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Best Practices

Volunteer training best practices: 11 strategies and ideas

Our strategies for training volunteers for in-person and virtual roles.

Training volunteers is an essential part of any organization’s success. Volunteers power the work of their organizations, so training enables them to be more efficient and effective in everything they do. Training expands beyond mere introductions and orientations; it must be covered at all stages of the volunteer cycle.

This guide will give you a crash course in volunteer training and strategies you can implement in your own organization. Here's what we'll cover:

Effective training strategies and resources can make a huge difference for your volunteer engagement and retention efforts. Let's dive in.

Volunteer training: The basics

Organizations should invest in volunteer training because it is mutually beneficial. Volunteers leave their trainings with important, applicable skills that they can take with them into their professional lives. They also leave with a stronger relationship with the organization, which benefits their networking capabilities. Overall, training helps new volunteers get to know one another, the organization, and the job quickly.

On the other hand, organizations also benefit from training because it  makes volunteers more confident in the work they do and prepares them to make a difference. This confidence helps volunteers move past casual volunteering into becoming a regular advocate. Additionally, as well meaning as many volunteers are, they may sign up to help without realizing they lack the skills necessary to be effective. Training has also been found to increase motivation and improve volunteer retention rates.

Almost all organizations would benefit from constructing a training program for volunteers. There is more that each volunteer can learn and develop in order to be more effective and productive in their work.

Especially during the time of virtual volunteering, volunteer trainings are valuable to volunteers and organizers alike. Without in-person volunteering, it is more difficult for struggling volunteers to ask questions and for organizers to catch minor mistakes. Virtual trainings are also fairly easy to conduct from home using video conferencing platforms to host events and organization tools such as Mobilize to spread information.

Top volunteer training strategies & ideas

Volunteer training strategy 1: Develop a concrete plan for volunteer training across the supporter lifecycle

Organizers can get the most out of their program by thoroughly planning out their training program. This means understanding the supporter lifecycle from initial recruitment to long-term engagement. Organizers should consider what types of training opportunities and resources will be most effective at each stage, from newcomer to long-term volunteer.

If organizers construct a training strategy, even a loose one, it will be much easier to adapt and expand your offerings as your volunteer program grows. Training and supporting volunteers at any stage encourages volunteers to stay engaged and deepen their involvement.

Volunteer training strategy 2: Create volunteer onboarding materials for new supporters

Providing new volunteers with necessary materials can make it easier for them to get accustomed to their new responsibilities. For example, a sheet with answers to frequently asked questions can prepare them for issues that may arise while they're on the job. Other materials may include contact information for other volunteers and supervisors, a calendar of important upcoming events, and other information they may need.

By giving volunteers these materials, they will feel welcomed into your organization and ready to make a difference! They'll be more excited to get more involved off the bat.

Volunteer training strategy 3: Track your superstar volunteers on Mobilize

Keeping an eye on your top volunteers on Mobilize empowers your organization to focus on the supporters who are the most invested. Tracking your volunteers is easy using Mobilize! One way to do this is to go into one of the dashboards you work on and click on “Stats”. There, you will find a table of your top volunteers. Organizers can also go to “Exports”and export a CSV of their supporters along with their contact information and volunteer statistics.

Volunteer training strategy 4: Understand your average volunteer and tailor your training to them

Getting to know your average volunteer is an important part of optimizing your training program. For example, if your volunteer base is generally older, it would be wise to avoid using too much technology in trainings. Whereas if your volunteers are younger, technology will be welcomed!

Volunteer training strategy 5: Implement a volunteer mentor program

Implementing mentorship programs in training benefit both the trainer and the trainee! Experienced volunteers will feel recognized for their long-term involvement, and training a new volunteer will allow them to refresh their skills and share their experiences. New volunteers will have someone in the program who they can go to with questions, and volunteer trainers can take on a bulk of training that would normally be the responsibility of the organizer.

A mentorship program fosters a social environment within an organization, because volunteers will be connected to one another. This will, in turn, lead to higher retention rates.

Volunteer training strategy 6: Develop volunteer-only newsletters to share updates and resources

Publications such as newsletters make space for regular communication between organizers and volunteers. A newsletter can be used to share updates, resources, and other contact information.

As the newsletter is made more regularly, it can also be expanded to include more fun features! For example, it can include shoutouts, pictures of the week, and more.

Volunteer training strategy 7: Social events

Use social events such as a night out or a barbecue to help volunteers get to know one another. Including ice breakers or other structured “getting to know you” activities will encourage volunteers to form bonds in your organization’s community.

In the age of social distancing, social events are still possible! Organizers can use video conferencing platforms to stream movies together, play trivia games, and other fun activities.

More from Mobilize: Virtual volunteering examples

Volunteer training strategy 8: Recorded presentations

For some volunteers, it may be more helpful to have recorded presentations. While live trainings are better for most, recorded presentations give volunteers the opportunity to learn and study on their own. It can also be sent out after live recordings to fill the gaps of what volunteers might have missed.

These recordings are especially simple to make when holding volunteer trainings online, because you can just record Zoom calls and post them online.

Volunteer training strategy 9: Ask volunteers for feedback

Volunteers will feel recognized when organizers actively seek their feedback and concerns. Collecting feedback gives volunteers an opportunity to be heard, so it is important to recognize the notes they make and even implement changes when appropriate.

Collecting feedback is easy using Mobilize. After every training and social event, Mobilize automatically sends a survey. 32% of recipients provide in-depth qualitative feedback.

Volunteer training strategy 10: Recognize all of the hard work your volunteers invest into your organization!

As volunteers move through the training cycle, reward their milestones! Rewarding the hard work that they have put into learning about your organization and developing necessary skills, will make them feel recognized and appreciated. It will also encourage them to work harder in trainings to get the most out of the experience.

Volunteers can be recognized in a variety of different ways, from movie nights to goodie bags to handwritten letters. Be creative and personal in your use of rewards.

More from Mobilize: Volunteer recognition ideas

Volunteer training strategy 11: Onboard volunteers together

Welcome and onboard new volunteers as a group. This strategy will give new supporters an automatic network within your organization of other members who are equally new and have similar questions. New volunteers won’t feel as lost when they have other community members who are in the same spot, and they can lean on one another for resources and questions as they get more involved in the organization.

Getting started with volunteer training

Developing a solid training strategy for volunteers fosters long-term engagement. Volunteers will leave trainings feeling more confident in their involvement, more productive, and more effective overall.

Whether volunteers are being engaged in-person or online, organizers require software that lets them recruit and manage volunteers. Mobilize supports your training efforts by providing useful insights at the big-picture and individual levels.

Learn more about how to engage and organize volunteers using our resources:

See what Mobilize can do for you.

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