ongoing practice. In addition to celebrating your volunteers’ milestones, here’s how to follow up with your volunteers after training: 

Following up with a call to action

Within a week or two of completed training, send a follow-up email thanking your volunteers for their participation. Then, prompt them to sign up for opportunities with a call-to-action. Provide opportunity recommendations based on their skills and interests to maintain the momentum gathered during volunteer training. 

Offering further opportunities for training

Continuous volunteer development should become a pillar of your volunteer engagement strategy. Reinspire disenchanted volunteers by providing further opportunities for growth. Allow volunteers the chance to take on new challenges and lead, like becoming volunteer mentors themselves. 

In addition, establish ongoing volunteer evaluation for those who are interested in continuous learning opportunities. Evaluate volunteer performance on an annual basis, and suggest additional training if needed. 

Gathering feedback

Ask volunteers for their feedback. By giving your volunteers the opportunity to give feedback, you can improve your training program while working to boost volunteer satisfaction. 

Survey volunteers to get a sense of the success of your training:

  • Did they feel the training program was valuable? 
  • Was there ever a situation in which they didn’t feel prepared while volunteering? 
  • Are they enjoying the work? 
  • Do they need more support? 

It takes some time to compile and implement varied, engaging volunteer training. But great volunteer training helps volunteers feel prepared to support your program’s long-term success. We hope these volunteer training tips help you prepare an effective volunteer training program.

Role-Specific Volunteer Training Resources

Looking for specific volunteer training topics? Check out our list of specific volunteer training workshops and skills-based resources for these popular institutions:

Additional Resources

How to Start a Volunteer Program in 4 Steps

Volunteer Orientation: Setting Your Volunteers Up for Success

Volunteer Management Software: 25 Top Tools for Nonprofits

Strategic Volunteer Engagement: A Guide for Nonprofits

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