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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.

~March 2009~


Problem Based Learning Model


    The steps can be repeated and recycled.

    1. Explore the issues:

    • The trainer introduces a real problem to learners.
    • Participants discuss the problem statement and list its significant parts.
    • The group may not know enough to solve the problem but that is the challenge!  This training technique is designed to have learners gather information and learn new concepts, principles, or skills as they engage in the problem-solving process.
    • Example:  The manager of volunteers is training 10 new volunteers.  He has organized the learners into 3 groups.  The problem for all of the groups is that a hospital volunteer has a problem where a family member asks them to do something for a patient.  The request seems either illegal or inappropriate and the volunteer is not sure what to do.  It is clearly a grey area.  The group has to sort out the issues and perhaps learn on their own what resources are available to answer this question.  The trainer is a facilitator not a “teller” of information.  (In a real exercise of this type the actual problem would be spelled out.  For complicated problems, group members are assigned roles and given “background” information other group members do not see.  In this scenario one person might be the volunteer, one the family member, one the patient)

    2. List "What do we know?"

    • What do you know to solve the problem?
    • This includes both what you actually know and what skills and resources each member of the group brings to help solve the problem.
    • It is important to consider or note everyone's input, no matter how strange it may appear: it could hold a possibility!
    • Example:  The situation of the hospital volunteer might require identifying the issues of the situation from the point of view of the hospital, the patient, the family member, and the volunteers.  It might require getting resources not immediately apparent.  Who in the group has what skills to make this happen.  That is a key component of this step, know what you need in the way of information and how you can access it.

    3. Develop, and write out, the problem statement

    • A problem statement should come from the group's analysis of what is known, and what is needed to know to solve it. Be sure to have:
    • a written statement
    • the agreement of the group on the statement
    • feedback on this statement from your instructor. (This may be optional, but is a good idea)

        Note: The problem statement is often revisited and edited as new information is discovered, or "old" information is discarded.

    4. List out possible solutions

    • List them all, then order them from strongest to weakest
    • Choose the best one, or the one most likely to succeed
    • Example:  The hospital volunteer in question might have several options.  It starts with just saying no and runs to the other end of the continuum with fulfilling the request.  There are many options in between.  And the solution may hinge on what time of day it is, location, etc.

        5. List actions to be taken, with a timeline

    • What do we need to know and do to solve the problem?
    • What criteria will we use to rank the possible solutions?
    • How does this relate to our list of solutions?
    • Is there agreement?  This is critical.  An expert in the group may be the lone voice for one solution, but it could be correct.  This negotiating is part of the learning process.


    6. What additional information is needed other than that from group members?

    • Research the knowledge and data that will support your solution
    • Information is needed to fill in missing gaps.
    • Discuss possible resources
    • Experts, books, web sites, etc.
    • Assign and schedule research tasks, especially deadlines
    • Example:  The volunteer trainees need to explore where the answer to this question lies.  Is there a policy manual for volunteers, for patients, for family members?  Do different departments do things differently?  Where might they find them.  In this case the information is needed immediately and the group has to determine where to find it.  In traditional “teaching” the trainer tells the learners about the resources.  In PBL the learners must use their previous life experience to identify the resources needed and then set about locating them.

       If your research supports your solution, and if there is general agreement, go to (7). If not, go to (4)

    7. Write up the solution with its supporting documentation, and submit it.

    • Present findings and/or recommendations to the trainer or other groups in the workshop.
    • The presentation includes the problem statement, questions, data gathered, analysis of data, and support for solutions or recommendations based on the data analysis: in short, the process and outcome.
    • The goal is to present and defend conclusions, not only the conclusions, but also the foundation upon which they rest. Presentations:
    • State clearly both the problem and conclusion
    • Summarize the process used, options considered, and difficulties encountered
    • Aim to convince, not overpower
    • Help others learn, as the group has learned

      Sharing findings with the trainer and other volunteers is an opportunity in demonstrating what has been learned. Good for the trainer—a formative evaluation technique—and good for other learners tackling the same problem.

     8. Debrief the exercise

    • A debriefing exercise is conducted for both to individuals and the group.
    • Groups should have time to discuss their problem solving process and what was done well and what improvements could have been made.
    • Individuals need the opportunity to assess their skill in being a member of the group and the contributions he/she made.  A checklist would work well here. 

    9. Celebrate the outcome. 

    • Learners should be rewarded for participating in a problem based learning exercise.

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Professional Development

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

Volunteer Management Training in Eastern Washington

Recruiting and Managing Volunteers

Professional Development Certificate

            Walla Walla Community College, in Walla Walla, WA is offering a two-session professional development certificate in the management of volunteers.  It is designed for those who organize volunteers, paid and unpaid.  The course is April 15 and 16, 2009. Participation in all the sessions leads to a professional development certificate.  Classes can be taken separately.  For more information contact Nancy Kress at 509-527-4561 or nancy.kress@wwcc.edu at the college.

Course description: Engaging and managing volunteers in the 21st century is not quite as simple as it used to be. Effective volunteer programs must use a coordinated effort to identify volunteers interested in offering their time and talents to an organization or a program.  The Recruiting and Managing Volunteers class offers a two day examination of the elements of recruiting and managing volunteers:  Elements of effective recruiting, strategies to plan training for a diverse a audience, techniques to effectively manage short and long term volunteers, methods to evaluate volunteers, and tips on meaningful recognition.  In an interactive classroom setting students learn from an internationally recognized teacher with ample opportunity to interact with colleagues.

Class One- Recruitment and Training of Volunteers

Class Two- Management and Recognition of Volunteers

Instructor Information

Instructor: Nancy Macduff, M.A.C.E
Faculty, Institute for Nonprofit Management

Portland State University
Author and Lecturer-Volunteer Engagement and Leadership Program


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Portland State University Launches Training for Managers of Volunteer Programs


Institute for Nonprofit Management Launches Volunteer Engagement and Leadership Courses

Volunteer Engagement and Leadership Program

Courses offered in spring Quarter-late March

Portland State University’s Institute for Nonprofit Management and the Department of Extended Studies have partnered to offer an educational series designed to build your volunteer program to standards of excellence and provide professional development for you.

Volunteers are engaged in programs and projects around the world in new and exciting ways.  Recruiting and organizing them is art and science. This new program teaches you cutting edge strategies to engage volunteers.

The Volunteer Engagement and Leadership Program (VELP) offers two formats to educate professionals and others on how to successfully engage and lead volunteers.  Formats provide hands-on practical exercises and experiences for learners at all levels to enhance their work with volunteers.

Learning Option 1- Online course in Volunteer Engagement and Leadership-Students from around the world engage in first class instructions from seasoned veterans in the organization of a volunteer program.  Topics include recruiting, screening, planning, marketing, supervision, evaluation, and recognition, to name a few.  This is an asynchronous class. For more information visit the PSU Web site.

Learning Option 2-Online learning is not for everyone, so the Institute for Nonprofit Management provides the same content as the online course, but in a face-to-face format.  Visit the INPM Web site for more detailed information on the open enrollment Institute or one tailored to a single group. http://www.extended.pdx.edu/degrcomp/programs/v_engagement_training.php

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.

Interested in assessing your volunteer recruiting strategies?

Use a self-directed evaluation tool

Get help with one of the Volunteer Program Evaluation Series.

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