I hear a lot of grumbling about volunteer training, both from leaders of volunteers, and from volunteers themselves.
Leaders are concerned that volunteers won’t have the skills and/or knowledge to do their work effectively and safely. Volunteers feel the time could be better spent “actually doing something!”.
And, of course, both of them are right – to an extent.
There seems to be four main reasons that people resent training.
- Too extensive/unnecessary
I was talking with the branch manager of an animal shelter. He told me that he gets a lot of complaints about the amount of training required of the volunteers. “Why do I need to know all that just to take a dog for a walk?” is a common question.
- Retraining or continuing education happens too often
A disgruntled health care volunteer said to me “I only volunteer an average of an hour a week, yet I’m required to complete a training module at least once a month!”
- Training times are inconvenient
I was told by a frustrated volunteer applicant “The training is always on a weekday! I understand that that’s because of staff hours, but I can never make it, and they won’t let me volunteer without being trained.”
- Too boring
A new volunteer services manager confessed to me that she saw many of her trainees surreptitiously looking at their phones, yawning or giving other indications that they were not really listening. The high number of errors subsequently made by the volunteers confirmed her fears.
So those are the problems.
Now, what can you do to stop the grumbling and supercharge your volunteer training?
- Make the training relevant
Tell them about situations that have come up that required a volunteer to use those skills or that knowledge to prevent or mitigate a dangerous incident. If you have trouble coming up with examples, ask yourself why you are including that information.
- Do continuing education at well-spaced, scheduled times
Rather than try to train everyone as soon as anything changes (unless it’s a serious safety issue), save up the training and make an event of it. Most people would prefer to spend two or three hours in a useful, well-run workshop four times a year, rather than half an hour here, an hour there, at random times throughout the year.
- Build flexibility into the training
As much as possible, use recorded webinars or other e-learning tools to allow applicants or volunteers to do the training at a time convenient for them. Most platforms allow for a quiz or other testing component to be included so that you can be confident that they understood the content. If hands-on training is necessary (ie: CPR), arrange training for different days of the week and times of the day to give as many people as possible the opportunity to attend.
- Spice it up with interactive elements, stories, and visuals
As many people who have attended lectures at university can attest, sitting and listening to someone go on and on about something – even something interesting – is a cure for insomnia. It’s hard for an audience to stay engaged when they’re not doing anything. Ask questions, do a poll, have them play a game. The more they participate, the more they will remember. And tell stories! For millennia, humans have learned by listening to stories. We are hardwired to remember them and the lessons that come with them. Use that!
It is easy to supercharge your volunteer training.
It takes thought and planning, but it’s not difficult. Make it relevant, don’t over-do it, build in flexibility and make it entertaining. Four simple steps. You can do it. Good luck!