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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.

~ March 2007 ~ Topics

Teach Yourself to Proofread
Establishing a Training Program

Teach Yourself to Proofread

Volunteers can write material for a newsletter—electronic or print. The manager of volunteers needs to proofread the material. Spell checking by computer does not pick up words incorrectly typed and even some suggested grammar changes are inappropriate, if not wrong. Here are some tips to be an effective proofreader.

Read the text out loud. It will slow you down and errors become obvious immediately.
Check spelling of proper nouns, names, web site addresses, phone numbers, etc.
Be sure to check days, dates, times.
Make sure there is contact information readily available and repeated in the document.
Read for comprehension. If it makes no sense to you it is time to do some text editing.
Do not trust spell-check in a word processing program. Check for correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. If those things are not your strong suit, find a volunteer or staff member who is a stickler for good grammar.
Check out transposed characters, words divided incorrectly or omitted words or letters.

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 electonically. Details for Handling Problem Volunteers Book

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Establishing a Training Program

Some new volunteers arrive at the appointed time and are sent off to their assignment and are "trained on-the-job." Theoretically this works. . .sometimes! If the person's supervisor is available, or an experienced volunteer is available the person can get all the information needed. The fact is that this method of training can and does miss the mark. Who talks about safety? When is there training on doing the job in the "safety" of a classroom before practicing on a client, customer, or patron? Who reviews all those policies that guide volunteer behavior? Was there a tour of the entire facility?

To successfully launch a volunteer training program for your program use these guidelines.

1. Stress that training is an investment. The reason training is often considered optional at many organizations is because it is thought of as an expense rather than an investment. While it's true that training can be costly up front, it's a long-term investment in the growth and development of the volunteer human resources.
2. Determine your needs. As you probably don't have unlimited time or funds to execute a volunteer training program, you should decide early on what the focus of the training program should be. Determine what skills are most pertinent to the volunteer and the organization. Ask yourself, "How will this training eventually prove beneficial to the organization?" Repeat this process as programs change.
3. Promote a culture of learning. In today's fast-paced world, if an organization isn't learning, it's going to fall behind. Communicate your expectations that all volunteers should take the necessary steps to hone their skills and stay on top of their assigned work. This is especially important for the traditional long term volunteer.
4. Get management on board. Once you have developed a prioritized list of training topics that address key needs of volunteers and the organization. Your task is to convince management to rally behind the initiative.
5. Start out small. Before rolling out a training program to every volunteer, rehearse with a small group and gather their feedback. This sort of informal benchmarking exposes weaknesses in training plans and helps you fine-tune the training process.
6. Present quality activities and materials. Learn about adult education and what works for adults, and then design activities to make learning easy. Having the right training materials is also important — after the training is over, these materials become valuable resources for volunteers.
7. Find the right space. Select a training location that's conducive to learning. Choose an environment that's quiet and roomy enough to spread out materials. Make sure the space is equipped with a computer and projector, so you can present a visually stimulating training session.
8. Clarify connections. Some volunteers may feel that the training is not relevant to their job. Make the connections early on. Award people with completion certificates at the end of the program.
9. Make it ongoing. Do not limit training solely to new volunteers. Organized, ongoing training program can enhance skill levels for all volunteers, and continually motivate them to grow and improve.
10. Measure results. Without measurable results, it's almost impossible to view training as anything but an expense. Decide how you're going to obtain a return on the investment. It is easier budgeting funds for future training if you can demonstrate concrete results.


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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