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Volunteer Training and Professional Development

The Training page for Volunteer Today has historically focused on tips for trainers. Each issue will now 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 2008 ~

The Difference Between Men’s and Women’s Brains

A friend passed along an online video that humorously describes the difference between men and women’s brain.  A crucial point to understand as a trainer.  Have a good laugh.  Visit the site where Dr. Mark Gungor describes the differences.


Changing Learning Activities To Benefit Memory  

The ability to maintain learning attentiveness, or focused attention is affected by  fluctuations in brain chemistry.  This occurs at 90-minute cycles throughout a 24- hour day.  Our brain learns best when learning is interrupted by breaks of two to five minutes so it can  diffuse, or process,  information.

         How long should a workshop be?  What should happen when breaks are taken between activities?  The statement above is from research on brain chemistry activity.  It tells us that about every 90 minutes something chemical takes place in the brain that helps us stay focused or pay attention.  If we skip giving the brain a break it can impact how well we store those memories from the learning activities    What does this mean for a trainer?

  • Be attentive to the length of training activities before there is time to walk around or do something different; eat, bathroom, smoke, etc.
  • Think about organizing learning activities to provide a break where people can get up move and do nothing related to learning for a minute or two.  For example, a presentation of information for 20 minutes with discussion can flow into a group activity.  Have people get up and move to a new group.  Let 2 – 3 minutes elapse before bringing everyone one back to the next learning activity.
  • Set up activities to end after 70-90 minutes with closure in the activity.  This gives the brain a rest from the last topic, when the chemical process is at work.

Helping Volunteers Make Decisions

A decision grid is a way for a committee to make decisions about their plans for events, projects, or fund raising.  Here are some directions to use this grid with your volunteers.  Teach them to use it when you are not around.

  • Assume that the group is having difficulty making a decision about something.
  • Have them write the topic on easel paper.
  • Have them list the possible choices.
  • Create a grid similar to the one below.
  • One by one take the choices and list the positives and negatives.
  • First discuss the positives and negatives to the organization, i.e., more public visibility, more volunteers, more money, etc.
  • Next the negatives, i.e., risk to the organization, up-front money,
  • Then determine who "others" might be. stakeholders might be—clients, members, patrons, patients, users, volunteers, community groups, etc. 
  • For each primary set of stakeholders, those most directly affected, list the positives and negatives, as you did for the organization.

This can clarify the choices and point the way to a decision.  It can also save time, as it is an organized way to hear everyone’s opinion, but does not take forever.


Washington State University
Volunteer Management Institute
Sacramento, CA

When:  Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, September 16, 17, and 18, 2008

If you are in charge of volunteers or anticipate that you will be, this is the program for you! The Volunteer Management Institute is a program designed to help you be a successful manager of volunteers. Your instructors will provide you with new and practical information and many excellent resources to give you the skills you need to be a confident and productive manager of volunteers.

WSU's Volunteer Management Institute will help you to:

  • Increase your value to corporations, public agencies, schools and non-profit organizations.
  • Further develop your management skills and talents.
  • Gain ideas from seasoned instructors and colleagues.
  • Network with other managers of volunteers.
  • Earn a Washington State University "Professional Certificate."

At WSU’s Volunteer Management Institute trainers will engage you in a variety of teaching activities, such as: case studies, work groups, mini-lectures, discussions, panels, videos, etc.

Where:  Sacramento, CA on the campus of the University of Phoenix
For more registration information contact:  Susan Butts at Washington State University sbutts@wsu.edu (509) 335-4097

Volunteer Management Certificate Program

Earn a professional development certificate in volunteer administration online--standard and advanced certificates are available. Sign up any time, do assignments at your own pace, and work on projects directly related to the work you do. For more information on the Washington State University Volunteer Management Certificate Program go to: http://capps.wsu.edu/certificates/vmcp/default.asp.

Certified in Volunteer Administration (CVA)

Volunteer Today encourages mangers of volunteers to enhance their skills and effectiveness on the job through a variety of educational opportunities. Experienced managers of volunteers can highlight that skill achievement by seeking the Certified in Volunteer Administration (CVA) endorsement. The Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration (CCVA) advances the profession and practice of volunteer resource management by certifying individuals who demonstrate knowledge and competence in the leadership of volunteers. Certified in Volunteer Administration (CVA) is an international credential awarded to practitioners with at least 3 years of experience who successfully complete an exam and written portfolio process. Originally developed by the Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA) several decades ago, the credentialing program is now sponsored by the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration. For detailed information visit their Web site at: http://www.cvacert.org.


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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