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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. 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.

~ July 2007 ~ Topics

Seven Tips for Trainers of Adults
Tolerance Awareness Training

Seven Tips for Trainers of Adults

Experienced volunteers are often in the position of training other volunteers. Teaching them some basic information about how adults learn can enhance their training and the effectiveness of new volunteers or those short term ones. Here are some fast tips.clock image

    1. Volunteers rarely want the theory of why to do something in a certain way or the history of how it evolved. Give practical examples during training of how to use what they're learning. Bring in real examples, good and bad.
    2. Remember when you learned something new, as an adult, having someone give you time to "play-with-it" was enormously helpful. And not so good when that was missing. Provide hands-on experimentation and "playing around" time with the task or job.
    3. Material to be covered needs to be broken down in component parts. The more complicated the task, the more sessions. There is a reason that Hospice organizations take many hours to train "friendly visitors," it is a complicated task. Likewise, sorting food at a clothing bank or chopping wood one Saturday with other employees from your company needs only a short training session. Some training could be done online before the volunteer arrives.
    4. Like children, adults have different learning styles. Getting the content through to them is made easier when the training techniques are varied to apply to different types of learners
    5. The location of training can add or detract from learning for an adult. Training in the hubbub of an event means the trainee might be distracted and miss some important point. Likewise, trying to train a traditional volunteer in a cubicle with chatter going on around you, is equally distracting. Take the training away from distractions.
    6. Adults have a wealth of life experience. That experience brought to the training room can add to the richness of any learning session. Be sure to build in time for discussions.
    7. Many adults think their brain is rusty when it comes to learning. Often they are reluctant to ask questions, for fear of appearing stupid. Set the climate early on that all questions are legitimate. Ask frequently if there are any questions and then be quiet for a full 15 seconds. Someone will ask a question and you can set the tone for how important those questions are.

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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Tolerance Awareness Training

Some young volunteers (and some not so young) begin volunteer work with rosy views of a situation where people are very different. It frequently falls to the manager of volunteers to train new people on issues of tolerance, with a special awareness of how the media colors all our views of acceptable appearance. Here is a sample lesson, easily adaptable for training with children or adults.

Part 1 (5- 8 minutes)

List the following questions on easel paper or handout. They need to be all displayed, which leaves out PowerPoint for this part of the presentation.

Ask learners to silently reflect on them. Do not comment for 3 – 5 minutes as people read through the questions. Assure them they will not be asked to answer specific questions, but merely take the opportunity to view their own impressions of how images about people are created.

      1. Have you ever been on the receiving end of a cruel comment about your physical size or appearance?
      2. Have others let you know, in some way, that you’re not attractive enough?
      3. Do you find clothes shopping unpleasant because of fears about how others will judge you?
      4. Have you ever skipped an event or party to avoid comments about your appearance?
      5. Do you think often about dieting because of comments about your weight?
      6. Have you considered changing aspects of your appearance to look better to others?
      7. Have you ever made cruel comments to others about their appearance?

bullet Make the following points using overhead transparencies or PowerPoint:

    • Most of us would answer "yes" to at least one of the questions.
    • Judgments about physical size and appearance are personal and extremely hurtful, yet all too common.
    • Ask learners why they think it is that we are so quick to form opinions about others based on their appearance and without getting to know them.

bullet Ask these questions or make these comments:

    • Ask learners where we get our ideas about what others are "supposed" to look like in our society.
    • Point out to learners that we get our ideas about body image and attractiveness is through the media.
    • Movies, magazines, Web sites, television, and even video games often communicate unrealistic ideas about body image, and put pressure on us -- even if we aren't aware of it -- to look a certain way.
Part Two (10 minutes)

Use the handout "Messages from the Media" (below), or use an overhead projector to display the statistics at the front of the room. Ask learners to respond to these statistics and to comment on the extent to which they think they are affected by "attractiveness messages" they receive on a daily basis.

  • Explain that one way to resist some of the media's false messages about appearance -- and its effect on us and our view of others-- is to become media literate.
  • This means thinking about the values behind media images, raising critical questions about them, and being aware of who created them and for what purpose. And relate this to media views of the clients served by the organization.
Part Three (25 minutes)

Tell learners that they will be practicing media literacy by viewing and analyzing three media representations. Provide the students with copies of ads or articles from magazines, newspaper or Web sites. TV shows are only useful if everyone is familiar with them. It is important to look for negative and positive images. Seek out media messages related to the clientele served by the organization. Provide the learners with a copy of "Media Analysis Workshop Sheet" (below). Arrange volunteers in groups and have them answer the questions on the worksheet.

  1. Who created this and for what purpose?

  2. How many and what type of "attractiveness messages" are communicated? (These can be verbal, types of people or characters, body type, gestures or expressions, types of clothing, etc.)

  3. Do these messages reflect real life and real people in your community?

  4. What are the values or beliefs behind these messages? Do you agree with them?

  5. What techniques are being used to get you to buy into the messages?

  6. How might these messages impact your view of our clients or members?

  7. What important images or messages have been left out?

Part Four ( 20 minutes)

To debrief this activity you will ask a series of questions of the entire group to allow for reflection on the group work and move toward a greater understanding of the need for tolerance.

Remind the learners of this:

  1. Expressions like "beauty is only skin deep" and "don't judge a book by its cover" seem to be empty clichés in our culture today.
  2. Ask them if they agree with those statements and whether or not they believe that most people reflect such values in their behavior toward others.
  3. How can we get beyond outward appearance in dealing with others? List the responses to this last question on easel paper for everyone to see and add to.

Handout or PowerPoint

  • A study of over 4,000 television commercials revealed that 1 out of every 3 to 4 commercials sends some sort of "attractiveness message," telling viewers what is or is not attractive. The average teenager sees over 5,000 "attractiveness messages" each year.

  • One study found that teens who watch soaps and TV shows that emphasize the ideal body type report a higher sense of body dissatisfaction than other teens. This was also true for girls who watched music videos.

  • Another study found that identification with television stars (for girls and boys), models (for girls) and athletes (for boys), is related to their unhappiness with their bodies.

  • A psychological study found that three minutes spent looking at models in a fashion magazine caused 70% of women to feel depressed, guilty and shameful. Frequent readers of fashion magazines are 2 to 3 times more likely than infrequent readers to diet and exercise to lose weight.



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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