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Volunteer Training and Professional Development

The Training page for Volunteer Today has historically focused on tips for trainers. Occasionally there were articles about training for the manager of volunteers. With this issue the focus is shifting. Each issue will have information on some aspect of professional development for managers of volunteers and some articles on how to be a better trainer of volunteers. The author of this page, Nancy Macduff, is open to ideas and suggestions from readers on what might be useful information in the area of professional development. You can email her at: editor@volunteertoday.com.

~ April 2007 ~ Topics

Rapid Response Teams
Perceptions About Others

Rapid Response Teams

The radio awakens you to learn that an issue or event has happened with potentially harmful impacts on your organization. Surprises are inevitable in the arena of volunteerism. You and the corps of volunteers need to move fast. A trained Rapid Response Team (RRT) of volunteer advocates can move into action quickly, but only if they are trained and prepared. Here are the steps to organize a RRT.

  • Rapid Response Teams should be an ongoing functional part of the way the organization manages itself.
    1. Teams can be appointed by a board president and executive director, or chief administrator.
    2. Members need clearly delineated set of expectations—guidelines, position description
    3. Members are trained to handle potential crises.
    4. Individuals who are appointed represent the board of directors, subject matter specialists, staff, and volunteers.
    5. Ideal size is 3 -5 members; with potential specialists who serve only for certain issues.
    6. Have a flexible enough structure to appoint an emergency rapid response team for a topic not previously planned for.
    7. The group needs authority to mobilize staff, volunteers, and fiscal resources.
  • Train the team on issues
    1. Make a list of issues with the to potential disrupt services or impact funding –including natural disasters. (For example, how can you meet payroll if the office is flooded?)
    2. Get experts to train the team on each of the issues.
    3. Outline who controls information, resources, or influence related to each issue—funders, legislative or funding bodies, elected officials, law enforcement.
    4. Stress the control of information to the media. Work this out in advance.
    5. Appoint members to work with people from other organizations who might be impacted by the various issues.
    6. Make a checklist to determine when the organization will take action.
    7. Provide the group with written material from groups or individuals who disagree with the organization on a particular issue.
    8. Create a monitoring process on the issue, even when the crisis subsides.
  • Determining a course of action
    1. After information gathering, develop a mechanism to determine a course of action.
    2. Seek approval from the board of directors or appropriate paid staff
    3. Discuss a range of possible actions
    • Lobbying
    • Advocacy
    • Mobilizing supporters
    • Joining other organizations
    • Media outreach

We now have downloadable books available in PDF format. Check out our online bookstore for Handling Problem Volunteers by Steve McCurley and Sue Vineyard now available electronically. Details for Handling Problem Volunteers Book

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Perceptions About Others

Volunteers can and do work with people or things very different from their own life experience. Perceptions can color the effectiveness of the volunteers. Many training sessions for volunteers contain admonitions of not judging others based on externals or life circumstances. This exercise is designed to start off such a discussion by tuning the learner into the fact that "the eye sees, but the mind evaluates."

1. On easel paper make the following drawing.

2. Ask the group what they see. Responses will include—arrows, home plate, three houses on their side. When someone sees two K's, highlight the K's and show the next diagram.

3. Now ask the group what they see. Very likely people will say two H's. Ask the group, "Would you have seen the H's if someone had not first pointed out the K's?"

4. Discussion questions:

a. Why did you see the H’s more easily than the K’s? (You were conditioned. The eye sees, but the mind evaluates.)
b. In your work for our organization and the people we serve, in what ways is your eye seeing one thing and your mind another.

This exercise takes about five minutes.


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://tltc.shu.edu/npo/. Thank Roseanne Mirabella, of Seton Hall University for keeping up with this list.

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