Training volunteers

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Written by Allen Kramer on 11 September 2020 in Features
Features

Allen Kramer provides four essential tools to help you get your volunteers up to speed and motivated.

Amid all of 2020’s challenges, volunteer training has been a common pain point for organisations that rely on people power to drive their missions forward. 

Whether you’re directing volunteers at a not for profit, association, union, or corporate CSR programme, you’ve likely run into new unknowns with the shift to online only engagement and virtual events. While many organisations have successfully made the move to virtual volunteering, a lot can get lost in translation as you adapt your historical programming strategies to take place online. 

With so many benefits of effective volunteer training, your organisation should take every possible step to ensure it remains a priority. Consider these important benefits:

  • Increased overall effectiveness of your volunteers
  • More positive and engaging experiences for volunteers
  • Stronger long-term relationships with volunteers.

Virtual volunteers have been more eager than ever to engage with new training opportunities. On the Mobilize platform between March and June, 2020, virtual volunteer training sessions accounted for 26% of all scheduled shifts and sign-ups. Community events like virtual town halls came in second at 17% of all shifts.

If your organisation has seen a surge in grassroots interest over recent months, meeting those new supporters with robust training strategies will help maximise engagement and long-term retention. How do you build a solid volunteer training programme? Let’s walk through the essential elements to keep in mind:

  1. Ease of access
  2. Strong communication
  3. Valuable resources
  4. Engagement incentives.

Whether you’re looking to strengthen your existing volunteer management programming or build a new virtual strategy from the ground-up, these essentials will give you a solid start.

Ease of access

Your volunteer training strategies need to be built on a strong foundation that encourages engagement in the first place. 

Meeting those new supporters with robust training strategies will help maximise engagement and long-term retention

In this case, that means providing an intuitive, centralised location for volunteer opportunities, resources, and communication. A dedicated section of your website that houses all relevant volunteering materials and is regularly updated with new opportunities will be your best bet. For an even more centralised approach, work with a dedicated volunteer management platform.

Offering a single platform or portal greatly simplifies the steps volunteers need to follow in order to engage with your organisation. This increases buy-in and follow-through at the start of the training process. Plus, it creates a more enjoyable experience that volunteers will clearly associate with your organisation.

With the shift to largely virtual operations, all types of organisations have been looking for ways to maximize digital engagement and interactivity. Making it easy for volunteers to engage with your programming is an essential first step that can easily get neglected.

Strong communication

Communication is another fundamental element for effective volunteer training, with more communication always better than less for driving engagement and building relationships. Take a mixed approach to communicating with volunteers, including both personal and automated messages.

  • Personal, one-on-one interactions with the programme director or manager are essential for strengthening ties with volunteers, encouraging engagement, and showing your gratitude for their involvement. If your organisation has an internal mentoring programme, take a similar approach to engaging with and coaching volunteers.
  • Automated messaging is extremely useful for sending event reminders, surveys, and invite-a-friend peer-to-peer opportunities. Event hosts can use automated surveys to receive qualitative feedback from attendees, providing invaluable insights that strengthen their programming over time.

Taking a personal approach to supporting trainee volunteers will drive engagement and build relationships, but don’t miss opportunities to save your team’s time with automation, as well. Explore your volunteer management platform or marketing software for any automation features you might not yet be using.

 

Valuable resources

Make sure you’re providing volunteers with all the resources they need to succeed. Your volunteer training programme might already include a number of modules or courses, but providing volunteers with on-demand access to other resources is never a bad idea. 

Valuable resources for volunteers will generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Technical training, like tutorials on the specific platforms and tools volunteers will be using at your organisation. Using platforms designed specifically for the tasks at hand will generally make the job easier for volunteers, like using dedicated advocacy software rather than separate communication tools and contact lists.
  • Guidance on tasks, like training on the specific best practices and goals of your campaigns. An internal library of clear instructions and explanations will be invaluable for volunteers over the long run.
  • Additional resources, like templates and examples to follow. These will be extremely useful for new volunteers. For instance, not for profits should provide volunteer fundraisers with donation request templates like these from Fundraising Letters.

Ensuring that volunteers can easily access any resources they’ll need is an easy way to support the entire volunteer lifecycle, from training to long-term retention.

Engagement incentives

Encouraging continued engagement with your volunteering and learning opportunities is a tried and true way to increase the long-term value of your programming for your organisation.

Consider these best practices for incentivising engagement:

  • Offer rewards. Perks like free t-shirts or other merchandise are classic ways to encourage volunteers, but intangible rewards can be effective, as well. Free or discounted memberships or unique virtual events might be the perfect motivators.
  • Emphasise impact. Regardless of any specific perks you offer, always emphasise the impact that volunteers have on your organisation and mission. Continually remind trainees of how valuable their help is, and connect it back to your mission.
  • Identify long-term growth opportunities. Your most dedicated volunteers need reasons to stick around year after year. Offer additional learning opportunities and responsibilities as volunteers grow with your organisation.

Actively encouraging engagement across the entire volunteer lifecycle will help increase the effectiveness of your training strategies and drive retention over the long run. These benefits are invaluable for protecting all the time and resources you’ve devoted to developing your training programme in the first place.

During periods of social distancing and virtual operations, do everything you can to give new volunteers a positive, engaging experience. Making it easy for supporters to stay involved is one of the most effective ways you can show them that you appreciate their help.

With centralised training processes, strong communication, useful resources, and engaging incentives for volunteers, you’re sure to see success no matter what the future brings for your organisation.

 

About the author

Allen Kramer is the co-founder and president of Mobilize.

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