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Best Practices

Volunteer training best practices

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 FAQ
Why is volunteer training important?

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 as well as 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.

Nearly 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.

What does volunteer training consist of?

Training programs are a great way to introduce volunteers to an organization. Volunteer trainings provide volunteers with the knowledge necessary to become involved with an organization. This can include expectations and responsibilities.Training also establishes objectives and goals. Volunteers are introduced to the tools that they will be using to complete their tasks and are taught how to use them.

Each volunteer training program is different. Some include these topics while others may expand to cover more information.

What are the different types of volunteer training?

Especially during the time of virtual volunteering, volunteer trainings are valuable to both 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 fairly easy to conduct from home using video conferencing platforms to host events and organizational tools such as Mobilize to spread important information and structure your training events.

In addition to virtual trainings, organizers can also utilize in-person trainings for their volunteers. These may use the more traditional tools of handouts and presentations while giving everyone the opportunity to meet one another face-to-face.

Organizers are welcome to use virtual or in-person trainings, depending on what best suits their needs. Even as organizations transition back to in-person events, virtual trainings may be more accessible for new volunteers.

Steps to create a volunteer training program

1. Set a budget and goals.

The first step of creating any successful volunteer training program is to establish the overarching goal(s). Organizers also must be realistic in identifying their monetary and time limitations ahead of time. This will help structure the program.

2. Brainstorm the content you'll cover in the volunteer training program.

What skills or knowledge will volunteers walk away with? By figuring out the most important learning objectives andtargets, organizers will be able to make their educational materials and trainings more focused and informational.

3. Consider in-person vs virtual teaching methods, and invest in virtual tools as needed.

There are pros and cons to both in-person and virtual training programs. In-person training gets volunteers more engaged and makes it easier for them to meet and socialize with one another. It also can make them feel more connected to the organization. On the other hand, virtual training programs are more accessible to volunteers and can be easily recorded and distributed.

Whichever method your organization chooses, it will need tools like Mobilize to organize and manage its volunteers.

More from Mobilize: Virtual volunteering examples

4. Develop training materials for your program.

These may be presentations, handouts, contact information cards, or surveys. These training materials should be created with the goal of informing and educating your new volunteers. They should explain the workings of your volunteer program, your organization, and your goals. Create these materials in advance so that you are able to get a good look at them before sharing them with your volunteers.

Since volunteers are new, they will appreciate and use any and all training resources they receive.

5. Outline the entire volunteer training program.

Organizers can look at the program holistically (from newly recruited volunteers to more experienced volunteers) tooutline a thorough training program. As the organization grows, this can be referenced and broken down into more specific steps to ensure everything is included.

6. Think about additional engagement and learning opportunities to offer once volunteers have completed their training.

At training programs, organizers can look out for the interest and commitment levels of their newest volunteer recruits. If volunteers are excited about the cause, they will welcome more responsibilities and new opportunities to get even more involved. These opportunities may be other training courses, mentorship programs, and more!

Best practices and strategies for your own volunteer training

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.

Create volunteer onboarding materials for new supporters

Providing new volunteers with informational 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 that will help them perform their volunteer duties.

By giving volunteers these materials, they will feel welcomed into your organization and ready to make a difference!  

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.

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 assess how often they currently use technology to determine whether you’ll need to provide additional trainings to cover how to use them. Whereas if your volunteers are younger, these types of trainings may not be necessary.

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. 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, in turn, will lead to higher retention rates.

Develop volunteer-only newsletters to share updates and resources

Publications such as newsletters make space for consistent communication between organizers and volunteers. A newsletter can be used to share updates, resources, and important news

Since the newsletter is regularly distributed, it can also be expanded to include fun features like shoutouts, photos of the week, and more!

Social events

Plan social events, such as a night out or a barbecue, to help volunteers get to know one another. Including ice breakers or other structured “get 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 do things like stream movies together or play trivia games.

Recorded presentations

For some volunteers, it may be more helpful to have recorded presentations. While live trainings are better for some, 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. Mobilize’s YouTube channel has recordings of all of our webinars, so it’s easy for organizers or volunteers to learn more!

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. Over 32% of recipients provide in-depth qualitative feedback.

Recognize all of the hard work your volunteers invest into your organization!

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

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

More from Mobilize: Volunteer recognition ideas

Onboard volunteers together

Welcome new volunteers to your organization as a group and onboard them together. 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 learning with them, 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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