Training for Success

Posted Thursday, April 11th, 2019 by Sterling Volunteers Staff

You’ve successfully recruited all of the volunteers and staff you need to support your cause. They’re eager, they’re ready to go, and now it’s time to begin training, but is your organization doing everything it can to ensure your training program is effective?

In a recent webinar, which can now be viewed on-demand, nonprofit expert Beth Steinhorn shared strategies for how organizations can better set their volunteers and staff up for long-term success through training. She included an anecdote from the day prior to the webinar, when she was conducting some interviews with the volunteer team at an organization with a well-established, strategic volunteer training program.

“[The organization] provides extensive training to volunteers, and even includes volunteer engagement in all new employee orientations. And yet, the team shared with us that there are still many staff members who are reluctant to provide feedback to volunteers or to take on new volunteers because they don’t really understand how to engage and whether engaging volunteers would be worth the time,” Beth shared.

“What really stood out for us is that training is still a vital need, even in this well-established organization. Training is not just about providing volunteers with the training they need to be successful, but staff as well,” Beth said.

Beth Steinhorn is the president of VQ Volunteer Strategies, partnering with organizations through strategic and innovative engagement. She’s the author of multiple books and articles on strategic engagement and is known for her inspiring presentations.

Training is about context as much as it is content.

It’s important to think about the context of the training you provide your volunteers and staff, and to consider the way your organization delivers training information. The way you engage is crucial to making the training effective.

Consider the context: Orientations

Holding an orientation sets the stage for volunteer accountability, providing volunteers with information they need to understand their role in the organization. Orientations introduce volunteers to your team, the organization and other volunteers and provide context for the work.

  • What are you calling your orientation?
  • Is it in-person or online?
  • Who runs your training: Staff, volunteers or a partner?
  • Is screening part of the interview process or does it happen some other time?
  • What info should you collect and what updates should you provide?

Consider the context: Volunteer training programs

Help your volunteers succeed. Effective volunteer training ensures every volunteer has the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in their roles – no matter what that role is.

  • Communicate your mission
  • Help them build skills that grow success
  • Clarify protocols and procedures
  • Ensure safety and compliance
  • Build camaraderie and rapport
  • Increase retention

Consider the context: Presenting content

Which parts of your program are best learned on-the-job instead of in a formal training? Skills and knowledge are two different things and it’s important to consider when and how to present the two different types of content. When you’re determining which training content to present, the most important question you can ask yourselves is “what gaps in knowledge or skill would impede the volunteer in this role?”

  • In-person workshops of all varieties
  • On-demand recordings
  • Online resource centers
  • Formal mentoring
  • On-the-job experience
  • Continuing education
  • Job aids and tools
  • Day of training for episodic volunteers

Is your training working?

When Beth interviewed the organization referenced above, she found some gaps in their training program, and there’s no shame in that. Assessing your training program is all in the spirit of constant improvement.

Here we’ll look at some of Beth’s tips for building a system to assess your training programs. It can be broken down into two main ideas:

Assessing trainees and evaluating training

It’s important to ensure that the volunteers and staff you’re training have acquired the skills they need to do the required work. You can check in with them via testing or by observing them yourself.

You also need to seek out feedback from your trainees to ensure the training you’re providing is effective. Consider offering surveys, conducting interviews, looking at program data or even just asking for informal feedback.

Volunteers aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a good training program

Your staff will benefit from training programs focused on how to engage and support volunteers, as well. Survey your staff and making observations on the job. The conclusions you make should be based on your organizational goals and priorities.

As a consultant, coach and champion it’s your job to identify training opportunities for your staff. You likely already have opportunities built into your program, such as orientation, professional development or coaching programs.

One way to encourage training participation is to provide an internal credentialing program or help your staff achieve external accreditation to nurture your organization’s culture of learning.

Watch the webinar on-demand

To learn more about how you can better train your staff and volunteers, view the on-demand version of the “Setting up for Success: Training Staff and Volunteers” webinar.

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