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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.


~ September 2005 ~ Topics

Orientation Checklist

Orientation has a lasting impact on volunteers. If it is well done the volunteer starts out with clear expectations and enthusiasm. Badly done and you might have the beginnings of a problem with a volunteer. Here is a checklist to be sure you are on the right track.

Orientation begins before the volunteer reports. Be sure you have completed the screening process: application completed, background check done, references called, interview conducted, or other issues important to your organization.
Communication with the volunteer about such things as parking, security, where to report in, dress style, when the orientation begins, and brief information on what to expect during training should be provided well before required orientation.
Review your training material. Prepare the supplies needed for the orientation. Look organized and ready for the new person.
Tell others there is a new volunteer(s) being trained. Spread the word. Let volunteers and paid staff know that a new "class" of volunteers is being readied to join the team. Welcome signs near the volunteer office are a good idea, as it alerts the staff and current volunteers, and it is a warm welcome to new people.
Make no assumptions. No matter the person's previous history as volunteer or paid employee, review your organization’s policies. Do not assume people understand the concept of confidentiality. Review it and discuss it in orientation. And that applies to other topics, as well.
Avoid information overload. The adult brain can only capture so much information, before it shuts down and says "Enough!" It is better to provide information, then take a tour of the building. Come back to training space for more information. Break up training. And if two sessions of training are better than one, then do it that way.
Make sure people have material to take home for review. A volunteer handbook is essential at orientation. Make it attractive and inviting to read.
Evaluate your efforts. Check in with volunteers after several weeks on the job. Ask them specific questions about each part of orientation and how it helped or hindered them on the job. This is best done by another volunteer who is not one of the trainers. The volunteers are likely to be more candid in their answers.

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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Now What?

Training of volunteers can include group experiences—game, simulation, field trip, tour, video, role-play, etc. The value of this experiential learning is in the "debriefing" of the exercise. There are three parts to help learners understand the impact of the experience What Happened? So What? And What Now?

What Happened?
Ask learners to describe what they did.
What did they see?
What did they think about what they saw?
What feelings did they have during the experience?

So What?
What did you learn?
Was there something you relearned?
Were there benefits from the experience
How does the experience relate to the real world?
What are the implications of the activity?

What Now?
How can you apply what you learned to the task?
How can you extend what you have learned?
Will this help you do things differently? How?

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Snagging Information

Volunteers leave organizations, often taking critical information with them. If a volunteer is moving on, even to a new position within the same organization, capture the information to pass on to a successor. This can be done in things like project notebooks, samples, or step-by-step procedures on the computer (so it can be forwarded electronically). However, nothing beats the face-to-face contact and discussion about the position and its duties. Here are three terrific starter questions.

1. Are there commitments or promises you have made to people that we need to know about?
2. What parts of the task you do for the organization are more in your head, than on paper?
3. List three things the volunteer who follows you could benefit from knowing before they start.


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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