How to Train Your Non-Profit’s Volunteers

Volunteers are an integral part of the work of most non-profit organizations. They provide vital support for both the frontline work and the back office tasks of many charities, and in some smaller organizations, the volunteers are the staff. We’ve previously discussed how to use volunteers to help you fundraise… today, we want to look at how to train your volunteers and maximize their impact on your school, church, or charity.

While volunteer training isn’t fundraising, strictly speaking, having an able core of volunteers will dramatically cut your non-profit’s personnel costs, leading to a much smaller overhead budget, and thus, a smaller amount of fundraising needed to meet your goals for the year.

All Volunteers Need Training

First, it is important to note that there are an almost infinite number of volunteer types, jobs, and abilities. Some of your volunteers will be part time, others full time. Some will be qualified to answer the phones or stuff mail; others will be exceptional fundraisers, trained client service representatives, or grassroots advocacy leaders.

No matter the type or ability of your volunteers, they all need training and support from your non-profit organization. Even if the volunteer in question is already well versed in how to do the job you are assigning them, they will need to spend some time learning the ropes of this charity, getting to know the organization’s mission, vision, and plans, and educating themselves about the work that you do.

Just as every member of your staff needs to spend some time in orientation / training mode, every volunteer you bring on board needs to be educated and encouraged.

Basic Non-Profit Education

The first type of training you should offer your volunteers is a basic education on non-profit work. While this component isn’t as necessary for experienced volunteers, for greener recruits, time spent on basic non-profit concepts will offer huge benefits down the road.

What type of basic education should you offer? Spend time explaining the basic mechanics of a non-profit organization: What is a non-profit? Why do they exist? How is the typical non-profit run and organized? What is the role of fundraising in a charity organization? What are the ethical considerations that go in to non-profit work? Do they understand the basics of fundraising?

Organization Specific Training

Next, move on to information about this particular non-profit organization. Every volunteer (and staffer) will require this education, no matter their skill level. Take the time to give your workers a throughout background on your organization: What is your mission? How were you founded? Why do you exist? How have you grown or evolved over the years? Talk about your charity’s overall vision, how you want to make the world a better place, your key partners and the issues you care about.

You should also give a brief overview of organization’s growth plan. What is your business model? What are your plans for the future? Be sure to introduce the organization’s hierarchy and leadership, explain who is doing what, and where volunteers should go with questions and complaints.

Job Specific Training

Once your volunteers understand the basics about non-profits in general and your school, church, or charity in particular, it’s time to move onto more specific job training. At this point, you should determine in which general areas each volunteer will be working. For example, you may not know how often you will need envelope stuffing and copying done, but you may know that you need two volunteers assigned to the admin / office manager. Similarly, you may not know exactly how many cooks or clean-up staff you will need for your soup kitchen each night, but you may decide that you need ten volunteers assigned to the kitchen each week.

Once you have your volunteers assigned, split them up and offer job-specific training to each. For example, your admin volunteers should understand how the postage meter works, what the phone etiquette and procedure is, and how to call a local courier service.

Depending on your needs, you may want to train your kitchen staff on food safety and handling, set-up and clean-up, and how to cook your basic menu.

Some of this job specific training will occur at the outset of the volunteer’s time with the organization, other parts will be on the job leaning, as your volunteers are assigned certain tasks.

Support, Motivation, and Growth Opportunities

No matter what training method you choose, one of the most important ways to keep your volunteers engaged and motivated is by offering them constant support, motivation, and other growth opportunities.

Providing your volunteers support simply means never letting your team feel rudderless. Your volunteers should always have something to work on, should know where to go with questions or concerns, and should feel like their concerns and problems are a priority for the organization.

Similarly, your volunteers will stay motivated if you offer constant feedback, positive reinforcement, and recognition for the work they are putting in. Offering volunteers tickets to your events, pizza nights, gift cards, and simple “thank you’s” will go a long way to making them feel appreciated and part of the team.

Finally, when possible, offer your volunteers other growth opportunities. Some large non-profit organizations will create volunteer hierarchies with leadership levels that allow key volunteers to be promoted into volunteer leadership positions, managing teams of other volunteers.