VolunteersVolunteer Retention Tips That Will Keep Them Coming Back for More

All volunteers need some sort of training.  In fact, training has a big impact on your organization’s volunteer retention rate.  According to “Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers,” a study by the Urban Institute, “Charities that say they have adopted to a large degree the practice of hosting recognition activities for volunteers have a higher rate of retention, as do those that offer training and professional development opportunities for volunteers.”  So, why do so many organizations leave it up to chance?

Good Training Means Better Volunteer Retention

Whether it be a simple orientation to the policies, procedures, and mission of the organization or a five-day boot camp of complex technical information volunteers must master before they are able to provide direct service, all volunteers need be provided information that will help them do their job to the best of their ability.   An effective training program will not only improve your program outcomes, but it will also help create a smooth onboarding process for volunteers as they acclimate to their new environment.  The successful initiation of volunteers promotes higher job satisfaction and, ultimately, greater retention.  

And Yet, Learning is Left to Chance

Unfortunately, some organizations haven’t invested the time necessary to develop a solid training program that adequately prepares their volunteers for success.  Often, the training content development is left to well-meaning ad hoc trainers with little experience.  They fire up the powerpoint and start making slides based on what they believe to be important.  The final training materials will inevitably vary, depending on who’s training and the topic du jour.  In the end, participant learning is inconsistent at best.

Develop Curriculum Like a Pro

On the flip side, it is possible to develop training materials the ensure that your volunteers learn the critical “need to know” content at your organization.  For less intensive volunteer jobs, your content may focus on your organization’s mission and vision for the future. 

High-Quality training experiences will result in volunteers who are knowledgeable ambassadors for you.  For more intensive volunteer positions, a training process combined with a certification test may be what’s in order.  Regardless of the length and level of intensity, any team can develop training like a pro using the process below. 

Curriculum Development in 8 Steps

1)  Develop Your Work Plan — Decide who will be on your training development team, what are the key tasks they will complete, and when should they be done.  You may also want to set up an advisory group of end-users to give feedback on the materials you develop.  Better yet, include some of your key volunteers on the development team.

2)  Determine Tasks & Priorities — Create a comprehensive list of all the possible tasks a volunteer might be responsible for.  THen group similar tasks and prioritize the,  Which are the most important and hardest to learn?  They should be the ones you focus on in your training program.

3)  Write Task Analyses — Break your priority responsibilities into step-by-step task analyses that describe exactly how the task should be accomplished.  Task analyses are the blueprints that you will develop your training from.

4)  Structure Course & Objectives — One you know exactly what you will be training, as identified in the task analyses, develop your course structure.  Will your training be broken into discrete modules?  How long will they last? What will be their topics? And, what are the learning objectives for each module?  In other words, what will people know how to do (not just have an awareness of) when they leave the training?

5)  Select Methods & Develop Materials — Only after you’ve figured out exactly what the end goals of the training are, can you begin to develop your materials.  You’ll need to decide how you will deliver the training (in person, self-study, online, etc.).  Once that’s decided you can develop the materials that make the most sense given the delivery.

6)  Orient Trainers — Make sure the folks who will be responsible for presenting the training (paid and/or volunteer) are given an opportunity to get to know the materials and how they work.  If they’ve been in on the development form the beginning, you can skip this step.

7)  Pilot & Revise Course — No matter how experienced you are, there’s always something that doesn’t work according to plan.  When you pilot test, make sure you ahve at least one observer who is not presenting training.  They should be timing the various sections of the training module as well as observing participants to see if there are moments where they appear confused or unhappy.  Also, participants should be encouraged to give their feedback on training evaluations.  The training should be revised as needed to improve the experience for both learners and trainers.

8)  Present Course & Evaluate Results — Once the training is revised, it is good to go.  But, you aren’t finished yet.  Plan to conduct ongoing evaluation of your training program.  Are the volunteers learning what is being trained?  Does the training content still reflect the current volunteer tasks and priorities?  What is the feedback you are getting from learners on training evaluations?  Are there any significant trends?  If you keep a running file of your observations, you’ll be ready for the next update of your training program.

Training is directly related to volunteer retention.  You spend a lot of time and energy finding and welcoming your new volunteers.  Don’t make the mistake of offering sub-par volunteer training that deflates their enthusiasm or makes them feel inadequate.  Instead, provide them with a high quality learning experience that builds confidence and a deeper connection to your good cause.