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5 Key Steps for Effective Nonprofit Volunteer Training

Effective and productive volunteers are the fuel that keeps nonprofit organizations thriving. Recruiting volunteers is critical, but it’s also important to teach them the skills they will need to succeed.

Volunteers carry out numerous tasks that provide value to nonprofits, with the latest value of a volunteer hour estimated at $31.80, according to the Independent Sector’s Value of Volunteer Time report. They can assist with events, write thank-you notes, and create engaging content for your website or social media pages. To ensure these volunteers are successful, you must have an effective plan to onboard and train them.

When you teach volunteers about your nonprofit and coach them properly to fulfill their duties, you’ll ensure they have productive experiences and represent your organization well. We’ll walk through five essential steps to effective nonprofit volunteer training.

1. Clearly define roles and expectations.

Before the training begins, it’s critical to have a strong recruitment program that identifies candidates who are willing to learn or provide the skills you’re seeking and are committed to your organization’s mission. Volunteers will have a variety of interests, motivations, and connections to nonprofit causes. That is why you must communicate specific roles and expectations early during the recruitment and onboarding phase.

When recruiting, ensure that your volunteer role descriptions provide the necessary details that are relevant to each position, such as:

  • Location
  • Time commitment
  • Responsibilities
  • Required skills and qualifications

For example, if you are recruiting volunteers to help manage your social media, they should have some basic understanding or be capable of learning how accounts can be accessed, audience expectations on specific channels, and effective social media messaging.

Start by identifying exactly what volunteers must learn from your training program. Create specific, measurable learning objectives that align with the volunteer roles and responsibilities. This specificity will help ensure that your training program and materials are focused and relevant.

Build a feature on your nonprofit’s website to create a dedicated section for sharing volunteer opportunities. Then, promote any volunteer opportunities through your organization’s social media and your email newsletter. When volunteers clearly understand what to expect when they get involved with your nonprofit, they’ll be more prepared to fulfill their roles productively and responsibly.

2. Host orientation sessions.

Once volunteers are recruited, explain clearly to them how their role relates to your nonprofit’s mission. It also helps connect the dots for volunteers by giving them an individual sense of how they can help accomplish your mission, which will create a greater sense of accomplishment in their work for the nonprofit and bond them with your organization.

Volunteer orientation sessions are excellent ways to introduce these new supporters to your nonprofit and start building meaningful relationships with them. Start with a basic structure for your orientation session that addresses:

  • Organization’s mission: Briefly describe your nonprofit’s mission, history, and goals.
  • Main programs offered: Describe the services your nonprofit provides within the community.
  • Introduce staff and other volunteers: Allow workers to introduce themselves and explain their roles.
  • Case studies demonstrating impact: Show the difference your organization is making.
  • Volunteer opportunities: Explain where and how volunteers serve your nonprofit.
  • Basic volunteer handbook and rules: Provide written materials if possible, like a handbook or policy manual.
  • Facility tour: Show volunteers your facility, particularly the relevant work areas they must know.

When scheduling orientation sessions, consider hosting in different formats. You may find you can reach more volunteers through hybrid or virtual sessions, or you may want an initial in-person session to acquaint them with your operation. However, different formats can help provide convenience and increase participation among volunteers.

3. Provide role-specific training.

Depending on their specific roles in your nonprofit, volunteers may require varying levels and types of training. Therefore, it’s important to develop training materials for each volunteer’s role by assessing their needs. For example, if a volunteer is scheduled to be assigned to help with new member recruitment at an upcoming event, they will require training on how to use your organization’s nonprofit management software to ensure they can easily sign up new members on the day of the event. 

It’s also a good idea to assign staff members as mentors to volunteers so the volunteers know they have their own contacts to consult when they run into any questions or challenges. This also helps create bonds between paid and volunteer workers who are both critical to your organization’s success.

Consider offering a variety of learning opportunities when training volunteers. It can be intimidating starting a new role, with so much new information to process. You may choose one or a mix of learning options, from on-site training, peer mentorship, video tutorials, and written manuals. When you offer various training options, you can appeal to differing learning preferences and diversify how information is provided to keep it interesting.

4. Equip volunteers with essential resources.

There is more to learning how to serve a nonprofit productively than understanding the organization’s mission and the specific expectations of a volunteer role. You must be prepared to provide volunteers with any additional resources they may need to succeed.

For example, if your nonprofit is launching a crowdfunding campaign and relying on volunteers to support it, they must have the necessary tools to be successful. They will need to understand how to access social media accounts and must become familiar with your nonprofit’s social media guidelines if they are asked to create promotional materials. 

They also should know the voice and tone your nonprofit expects on its social media accounts. 

Provide them with any relevant messaging templates, branding materials, and sources of approved photos for publication.

Other resources that volunteers might need could include access to your nonprofit’s event management platform, physical tools such as safety equipment for a community project, and even snacks and refreshments provided at your office for employees during work hours.

5. Share continual support and feedback.

It’s not enough to just hand your volunteers a handbook and a policy manual. You must ensure they receive ongoing support and feedback, particularly as they are learning their roles.

Take advantage of nonprofit tools, such as volunteer management software, to track engagement and navigate communications with volunteers. The interests, preferences, and past involvement that the software stores in the volunteer profiles can then be used to recommend future opportunities that they may be interested in at your nonprofit.

It is also important to regularly offer volunteers feedback to keep them motivated and engaged. Look for interesting and creative ways to recognize their work and commitment, including:

  • Mentioning their work when sharing your nonprofit’s accomplishments.
  • Honor them on your social media channels throughout National Volunteer Month in April.
  • Celebrate their birthday with an eCard or gathering.
  • Send them a handwritten thank-you note for their service.
  • Publish photos of volunteers in your nonprofit’s annual report.

You should also make an effort to allow volunteers to provide feedback about their experiences. This will help assess your onboarding and training program by identifying gaps in training and expectations. 

Distribute volunteer surveys to collect direct feedback that will help you extract insights into how you can improve your volunteer training plan moving forward.

Your nonprofit must create a solid volunteer training program to ensure a strong foundation for productive and reliable volunteer support. It is more than just providing instruction and handing out materials to new volunteers.

You must create a culture of training, support, and feedback that gives volunteers a secure sense of purpose and productivity. This will help inspire them to grow in their roles and ensure they understand their importance to your organization’s success.