ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 1:16pm
posted by 
Kate Elliott,
Training Administrator,
Planned Parenthood Arizona

Providing formal training to staff and volunteers has obvious benefits for an organization, individual staff members and volunteers. For the organization, it is a means of ensuring staff and volunteers are knowledgeable, making them exceptional ambassadors for the organization in and outside of work. In addition, training is an essential part of risk management – failing to properly train individuals, providing services to clients, or even representing the organization to the public can have serious consequences. For staff members and volunteers, training is a means of professional development many are eager to receive. In addition to it being an essential part of effective volunteer management, many volunteers find personal value in the training provided to them by organizations about which they care deeply.

Regardless of whether or not your organization has a formal training program, there are things nonprofit leaders can do to ensure staff and volunteers are appropriately oriented to the organization and able to continue to learn and develop professionally.

Before committing to a training plan:

  • Be strategic – have an understanding of what staff and volunteers need to know and when they need to know it. Providing training is an investment, so be sure to develop a way to measure whether your training efforts are successful.
  • Anyone responsible for training staff or volunteers should have at least a basic understanding of the principles of adult learning.

Selecting training methods:

  • Classroom training or workshops provide a space free from the distractions of everyday activities, so participants can focus on learning and getting to know colleagues in a new context. New to workshop planning and facilitation? "How to Run a Workshop" is a comprehensive, practical guide.
  • Nonprofits who struggle to host regular classroom trainings should consider partnering with other community organizations to provide training to a combined audience. Chances are good that the staff and volunteers of similar organizations need the same training as your organization. Combining forces is a good opportunity for networking and may lead to other opportunities for collaboration between the organizations involved.
  • If bringing staff and volunteers together for an in-person training isn’t feasible, consider what training might be suitably delivered via online training, webinars or video-conference — keeping in mind the principles of adult learning.
  • Be familiar with learning opportunities (workshops, conferences, classes) hosted by other community organizations, foundations and professional associations. Get the biggest bang for your buck by having those who attend outside events report back on what they’ve learned, giving the trainee the added benefit of demonstrating their knowledge.

Training is learning, and learning doesn’t have to happen in a classroom or other formal training sessions:

  • Add a training component to departmental or staff meetings – consider case studies and role play, which are both effective methods for helping small groups learn new concepts or review procedures.
  • Arrange for staff and/or volunteers from different parts of your organization to swap roles for a day. Exposure to other parts of your organization can lead to a deeper understanding of the organization as a whole. You can even take it a step further and develop a checklist to guide the experience.

Developing a training plan for staff and volunteers can be a daunting task, but your mission is too important to risk neglecting it. Appropriate training is extremely important, but it should not be done for its own sake; training endeavors must be purposeful and measured. Armed with an understanding of how adults learn, training may be delivered in a variety of ways, so get creative!

Kate is the Training Administrator at Planned Parenthood Arizona. She develops and delivers classroom and online training. She graduated from the Masters of Nonprofit Studies program in 2010.

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I can see how these training tips have significant benefits for all members of an organization. It really is key to have a strategy to make sure you are prepared for anything that you want to do. I'm all for the fourth training method listed on the blog. I agree that it is key to be familiar with learing opportunities hosted by other community organizations. Knowing your surrounding and interacting with different people definitely wouldn't hurt.

Thank you Kate for such an insightful blog post. I have been volunteering for many years and have found myself in the last few years only volunteering for organizations who actually have a training program in place. I find this extremely helpful when I volunteer at a new organization. The training not only allows for us to get an insight of how task are completed, it also allows us to get better acquainted with staff and other volunteers. The training also opens doors to information about the organization we might not have known. What method[s] would you recommend to measure the effectiveness of an organizations training efforts? I recently took part in an over-the-phone training session and I thought it was horrendous, even over the phone it was visible how unorganized the volunteer coordinator was. Aside from the unorganized issue, knowing when it was appropriate to speak and trying not to speak over some one or at the same time some one else spoke was challenge in itself. I also got to experience on-site training with a different organization and I believe that is by far the best method. We were able to do a quick run through of the activities we would be doing, get to know the location and where other stations would be situated which helped us out on the day of the event. I appreciated this training method and assured me that the organization cares about its volunteers and presenting their public with great service which in turn helps them succeed in their mission. Your post was very much insightful and helpful.

Thank you for this informative post !
I agree, training is extremely crucial if the program wants to run well with it's volunteers. The two links you posted are very helpful, specifically the link "How Adults Learn". I believe people can generalize adults into one category because, they are adults. However, everyone learns differently.
The last organization I volunteered for did not have a specific training course and I ended up almost breaking one of the "rules" that was never made known to me.
Thank you again !

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