volunteer training activities12 Volunteer Training Activities You Need to Try Right Now

As common as it is, presentation-style training is actually one of the least effective methods for training volunteers, and anyone else for that matter. Presentations, on their own, cannot adequately teach behavioral skills, critical thinking, or values, all of which are an important part of volunteer training courses. So, what kind of volunteer training activities can you create that will boost learning, increase interaction, reflection, and practice?

Below are some examples of activities that include one or all of the above. You might try one in your next volunteer training and see how volunteers respond.  It may surprise you how much fun they (and you) have!

12 Creative Volunteer Training Methods

  1. Buzz Group – A large group is divided into smaller groups. Groups are given a topic to discuss or problem to solve for only five to 10 minutes. They then report out one or two top line takeaways. Groups can be as small as two and as large as eight volunteers.
  2. Case Study – A written account of a common situation that might be encountered by volunteers in their new role. They analyze, either individually, in pairs or in small groups and present their recommendations.
  3. Clinic – Similar to a case study, however, volunteers present a particular problem and ask others to help solve it. Providing a simple, but thorough, problem-solving process sometimes helps generate better, more thoughtful results.
  4. Colloquy – A panel, where half the participants are new volunteers and the other are subject matter experts (e.g., staff, veteran volunteers, community partners, etc.). The new volunteers come prepared to ask questions.
  5. Critical Incident – Similar to a case study, but volunteers are given only part of the information and must ask the right questions to be given the additional info necessary to solve the case.
  6. Field Trip – New volunteers take a tour of the place where their new assignment will be performed. The trip is carefully planned for observation, analysis, and discussion.
  7. In-Basket – Prepared tasks or items are given to new volunteers to prioritize, make decisions, find resources, handle difficulties, respond to deadlines, etc. to get the workload completed. Helpful for building volunteer teams and cooperation if followed by a discussion about which team dynamics unfolded and how to improve them further.
  8. Job Aids – These tools can come in many forms (worksheets, checklists, processes, flow charts, “cheat sheets,” glossaries, desk manuals, etc.) and are helpful in helping bridge the classroom and the task environment. They can also be created by new volunteers during training to assist them once they being work.
  9. Listening Team(s) – A group of new volunteers is assigned to listen to a speaker, take notes, prepare questions, and summarize their observations and conclusions. Volunteers can be deployed throughout a conference comprised of many sessions and asked to present their summaries to the larger group.
  10. Peer-Assisted Learning – New volunteers help each other learn through the guidance of a group leader who guides them through facilitated discussions. This is a great opportunity for more veteran volunteers to help new recruits get acclimated.
  11. Reflection – New volunteers are given time to think alone about what they’ve learned and assess it’s applicability. They may or many not report back to a fellow trainee or to a larger group.
  12. Role Play – New volunteers enact a situation to try out new skills or apply what they’ve learned. Role Plays can include Role Reversals where volunteers assume the roles of those they interact with frequently. Role Rotation is another option where the Role Play is stopped intermittently and new volunteers step in.


Want to learn more about learning and instructional design? Check out this fantastic book, packed with research-based recommendations: Ruth Colvin Clark, “Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals,” (American Society for Training and Development, 2010).

Share Your Creative Ideas!

What new volunteer training activities have you tried that you recommend?  Share them in the comments.