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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 manager's training level.


~ November 2005 ~ Topics

Ideas from Trainees

Trainees can be a source of information to improve training sessions. Ask people who have been through training some pointed questions about the training and then implement the best suggestions. You can get information through a simple survey, or just chatting with randomly selected volunteers. Be sure to ask people who may have complained about training, he/she might have the best ideas. Here are some possible topics about which you should make inquiries.

The title of training. Sure orientation says it all, but does it? What about, "Orientation: The Ins and Outs of Succeeding as a Volunteer." A bit snazzier and a bit edgy. It might not work in your organization, but it tells more to the prospective trainee than "orientation."

How long. Ask experienced volunteers if the training was long enough, too long, about right for the information covered.

Did the format fit? Did you lecture about wheel chair transporting? Use a demonstration? Include actual practice? This sample from a hospital or nursing home training is an example of training "format." Volunteers may tell you that a place where you lectured should have been more interactive. As trainer (or organizer of training) you must weigh all suggestions and do what fits for the learner and the time allotted.

Possible trainers. Are there people who could do some of the training to vary the sessions? It might be someone from another organization, but who is a wonderful trainer and knowledgeable on the topic. A social service organization had an attorney with a wicked sense of humor who did training on confidentiality for their volunteers. He was always the hit of the training, and the message about protecting client privacy was made. When volunteers use tools (chain saw, phone, copy machine) some manufacturers or retail stores will provide trainers at no charge.

Educational material. How is your supporting material organized? Does it work for the trainee? Do you need an outline of the training? Are handouts useful? Is everything on PowerPoint? Improving in this area can only enhance your training.

Want more ideas for training? Check out our online bookstore for Sharing Moments of Recognition Every Day by Linda L. Graff. Details for Slide Shows Book

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The Pasta Auction

Training younger volunteers (and some oldsters) can be made more fun with the Pasta Auction. During a daylong training, trainees received pieces of pasta (penne is a nice size) as a reward. Arriving on time. Representing his/her group at the easel pad presentation. Being a group scribe. Returning on time from break. Asking questions. Helping another student or the teacher. These are all possible reward points. Twice during training there are "Pasta Auctions" for simple prizes. If your organization has such things as hats, pins, pencils, wristbands, posters, etc., they are ideal gifts for the auction. This activity becomes fun with people loaning others pasta to buy gifts, and laughing about a silly pasta auction. It is team building and brings levity to what can be an intense training session!

The Easter Egg Hunt

Many volunteers work in areas large and complex in size and scope; a park or recreation area, hospital, museum, school, and the list goes on. How can they gain comfort quickly with the people and the physical environment? The Easter Egg Hunt might be the solution.

    • Buy plastic Easter eggs that can be taken apart. In the center put questions. What types of things go on in the business office? Where do most volunteers work in the building? Describe the landscape at a particular location. Some questions can be answered by observation, others will require that the volunteer talk to a member or volunteer to get the answers.
    • Once the eggs have questions, they should be placed in obvious locations near the training room. Make enough eggs so each trainee has an egg. Arrange the group into teams of two.
    • Explain that each trainee is to first find his/her personal egg. Once found the team is to explore to find the answers to both questions. Set a time limit for them to return to the training room.
    • When the trainees return to the training room, each team should present answers to their questions and offer advice to the group based on what they learned.
    • This exercise could be done in 15 to 30 minutes and it is far more effective than the usual walk through. Comfort comes with familiarity.
    • The trainer needs to alert paid staff that the trainees are around and will likely be asking questions. This is also a place where current volunteers can be stationed in locations to answer questions and guide, but not tell! The fun is in the finding!


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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