Volunteer Training: How to Implement a Successful Training Program

Volunteer training–seems like a lot to plan, right? But organizations that take the time to implement engaging volunteer training are more likely to enjoy greater volunteer retention and long-term program effectiveness. In this article, we bring your volunteer training ideas to make the implementation process more manageable. 

Let’s get right into it:

Why Should You Train New Volunteers?

The best volunteers are both passionate about your cause and have the skills necessary to carry out the tasks that meet your objectives. Your volunteer recruitment efforts will bring you volunteers with a variety of skill levels. While it’s great to recruit that are simply excited to get involved with your mission, most volunteers will require some level of training in order to make the most impact.  

Simply put: 

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

Volunteer training should provide volunteers with the knowledge and resources to complete tasks effectively. It also establishes a baseline of proficiency, providing an additional layer of volunteer vetting after you have completed a volunteer interview or volunteer background check

While your training program is designed to impart need-to-know information, in-person training also provides a space where volunteers can get to know you and other volunteers. 

How to Create a Volunteer Training Program

The form a volunteer training program takes will also depend on your organization’s goals. In other words; what do your volunteers need to know to best support your organization? 

The first step to planning a volunteer training program?

Decide what you want your volunteers to learn.

Outline Your Volunteer Training Program

What do you want your volunteers to get out of your training program? How extensive will your volunteer training be? These are the questions you’ll want to consider when planning your volunteer training. The level of training your volunteers receive will depend on the complexity of the task you’re asking them to do. For example, medical volunteer training will likely require more role-specific instruction than administrative volunteer training. At minimum, volunteer training should address what your organization does and what the volunteer is expected to do. 

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

  1. About Your Organization or Program
    • Organization background
    • Program mission
    • Community needs or gaps addressed
    • Key staff members and leadership
    • Funding sources and partnerships
    • Development or future plans
  2. Volunteer Expectations and Responsibilities
    • How to communicate organization’s mission
    • How to conduct general work safely
    • Other general organizational processes
  3. Role-Specific Volunteering Training
    • Skills development
    • Knowledge development
    • Role-specific procedures
  4. Emergency Procedures and Contacts

Note: The materials covered in your volunteer training may crossover with your volunteer orientation, so many organizations choose to combine their orientation and training programs. 

Put Together a Volunteer Training Manual

Nearly everly 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

Volunteer Training Manual Examples:

Women’s Empowerment

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Best Friends Animal Society

A few notes on using the volunteer training manual:

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.

Make Training Sessions Engaging

It can be tempting to share a PowerPoint with your volunteers and consider training complete. But studies show that adults retain only 20% of material presented in a lecture setting. To maximize return on your volunteer training program, you’re better off spending the time to implement an engaging, multi-faceted volunteer training program. 

But how do you keep volunteers engaged in training? 

One of the best ways to engage your volunteers during training is to consider a variety of learning styles. Some of your volunteers may be visual learners, while others may learn best by doing. Check out our suggested volunteer training activities that are sure to keep your trainees interested. 

Suggested Volunteer Training Activities:

  • 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 collective discussion. For example, invite trainees to discuss what they think means to be a great ministry volunteer during your church volunteer training. 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, like volunteer search and rescue training or volunteer firefighter training. But simulated activities make engaging training content for any volunteer training. 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. 

Other Volunteer Training Tools:

  • Webinars – Create pre-recorded or live volunteer training videos for at-home training.
  • Experiential Learning – On the job training guided by a trainer or mentor.
  • Interactive e-Learning – Online training that includes slides and other clickable elements.
  • Collaborative Projects – In-person group projects to encourage teamwork. 

You don’t have to choose just one training tool. Trainees are more likely to retain important information when it’s delivered in a variety of ways. 

The key to success?

Switch up your teaching methods for best results!

Establish a Mentorship Program

When training volunteers for community service activities, 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 and generally support new volunteers. 

Iron Out Logistics

Once you have an idea of the shape of your volunteer program, you’ll want to start planning logistics, like the resources you’ll need to carry out training effectively. To aid your planning efforts, consider the following questions:

  • Which team member(s) will be responsible for training?
  • What is your training budget?
  • What materials, resources, and tools will you need to conduct your volunteer training?
  • Will you hold training online, in-person or both? What facilities will you need available?
  • How will you deliver the volunteer manual and other volunteer forms?

While this part of the planning isn’t glamorous, it’s necessary for implementing a thoughtful training program. 

Online Volunteer Training

Should you train volunteers online? Many volunteer programs prefer to carry out a portion of their volunteer training online. Online volunteer trainings allow your busy volunteers to learn in their own time, and tends to be most efficient. However, online training works 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). 

Considerations for volunteer training online:

Do your volunteers have access to a computer or the internet? Are your volunteers technologically competent? For volunteers who are unable to complete training online, consider providing an offline (or paper) alternative. 

Moving Forward: Evaluate and Celebrate

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. 

Keep in mind that the best volunteer training is ongoing. So, provide further opportunities for volunteer growth. Allow volunteers the chance to improve and take on new challenges, like becoming mentors themselves. You may choose to evaluate volunteer performance on an annual basis, and suggest additional training if needed. 

Finally, we recommend, at minimum, checking in with your volunteers regularly. Ask them for their feedback. This will serve as your volunteer training evaluation. Did they feel the training program was valuable? Was there ever a situation in which they didn’t feel prepared to address while volunteering? Are they enjoying the work? Do they need more support? By giving your volunteers the opportunity to give feedback, you can make changes to improve your training program, and even boost satisfaction rates. 

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. 

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

Role-Specific Volunteer Training Resources

Disaster Relief Volunteer Training

FEMA Volunteer Training

Red Cross Volunteer Training

Volunteer EMT Training

Volunteer Firefighting Training

Special Olympics Volunteer Training

Hospice Volunteer Training

Children’s Ministry Volunteer Training

Youth Ministry Volunteer Training

Animal Shelter Volunteer Training

Girl Scout Volunteer Training

Tax Preparation Volunteer Training