From interest to reality: Best practices for training volunteers

Once an adult has indicated an interest and you’ve taken the steps to get them started in their service, it’s important to consider the best method of volunteer training they need for sucess

There are three basic objectives when training volunteers: increase volunteer knowledge, build volunteer skills and modify volunteer attitudes. While many methods can be employed to impart knowledge, there are few that are successful in skill training.

Normally, some explanation of what the volunteer is to do and why precedes skill training. Since the preliminary work falls under the heading of increasing knowledge, the volunteer trainer should employ more traditional educational methods like lecture, videos, etc. Once the volunteer has acquired that knowledge, they must transfer the knowledge into practice or demonstrate a skill. For example, if a trainer wants to prepare a volunteer to teach decision-making skills, first the trainer will needs to explain how adults or youth learn and proper teaching methods for the population the volunteer will be teaching. The trainer should then give the volunteer the opportunity to practice that skill while providing constructive feedback afterwards.

Attitudinal training is the most difficult type of training to do. If someone’s attitude is wrong for the position, such as a volunteer who is out to sell their services, it is usually a better use of time to recruit a different volunteer than to try to change the attitude of an existing one. On the other hand, attitudinal training in the sense of raising consciousness (developing or strengthening an attitude that is already or potentially there) may be useful in some types of volunteer training. To explore attitudinal training, you might look towards role reversal activities, self-evaluation that help a volunteer explore his or her own values on a given subject, simulations or exploration of a topic through case studies.

All new volunteers should have a personal training plan based on their needs (those seen by the volunteer and by paid staff). Consider also the basic skills that the volunteer currently possesses as well as his or her goals. It should include plans for achieving the learning objectives. The training plan should have a timeline and should consider the volunteer’s availability.

To develop volunteer skills, knowledge and services, staff needs to ensure that volunteers are free to set their own procedures and pace when it is determined they are ready. The training plan should present the volunteer with continued learning opportunities, new challenges and stimulation, opportunities for interaction with other professionals and volunteers, and continued development of self-confidence.

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