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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.


~ October 2005 ~ Topics

Get Your Orientation Out of A Rut

Orientation training for volunteers frequently gets stuck in a rut. It is the "same old, same old." Here are some tips to improve that orientation that might be suffering the pangs of old age.

Prepare in advance. If volunteers need space, equipment, clothing, tools, or supplies, prepare in advance. This is a great job for a volunteer. You provide the checklist.

Train in advance. The wonder of electronics can make it possible to reduce the in class hours by sending material to new volunteers in advance. Reading material, workbooks, the volunteer handbook, and so much more can go out to people so they arrive well informed.

Everyone has some type of orientation. Short and long term volunteers need initial types of training (think about finding the bathroom in your facility). Training for long term volunteers will be more intensive than an episodic volunteer, but even the person giving several hours needs a "briefing" by an experienced and trained volunteer to prepare them for their work.

Organize training to build a team. New volunteers should have the opportunity to "bond" with more experienced volunteers. This builds a seamless team, helps avoid cliques, and provides a resource other than paid staff. Organize the orientation to pair veterans with the new folks.

Include get acquainted exercises. Yes, it takes time, but getting to know the people you are working with makes for a smoother operation. The trick is to create a get acquainted exercise that is related to the mission of the organization, or the activities of the volunteers. And keep the activity to 15 minutes or less. Not everyone needs to be introduced, unless the group is very small. Ask people to interview the person next to them, or someone sitting nearby that they do not know. Begin with name, where they live, and why they are volunteering. Then there are other options. When training adults in youth serving organization, ask partners to interview each other on their personal experiences as a child with youth groups and how this it might be different today. Hospital volunteers could do something similar only the question might be how hospitals have changed in the last 10 years. Then partners introduce each other to the larger group.

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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Why Visuals Are Important in Training

It seems so easy to stand in front of a group of volunteers and just tell them what to do and why. There are heaps of problems with that perception.

  • Most people are visual learners. They like graphs, charts, maps, diagrams, examples, etc.
  • When visuals are used in training there are more senses engaged in the learning process. The greater the brain activity the higher the retention rates.
  • In one study at the Wharton Business School where the lecture (no visuals) was compared to lecture with visuals here were the results.
  • The audience perceived the lecture with visual presentations as more effective, using words like clearer, more concise, better prepared, more professional, credible, and interesting.
  • 67 % of those in the room with the person using visuals saw the presenter as "convincing" versus 50% in the room with no visuals.
  • Visuals enhance decision-making. 64% of those who were shown visual could make decisions immediately following the session. Those in the non-visuals room lagged in decision-making time.
  • Using visuals cut meeting time by 24%.

Source: Communications Briefings. October 2005

Training Styles

Two styles of training are available to trainers. Check the options below and see where your style falls most often.

Commander Style Leader Style
___ Trainer sets standards and tasks for students. ___ Leader engages trainees in discussion of quality work.
___ Information is told, rather than shown. ___ Leader seeks input from trainees.
___ Little input on part of trainees. ___ Students are expected to inspect and evaluate their own work for quality.
___ Work is reviewed by trainer. ___ Facilitation in the group is fair and friendly.
___ Trainees do the minimum to get by. ___ There is no coercion.
___ Trainees sometimes act in adversarial ways.


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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