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The Training Page of Volunteer Today has practical trainer techniques and activities to make orientation sessions more productive and valuable. There are also ideas to help enhance the professional volunteer managers training level.

~ March 2003 ~ Topics

NEW from Volunteer Online Bookstore

The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions

Written especially for the beginner, this book provides a quick reference for the practical aspects of managing a volunteer program. It provides an easy read for the harried volunteer program manager on topics such as recruitment, interviewing, risk management, networking, community involvement, and leadership. The author is currently the Director of Volunteer Services, with 13 years experience.


Trainees often complain about their head hurting or brain overload in classes. The wise trainer is attuned to more than just covering the content of the class. Trainees need time to digest what they are learning.Reflection is part of the process of absorbing information.

Digestion time is two to five minutes of designated time that is the opportunity for the learner to apply what they have learned. Some participants will want to capture their thoughts in writing. They can be encouraged to include action ideas.

To aid the digestion, play some soothing background music. Much of Wyndam-Hill or Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” would work. Be sure to keep the volume low for those who find background music interferes with their ability to digest.

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Most trainees ask questions. Sometimes it really is a question, but sometimes the person wants to share their ideas or test them out loud. When asked a question the trainer begins by being sure to understand. Paraphrase what the person is asking and then proceed. Here are three don’ts to help you avoid the trainer sinkhole.

Avoid saying, “I know exactly what you are going through.” No two human beings are alike and even though, superficially, the situation may seem similar your statement can seem presumptuous or even dismissive. Better to acknowledge the statement. “Boy, that is tough one! It must be difficult for you . . .”

When learners share comments or stories, restrain the inclination to tell old stories that have great meaning to you. This doesn’t mean never share stories; they are one of the most effective ways to help learners remember content. Be selective and precede the story with, “This worked for me,” or “This was my experience that illustrates the point being made.”

Do not interrupt to fill silence. Teach yourself to live with 15 – 20 seconds of silence so someone can finish his/her thoughts. Encourage the rest of the group to do the same. Nod and acknowledge that you are paying attention and hearing what the person is saying. This is the place for those active listening skills. If the trainee presented several points, be sure to summarize so you are sure you understand the message.

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Professional development is a key to trainer health. If you are feeling blah about your job, it is no doubt showing up when you train staff and/or volunteers. You are the only person who can change the blahs! Here are three tips.

Join your professional association. For volunteer managers it is the Association for Volunteer Administration (http://www.avaintl.org); for executive directors it is the American Society of Agency Executives (http://www.asaenet.org); for those affiliated with museums it is the American Association of Museums (http://www.aam-us.org/) hospital volunteer coordinators it is American Society of Directors of Volunteer Services (http://www.asdvs.org), and for development directors it is the Association of Fundraising Professionals (http://www.afpnet.org). These organizations have newsletters, journals, networks, and international, national, and local conventions. Real professionals make time to “grow” their capacity and skill through regular training—think accountants, doctors, and attorneys! And those who manage volunteers in government, nonprofit, and for profit arenas are professionals.

Take a class. There is nothing better to get those juices flowing than a good classroom exchange with a smarty-pants professor. Check the colleges and universities in your area for classes of interest to you and your job. There are some excellent online programs out there as well in working with volunteers. North Texas University has a program that is online (http://www.cps.unt.edu/untvols/). Washington State University has an online course called Volunteer Management Certificate Program (http://capps.wsu.edu/vmcp).

Join the local professional group. Most communities have a group, sometimes called DOVIA, where people who work with volunteers gather. Join the group and get active in organizing training. This way you can help decide what is being taught in order to build your own skill base and that of others. If you don’t know how to access this group contact others who manage volunteers in your community or call United Way.

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Interested in assessing volunteer and staff relations in your program?

Looking for help from an expert?

Get help with one of the Volunteer Program Evaluation Series.

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Close to 200 colleges and universities offer academic programs on nonprofit and volunteer sector management. They are usually master's degree programs, but not always. American Humanics sponsors undergraduate programs, as well. If you are looking to push out the professional development window, consider taking a course at one of these colleges. A full list resides at http://pirate.shu.edu/~mirabero/kellogg.html. Thank Roseanne Mirabella, of Seton Hall University for keeping up with this list.

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