Keep Volunteers By Providing Ongoing Training and Development

June 1, 2015 — Leave a comment

One of the most serious issues that nonprofit organizations face is the high turnover rate of volunteers. Most nonprofits have a good group of volunteers at their organization, but over time those good volunteers leave. Providing ongoing training and professional development is one thing that increases the chances that your best volunteers stay at your nonprofit organization.

Keep Volunteers By Providing Ongoing Training and Development

Photo Credit: Cambodia4Kids

For the past couple of weeks I have written about what nonprofit organizations can do to increase the chances that their best volunteers stay. In today’s post I share how providing ongoing training and professional development helps to retain volunteers.

 

Participating in meaningful training activities inside and outside the organization (e.g., conferences) is an important source of continuing motivation and growth [for volunteers].
Schindler-Rainman and Lippitt, The Volunteer Community, p. 62

Appropriate support structures such as . . . meetings and training and development are important for a positive experience. . . . increasing training opportunities . . . make programs as volunteer friendly as possible is recommended.
Anne Wilson, “Supporting Family Volunteers,” p. 6

I. THE TRANSITION FROM ALTRUISM TO PERSONAL GROWTH

The variables that influence a person’s decision to become a volunteer are not necessarily those that lead that same person to continue being a volunteer a year later; further, these reasons may be very different from those that convince him or her to continue to volunteer when 5 or 10 years have passed.
Agostinho and Paco, “Analysis of the Food Bank Volunteer,” p. 257

The reason that ongoing training and development are so important for volunteers is because people’s motivations to volunteer change over time.

A. Beginning: “I volunteer to serve society and the organization.”

At 3 months of service, those who would remain with the hospice for a full year devoted more time the more their work fulfilled their altruistic values motives.
Marcia Finkelstein, “Predictors of Volunteer Time,” p. 1360

B. Long-term: “I volunteer in order to continue personal growth.

At 12 months, the outcomes that were associated with the greatest volunteer activity were less about concern for others and more about personal growth.
Marcia Finkelstein, “Predictors of Volunteer Time,” p. 1360

Volunteers continue volunteering in order to pursue personal growth. My friend used to work for a national humanitarian aid organization. A large part of his job as volunteer coordinator was to bring the volunteers together once a year for a conference. The conference was designed to provide updates to the volunteers about the work the organization was doing and how volunteers were helping in that work. But most of all the conference was designed to train and equip volunteers for their work.

Tom’s organization saw this event as such an important part of the volunteers’ training that it paid for half of the expenses for volunteers to come and participate in the training. After doing several of these trainings over the years many of the volunteers shared with my friend that they stayed involved with Global Aid Network simply because the Global Aid Network invested in them and equipped them for their work.

II. WHY VOLUNTEERS NEED AND DESIRE ONGOING TRAINING

A. Ongoing Training Meets Their Needs and Interests 1

How many times have you heard a piece of important information only to forget it at a later time? Can you hear something once and remember it forever?

First, volunteers need ongoing training because telling a volunteer something once does not ensure that the volunteer will remember it and continue to use that piece of information. Volunteers need to be reminded about policies of the organization, what to do in certain situations, etc.

Secondly, volunteers desire ongoing training about their work or even other areas they might be interested in. Most people want to do good work, and training helps volunteers do that.

B. It Is Unreasonable to Assume a One or Two Day Training Adequately Prepares Volunteers for Difficult Tasks

Respondents indicated that although they enjoyed the initial two-day training classes, it is unreasonable to assume that once a volunteer has completed the training, he or she is equipped with appropriate and adequate knowledge for the duration of the bereavement volunteer experience.
Skoglund, “Factors Influencing Volunteer Turnover,” p. 219

There are some volunteer positions that are extremely difficult and require large amounts of training before volunteering and throughout the volunteer process. Examples of these volunteer positions are serving in hospice care, suicide crisis lines, and neonatal death bereavement counseling.

III. WHAT VOLUNTEERS NEED TRAINING IN

A. Reviewing What They Were Already Taught in Orientation

It is important to remember that the odds that someone heard and remembered everything from your volunteer orientation are very low. Therefore, when conducting ongoing trainings for your volunteers always review material that volunteers were taught in the orientation.

B. New Material

Policies change. Best practices change. Ideas change. Therefore, in your ongoing training sessions share the new training material with volunteers.

IV. COMMUNICATE THE TRAINING IN MANY FORMS

When you think about how to provide ongoing training to your volunteers, the first idea that probably comes to your mind is to sit your volunteers down in a room for a formal training session. However, there are a variety of methods you should implement as part of your ongoing training for volunteers.

A. Print

One of the best methods to provide ongoing training to volunteers is to put the material in print. A lot of people (like myself) are visual learners and need to “see” the material in order to learn it. Contrary to popular opinion, all generations are likely to read material as a method of learning. For example, research shows the Millennial generation (those born between 1980-1999) are the generation most likely to have read a book in the past year. (Research says 8 out of 10 Millennials have read a book in the past year compared to 7 out of 10 people from other generations. See NPR’s “America’s Facebook Generation Is Reading Strong“).

