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VolunteerToday.com~~ The Electronic Gazette for Volunteerism


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 manager's training level.

Training Image


~September 2003~ Topics

Games: A Training Tool

Games can be an effective training tool. The gaming experience provides some type of hands-on activity by which the learner gains insight into such things as cooperation, leadership, team work, communication, creativity - the list is almost endless. Consider the following information as you create games to use in training.

Why Use Games:

  • It is experiential learning. Something adults and children alike love.
  • Everyone is participating.
  • It is motivating because it is fun.
  • Is excellent for peer learning. Teacher Image
  • Can aid skill development.
  • Helps “cement” the information in long term memory.

When To Use Games:

  • Open with a game with direct relationship to the learning objectives.
  • Good for a change of pace in the middle of heavy or difficult material.
  • Great way to summarize the learning in class.

What a Game must have as principal elements:

  • Learning objective tied to the overall purpose of the training course.
  • Clearly defined rules.
  • Completion (can be individual or group).
  • Player participation or interaction.
  • Closure. An ending time with points, most of something accrued, etc.
  • Outcomes with winners and losers. Do not be afraid of winners and losers. Well drafted debriefing questions can make “losers” feel like winners as they contribute to the overall knowledge of the group.

Checklist for designing your own games:

1. There are terminal objectives (attitude, skill, behavior) that are written down.

2. High likelihood the game will produce the desired result.

3. There is a logical relationship between the time it takes to play the game and what the participant learns.

4. Game is constructed so winners and losers learn equally.

5. There is an “objective” appraisal to determine the winners.

6. Prizes are awarded.

7. The game is the best choice of training activity to achieve the learning outcomes.

8. There is a practice session or two of the game before its first use with trainees.

9. There is a planned and organized debriefing activity so all participants can process the learning.

Sample Games:

1. Object Game

Purpose: Participants who need to use the creative side of their brains are often self-limiting. To encourage them to think outside the box, it is a good idea to practice creative thinking before starting the actual brainstorming for the session.Office Supplies Image

Tools: simple objects found in most training classrooms or areas—paper clip, pencil, pen, paper, marking pens, books, etc. You can also use such things as candle, plastic spoon, screw or nail, button, piece of cloth.

Instructions: Each person has 3 minutes to write down uses for the object. They should be plausible uses. Stop everyone at the end of three minutes.


  • Ask for who had the most items by number. “Who had 25 items or more?”
  • Ask the person to read their list and eliminate any that are unrealistic.
  • Determine the winner and award prize.
  • Ask the group, "What is the importance of not censoring yourself when you are trying to be creative? How can this exercise help you as we lead into the next brainstorming activity?"


2. Construction Game

Purpose: To emphasize the importance of such things as team work, creativity, and cooperation.

Tools: Participants need to build the biggest or tallest something that will stand on its own for a pre-set period. You can use balloons, blocks, newspapers, or tinker toys.

Instructions: The participants are formed into groups of 3 – 6, depending on the size of the group. Distribute the tools for the game and tell them the time limit for judging, no more than 10 minutes. A variation on this game if you are training leaders is to appoint leaders in each group by some arbitrary characteristic, oldest shoes, wearing most red, traveled the farthest, etc.). Give half of the leaders instructions for them to be very controlling and dictatorial and the other half to be encouraging and empowering. Then the debriefing deals with issues related to how leadership not only impacts the success of a group, but how it feels about itself.


  • An impartial judging of the “structure” takes place. Should be an outsider or the trainer.
  • Prizes are awarded.
  • Questions for the group:
    1. What things helped you achieve your goals?
    2. What things hindered you in your progress toward the goals?
    3. If we had to make a set of rules for working creatively in a group, based on thisFlipchart Image exercise, what would they be? (Capture these on easel paper for future reference.)
    4. What was the point of this exercise? (Have a list of answers you are expecting to get.

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Eye Chart & Dr. ImageDo You Know the Acronym Code?

Almost every organization has acronyms that “insiders” know. New volunteers can be confused. Handing out a glossary of terms with the acronyms at the first training is a step in the right direction, but here is a snazzy way to teach those pesky terms.

  1. At the beginning of training session arrange the volunteer trainees into teams of two. Give them a list of acronyms with no definitions. The team is to come up with the best definitions without any prior knowledge. Then move into the training session, setting the acronym list aside. Tell the participants you will return to the list later.
  2. At the end of the session the participants are asked to revisit the original acronym list to see how many they answered correctly at the beginning of the session. Be sure to provide a glossary of the acronyms during the training. Keep in mind that using this techniques means the trainer needs to introduce the acronyms during the training, so the student is learning the new terms as they progress through the training. Learners should feel more confident about acronyms when they finish training than when they started.
  3. Have a prize for the team with the most correct acronyms from the beginning of training. They receive a can of alphabet soup, for using all 26 letters of the alphabet. The second place teams receives a small bag of Cheerio’s, for getting some of the “O's,” etc.

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The Dr. Is In And It is Free
at the
International Conference on Volunteer Administration
Cincinnati, Ohio October 15 – 18, 2003
Consultations on the Management and Administration of Volunteer Programs, World Renown Consultants Focus on Your Program:
Georgean Johnson-Coffey Mary Merrill
Nancy Macduff Connie Pirtle - Cancelled - updated 10/6/03

Doctor ImageMacduff/Bunt Associates, in association with individual consultants, offers FREE 30 minute consultations with one of four experienced managers of volunteer programs who are currently doing consulting and training on all aspects of volunteerism. Sign-Up NOW by emailing editor@volunteertoday.com and requesting a consultant and a time slot. We will post the updated schedules daily (or more often if needed). Reservations will be based on a first come, first serve basis. Time conflicts will be accommodated as much as possible. Sign up for an available consultation slot. They are limited. To see the schedule, click here then email us for your reservation. Then visit the MBA booth at the conference to meet your consultant. If slots are available, you will be able to sign up at the conferencealso.

Hope to see you at the 2003 ICVA Conference!

Interested in more information on training? Check out our online bookstore for Training Techniques in Brief, authored by Stan Smith. Training Book Image Episodic Volunteering book Image


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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