November 19th, 2019 Business

Attracting volunteers is not enough. Here’s how to train them to be effective.

Any non-profit that has experience working with volunteers knows that one of the greatest challenges facing them on a regular basis lies in training volunteers to do useful work. This can create significant logistic challenges, as training can be costly both in terms of expense, and the time and human resources involved.

Poorly-trained volunteers can end up doing more harm than good. On the other hand, organizations cannot risk overtraining volunteers who may only be around for a limited time. While most non-profits don’t think of online training as a solution, there are several excellent reasons why they should consider developing this resource.

1. Online resources can be used on-site as well as remotely.

A lot of volunteer training happens in-person and as a group. The volunteers all circle up, the instructor conducts the training, and then everyone gets to work. This is fine in casual situations, where training only takes a few minutes, when volunteers need to be shown where to find supplies and resources, and when training a whole group at once is particularly time-efficient.

But what if training is more involved and it can’t be done as a group? Having a staff member devote a few hours to individual training every time a new volunteer shows up can be time-consuming, and isn’t very cost-effective. And even when a volunteer needs to be shown things in person, there are often aspects of the course that could be done digitally. Even just a half-hour here or there will free up your staff significantly in the long run.

Fortunately, even online resources can be used locally. There’s nothing stopping a non-profit from setting up some laptops and having volunteers complete the training on a computer when they first arrive to help out. And if part of the volunteer work involves working on the computer anyway, your organization is already well-equipped to put this training method in operation.

2. Online training courses lead to standardization and quality control.

One problem many non-profits face when they begin to grow their volunteer base is that the training their volunteers receive can vary greatly depending on the instructor. This can lead to inconsistencies in the knowledge levels, competencies, and overall engagement of the volunteers. Your organization may come to find that volunteers in the Atlanta office are highly rated, while those in Miami are under-trained and committing more errors.

For organizations that have multiple branches around the country, online training can standardize the onboarding process to ensure the same quality of training in every location. Your non-profit won’t have to worry about volunteers in one location receiving a different standard of training from those in another. This also means volunteers can move from one location to another without having to be retrained.

And, if there are variations on the training that are based on locality, those can easily be added as a supplement to the main training.

3. Online training courses are scalable to meet needs of any size.

Many organizations are beginning to rely on an even more distributed volunteer network—one in which volunteers may never come into personal contact with a representative of the organization, but where they are helping with volunteer work independently.

As enthusiasm grows, the training must be able to scale with it. Otherwise, your non-profit may be faced with the task of having to train more staff to be able to train more volunteers, which can quickly grow out of hand, especially if the staff has to travel to conduct the training.

Online courses scale quickly to meet these training needs, and they are accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. This means your non-profit can grow its volunteer base much more quickly, and that staff members can coordinate larger groups of volunteers as less of their time will be dedicated to individual training.

4. Online volunteer training reduces the amount of in-person training required.

We’ve touched on this already, but it’s worth listing as its own point: online training reduces the human resource burden. Instructors no longer have to deliver the training themselves, they only have to check in with volunteers to be sure they understood it and to answer any questions they may have.

As we’ve seen from the previous three reasons, individual training is a drain on human resources, both in the time it takes to train volunteers, and in the time it takes to train the people who will be training the volunteers.

While staff members may still have to conduct some portions of the training individually, online courses mean that the standard, repeatable portions can be taken care of more efficiently, so that staff members can focus individual time on the information that can’t be taught digitally.

Investing in quality training materials is a sign that your organization is handling resources wisely.

More than for-profit organizations, non-profits are subject to scrutiny in the way they handle their funds. Board members want to see that the organization is making sound financial decisions, and donors want to know that the bulk of their donations go toward the cause itself, not just the administration.

Creating digital training resources that are high-quality, repeatable, and scalable is a clear sign that your non-profit is making responsible use of the funds at its disposal. And with the gains your non-profit makes both in the size of your volunteer base and the quality of your training, you won’t have to wait long to prove that your investment was the right decision.

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