B. Huddles

Huddles are short meetings that take place with everyone standing in a circle. While I was working with the United Way of Stanislaus County I regularly went to retail stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, etc. to speak at their “shift huddles.” These were meetings conducted by the management team at the beginning of the shift for all employees. About 30 people would stand in a circle while the shift managers held a 10 or 15 minute meeting to praise employees for their good work, provide necessary instruction, give training, and offer feedback on what the employees needed to improve. I was surprised to find out that an entire Wal-Mart store with 400 employees was run entirely through these “huddles.”

Similarly, you might be able to conduct brief huddles as a way to provide ongoing training to your volunteers.

C. One-to-One Meetings

Even though it is more time-consuming, you can provide ongoing training in one-to-one meetings. Obviously, if you have a large amount of volunteers you cannot possibly make this happen. But, if you have only a few volunteers and you have specific training that you want to customize for each volunteer, then this might be a good idea.

D. On the Spot Training (before the work)

In Andy Stanley’s book, Deep and Wide, he says that adults “learn on a need-to-know basis.” While young people are taught to learn in school, adults develop a desire to learn when they need to know something. Therefore when you have adults that need to be trained one of the times that you can train them is just before the work is to begin. Preferably this training would take place at the location where the volunteers are about to start the work.

E. On the Spot Coaching (during and after the work)

Another way to provide ongoing training and development for volunteers is on the spot coaching during and after the work. This is where you provide feedback and constructive criticism of volunteers while they are doing the work or immediately after the work is completed. This type of training needs to be done delicately because you do not want to provide negative feedback in front of volunteers’ peers.

F. Classes

1. The Traditional Method

Classes are the traditional method of providing ongoing training and development for volunteers. This has many benefits such as being at a specific time and place where volunteers can come knowing that they are about to learn something. It also provides the person giving the training a structured environment away from the busyness of daily work. Furthermore, classroom training environments provide a safe place that volunteers can share their ideas, ask questions, and receive help on specific issues they might have encountered in their work. Finally, a classroom training also allows volunteers to provide help and coaching to their fellow volunteers.

2. Necessary Elements of Training Classes for Volunteers

When conduct trainings in a class format it is important that classes be at convenient times for the volunteers. Often volunteers work during the same hours that you work; therefore the class might need to be held during the evening on weekdays or on a weekend.

G. Conferences

Conferences can be helpful because they allow volunteers to get away from the normal volunteer routine. Conferences can foster creativity, open volunteers’ eyes to the benefits of their volunteer experience, help them see new ways of conducting their volunteer work, and most of all provide necessary training.

One of the benefits of conferences is that you (the volunteer coordinator) do not have to personally train volunteers. Instead, the volunteers receive training without additional training responsibilities being added to your workload.

H. Mentoring

Mentoring is another strong way to build leaders. One approach is to tap into a key source—retired past leaders.
Jeffrey Champlin, “Volunteers Leading Volunteers,” p. 42)

1. Pick Your Mentors

Mentors can be a great way to provide ongoing training and development for your volunteers if you ensure that the mentors are:

a) your best volunteers,
b) patient,
c) good listeners,
d) great communicators, and
e) have a passion for seeing the work done correctly.

A mentoring relationship can be the best way for social and talkative volunteers to provide training to new volunteers.

2. Pair New Volunteers with Experienced Volunteers

When it’s time for your newbies to actually learn the job, it’s often wise to pair them up with an experienced volunteer or staff member. Make sure the mentor is patient, good with people, and has a knack for teaching others. Having a good relationship with a mentor can help ‘seal the deal’ with a new volunteer, so put some serious thought into who you want to help bring folks aboard. Also, take cues from the conversation you had with the newbie in the beginning. Consider a mentor that would be a good fit in terms of personality and possibly with helping the new volunteer meet some of the objectives they had explained to you earlier in the process.
Shawn Kendrick, “Best Practices for Volunteer Orientation”

In addition to picking your best mentors who are good examples of the type of volunteers you want to reproduce, you will also want to pair your new volunteers with experienced volunteers. Experienced volunteers have the skills, knowledge, and necessary experience that are needed to train new volunteers.

3. For a great article about pairing new volunteers with experienced volunteers, see “The Buddy System for New Volunteers” by Susan Ellis.

I. Counseling

Although supportive structures such as training and development activities and programme [sic] coordinators were in place, there is a need for counseling to support volunteers grieving for a client.
Wilson, “Supporting Family Volunteers,” p. 5

I list counseling as a part of ongoing training and development because it might be required for volunteers dealing with difficult situations and clients. A very small percentage of nonprofits should implement this as a training method.

V. DON’T LET TRAINING GET IN THE WAY

With my 2,000 words of text about the need to provide training and how to provide that training I want to finish by saying that you should not allow training to get in the way of you and your volunteers getting work done. Ongoing training and development for long-term volunteers is a necessary element to motivate volunteers to continue volunteering. However, a small number of organizations have shown that their volunteers give more time and do better work with little or no training. These organizations have had continued success working with volunteers by limiting requisite forms, interviews, training, and preset roles. (See the article by Martha Barnes and Erin Sharpe’s article, “Looking Beyond Traditional Volunteer Management: A Case Study in Alternative Approach to Volunteer Engagement in Parks and Recreation,” in Voluntas 20, 2009, page 184.) So be sure not to require such frequent training that it significantly detracts from time spent working.

Question: What are some of the ways that you have provided ongoing training and development for the volunteers of your organization? 

Notes:

  1. Hagar and Bradney, “Problems Recruiting Volunteers, p. 151.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Fresno Pacific University and master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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