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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.

~ July 2008 ~

Why Do Trainers Talk Too Much?

Chances are likely that you spend a good share of your time during training spewing out information, with PowerPoint mirroring your handouts.  This is the “tell-it” training technique, a variation of the lecture.  You are not alone in using this least effective training technique, it is a malady learned from college teachers.  Why is it that many trainers and teachers feel the need to talk during what is characterized as group discussion?  Here are some of the reasons why.  It pays to consider if some of these same reasons are why you are doing most of the talking in training.

Trainers are socialized to believe he/she has valuable information that must be passed on to the volunteer through lectures and PowerPoint presentations.  It is sometimes the only method used.  The problem with this thinking is that knowledge is not given and received, so much as constructed.  Learning is not accumulation, but rather a process.  The learner brings their personal experience into contact with new information and the learning begins.  Training that takes to heart the social nature of effective training is more effective and lasting, than more didactic forms—the lectures or “tell them” method.

Trainers misunderstand the purpose of training.  The idea of training volunteers is not to impart facts, but connect their previous experiences to the new one, so the volunteer can apply in the new situation.  This is so the individual can make informed and consistent decisions when actually doing the task or service for the organization.  The purpose of the training is to engage the learner in complex and engaging conversations about the work to be done.  Its job is to sharpen skills and constructs knowledge.

Trainers succumb to expectations of those around them.  Institutional expectations, from other staff or volunteers, can lead a trainer astray.  The head administrator drones on at meetings, trainers in the organization always stand and “tell” with accompanying PowerPoint, so an expectation is born that that is training.  Everything revolves around the person in the front of the room.  This is often because it is the way people were trained by their college professors, so it is easy to assume that this is the most effective way to teach.  The myth is that everything depends on the “teacher.”  The fact is resourceful adults set up volunteer systems without the benefit of training on a daily basis.  For example, the first responders in disaster are not the professionals, but rather those spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers who are on the spot and move into action without anyone handing them a position description or application.  In the 9/11 crisis, some of those volunteers established sophisticated systems to check people in and out, manage donations, and keep things moving until the professionals and trained volunteers arrived. 

The role of the trainer of volunteers is to become a member of the group. . .a contributor and perhaps guide on the learning path, working collaboratively with the learners to maximize their knowledge.  This is a view rarely shared by those in authority.

Trainers underestimate learners.  As someone who trains adults quite frequently, I remind my self as I enter the training room that someone in the room knows more about the topic than I do and my job is to find that person and get them to share their expertise.  Never underestimate adult volunteers and their experiences.  Previous life experience provides a vast storehouse of knowledge that can be applied in the current setting.

Trainers can over estimate the value of their knowledge.  It is true that the manager of volunteers is likely more knowledgeable than the new volunteers. And there is a level of “telling” that is required, but limit it.  Set a specific amount of time spent on “tell.”  Preferably at the beginning and end of the session.  Use the “telling” as a springboard to discussion, problem solving, and practice.  Get creative with activities and exercises to allow for practicing the desired knowledge.  The more quiet the trainer, the more opportunity for the learners to discuss and work out the solutions, something they are often required to do in their volunteer role.

Adapted from the work of Stephen Brookfield in Discussion as a Way of Teaching.

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Professional Development

Ideas, theories, information, and training for those who manage the work of volunteers


Get Ready for Learning

Any conference or seminar is the opportunity to learn new things or old things in a new way.  Here are some tips on how to engage more actively in training.

  • Prepare in advance.  Write down five questions you would like answered during the session.
  • Take business cards.  Be ready to effortlessly share contact information with presenters and other conference goers.
  • Meet new people.  Instead of eating each meal with those you already know and see on a regular basis, use breaks to arrange to sit at lunch with someone new that has different ideas.
  • Get handouts.  Visit those presenters whose workshops you did not attend, after their session, and ask if there were extra handouts.  Get information from every possible source.
  • Review.  If you are flying home use the time to organize the information you gathered and read as much as possible
  • Contact speakers.  Stay in touch with speakers and ask for additional information or where you can find out more about the topic he/she covered
  • Share.  Set up a meeting for other managers of volunteers in your area or staff in your office and share key points of what you learned in a lively and brief way.

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Training in Olympia, WA

Revitalizing Your Volunteer Programs: New Models, New People, New Strategies

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Time: 9:30 AM - 4 PM
Location: Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave., Lacey, WA

Cost: $75

Registration information: http://www.volunteer.ws/


(360) 741-2607

Sponsor: Volunteer Center of Lewis, Mason, and Thurston Counties

Its is getting harder and harder to find volunteers. What's happening? Spend the day with nationally known author and trainer Nancy Macduff as she leads us in a lively exploration of the issues facing those who manage volunteers. Explore a new model of volunteering based on how people are asking to volunteer. Review the practical strategies for recruiting and managing traditional and non-traditional forms of volunteering. Go home with practical ideas to enhance your volunteer program.

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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