Effective training in the not-for-profit sector

Whether it’s your board or your volunteers, training in the charity sector needs focus says Matt Hugg

Picture this: your Campaign for Us! is the biggest fundraising programme in your organisation’s history. You scan down the ‘prepare for your next campaign’ checklist that a friend sent over and you’re pretty pleased with yourself. 

Computer systems in place? Check. You bought and installed your new system last year. Is your board on board? Check! They enthusiastically endorsed the campaign at their last board meeting. 
Staff in place? Check! Most came with campaign experience, so even better. That leaves volunteers. Recruited? Check! Board members formed a committee and brought their friends.

Then you hear a knock. It’s Bob, probably the most experienced in campaigns out of all your new hires. He looks concerned.

“I was talking to one of the new campaign committee members,” he tells you. “He has no idea what he’s doing!” 

“Huh?!,” you say to yourself, trying to hide your annoyance. “He was great in his previous organisation’s campaign last year. Their executive director told me herself!” 

“Yeah,” Bob sheepishly continued. “I talked to him about that. He said they were lucky. Behind the scenes it was a disaster. Most of the volunteers made it up as they went along. For training, all they got was a tour of the facility, a lesson on filling out a pledge card and their list of names to visit. When he asked his fellow volunteers, they all seemed too embarrassed to admit that they didn’t know what was going on.” He paused. “Boss, I think we need to invest in some real volunteer training.”

I had never thought this about before, but the first, and most honest reaction when it comes to training volunteers is probably: “Why would you spend time, effort, and money training volunteers?” After all, they’re not ‘real’ employees. They may not stick around for long. They don’t do as much as our paid staff. And honestly? They can be a real pain. The real question isn’t “Why would you?” The better question is “Can you imagine not?”

From the board chair to the casual walk-in, few volunteers get the training and education they need to effectively carry out their job. But why? Intellectually, you know that if you show someone how the job is done and why it’s important, you’ll get better results. Yet, roadblocks persist.

Your not-for-profit board members and volunteers have the potential to be some of the greatest assets both to your organisation and to your fundraising. What will make the difference between ordinary and outstanding? If you can get them engaged in your organisation and their responsibilities within. And what can you do for every volunteer in any role? Educate them. Here’s how.

Educate volunteers about your mission

This is first for a reason – everyone needs to know why they’re there. Certain volunteer roles can seem menial and unimportant until you communicate how each task plays a part in the big-picture for your organisation.

This is more than giving out brochures. Do you have a video on your history? Outside resources to learn about why your mission is needed? Can you introduce volunteers to recipients – past or present – who can tell their story?

Educate volunteers about your organisation
Nobody is alone in a not for profit – even if they work from home in their basement. They benefit from seeing the big picture – what others do and which programmes you offer. Even alone, your volunteers can still feel like part of an important team.

Share organisation charts. Walk them through your offices or facilities and introduce them by name to others. Let them see the big picture and their important role in it. Connect them with one or two people (other than their supervisor) who they can feel comfortable asking questions about what the organisation does and why.

Educate volunteers about their function

Nothing is more frustrating than not knowing what you should be doing when someone assigns you a task. This is where outside content can really make a difference. Here are some of our favourite type of resources.

Videos. There are thousands of educational videos on nearly every not-for-profit function. Curate your own list out of collections and share your findings with your board members and other volunteers. 

Podcasts. Have a volunteer who is doing boring tasks or has a long commute? Recommend a podcast that connects to your mission or their function in the organisation.

Books and eBooks. For your more ambitious volunteers, provide them with educational literature and encourage them to read up on key components of their role.

Webinars. Volunteers can get a lot out of live webinars, but too few even know about them, much less take advantage of them. 

Seminars and Conferences. There’s nothing better than a volunteer perspective on not-for-profit material. That’s why most conference presenters would love to have volunteers in the audience. Plus, your not for profit and your volunteers would greatly benefit from the connections they can make.

Training and education for volunteers is an ongoing process. It’s a great way to keep volunteers engaged in your mission. It allows them to grow and, in turn, helps your organisation grow alongside them. 

In the end, most volunteers show up because they want to do good. Training is the express path to doing good. Don’t be afraid of their bravado, their procrastination, or their reluctance to get training. Their training means you meet your goals – and it’s critical for ensuring an ultimately successful volunteer programme and/or not-for-profit board.

Matt Hugg is president and founder of Nonprofit.Courses 


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