Whether you are trying to operate a community arts association, a botanical garden, a soup kitchen, a tele-helpline for troubled teens, or a trades association, you depend on trained volunteers. And yet, each of these projects, and thousands more like them, require specialized training.
The arts association volunteers need to know how to handle ticket sales, manage crowds effectively, handle traffic flow and parking, and even use specialized sound mixing equipment. The botanical garden volunteers need to know the history of the garden to give guided tours and a basic knowledge of the plants so they can answer questions or maintain them. Volunteers in soup kitchens must be trained in essential safe food preparation procedures while volunteers handling troubled callers need to know when a problem is so serious professional help or rescue workers must be called. Boards, directors, and committee members need to be onboarded to be aware of their roles in governance and how to carry out their responsibilities.
You get the idea.
Consistent, Specialized Training is Needed
How can your association or not-for-profit handle the kind of specialized training that is needed? What method of delivery works best and how can you engage your volunteers to stay motivated long enough to complete their training?
Traditional training for volunteers was either formal in a classroom or presentation kind of setting, or informal with one person passing on their knowledge to another. Today, when issues of public safety and organizational liability are on the line, it is too important to train with anything less than a formalized program.
Increasingly more organizations are turning to e-learning as a means of delivering consistent training that both busy young professionals and retired baby boomers can download and learn from the comfort of their own homes. These materials can be easily transformed into a printed orientation guide as well if you work with volunteers who are not computer savvy enough to be trained online.
Consider Online Learning Programs for Volunteers
In considering e-learning programs for not-for-profits, a commonly raised objection is that engaging volunteers to complete online training will be more difficult than group training in a classroom. There is no validity to this fear. In fact, the motivational techniques to get volunteers to complete their training through e-learning are no different from those used in traditional learning programs.
The issue of engaging in e-learning was the subject of a study done at New Zealand’s Massey University and Canada’s Athabasca University. Researchers discovered that whether you train people face-to-face or online makes no significant difference when compared to other key factors. The study, called Examining Motivation in Online Distance Learning Environments: Complex, Multifaceted, and Situation Dependent, was completed by Maggie Hartnett, Alison St. George, and John Dron.
They discovered that all learners are motivated in many different ways and whether they study face-to-face or online is not a determining factor in facilitating them to complete the course. In short, if a volunteer doesn’t finish their training, it generally has nothing to do with technology.
If training delivery methods don’t matter to volunteers, what does? What is it that engages them to embrace essential training and make the most of it?
Ensure that Course Materials are Relevant
The secret is relevancy. When people sign up to volunteer and are advised training is mandatory, that conversation has to include a convincing reminder of how the training is relevant to what they will be doing. When volunteers show up to give of their time for a cause, they are already making a significant donation to your not-for-profit. When you thank them but then tell them you need even more of their time for training, you have to communicate its relevancy right then.
Answer the "what’s in it for me?" question that hangs in the air. Let your volunteers know that this training will not only allow them to help the association run smoothly and help others get the most of it, but it will also enhance their personal skillset with useful knowledge. In some roles, the training may even be mandatory.
Stress that extra skills, from traffic management to botanical knowledge, are useful to carry around and might be needed in their personal or professional life in the future. In other words, give people a reason to want to learn. Just telling them they have to is not nearly as effective as taking the time to present the training as a "value-add" to the whole volunteering experience.
The next step is to ensure you set up your online course with specific modules for particular tasks so the volunteer is more connected to the content. If the volunteer will be guiding visitors through a tradeshow, for example, it may not be necessary to give them detailed training on governance policies or how to prepare news releases for the organization.
People who can select training that is personally interesting to them are much more motivated to complete it than those who are simply told to take it.
Maintain Personal Connections Through the Training Period
Remember to keep the trainee connected to the organization during the period of learning. Ensure that whether you deliver your courses online or in person that there is an open discussion line if they want to question a point or discuss an issue as it arises. Try to set up a buddy system where a new volunteer is paired with an established volunteer. Mid-way through the training period, make sure the experienced volunteer calls the newcomer to check if they are working their way through the training material successfully and ask if they have any questions. The more frequent the communication, the better.
At the start of any volunteer training program, engage the trainees by clearly outlining the expectations for them and what success will look like at the program's completion. This is also the time to check openly and honestly with the new volunteer to make sure they have the technical skills sufficient to take the offered training. For online training, this would indicate comfort with computer technology. For personal training, ensure there are no literacy or learning barriers that could impede progress.
Finally, make sure there is a worthy reward at the end of the training program. Not only is the volunteer cleared for work, but they also are recognized in some way such as with a certificate and some tangible reward. For example, present two tickets to the performing arts centre, two free passes to enjoy the botanical garden, or an insulated soup mug for the soup kitchen or a comfort wrap for the telecare worker. These are just ideas to illustrate how the concept is to find a reward appropriate to the volunteering the person will be performing.
Paula Morand is a leadership building, revenue-boosting, strategy expanding keynote speaker, author, and visionary. This dreaming big and being bold leadership expert and brand strategist brings her vibrant energy, humor, and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth, and impact in a more bold fashion. 24 years, 27,000 clients, 34 countries, 15 books, former radio personality, 11x award-winning entrepreneur and humorous emcee. Check out Paula’s bestselling books on Amazon: "Bold Courage: How Owning Your Awesome Changes Everything", "Dreaming BIG and Being BOLD: Inspiring stories from Trailblazers, Visionaries and Change Makers" book series; and her newest release "Bold Vision: A Leader’s Playbook for Managing Growth”.
For speaking inquiries email firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll-free 1-888-502-6317.
Additional training is just a small part of doing what's best for your career, in the not-for-profit sector or otherwise. Proper, effective professional development also means career management planning. Our CAE Program has an upcoming webinar that can help in this regard, so don't miss out.