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Training Volunteers 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.

~ October 2010 ~


Trainers of volunteer need to take into account the brain process for learning.  Researchers on memory and cognition are daily providing glimpses into the learning process that debunks much of what we have traditionally practiced in teaching both children and adults. Such issues as stress, exercise, nutrition, and social conditions are all relevant, brain-based issues that affect cognition, attention, and memory.  Every day of training changes the learner’s brain in some way. Making connections for learners is essential to helping adults learn. 

1. The human brain can and does grow new neurons, even in the elderly. Many survive and become functional. New neurons are highly correlated with memory, mood, and learning. Of interest to educators is that this process can be regulated by our everyday behaviors. Specifically, it can be enhanced by exercise, lower levels of stress, and good nutrition. This discovery came straight from neuroscientists Gerd Kempermann and Fred Gage.

2. Social conditions influence the brain in ways we didn't know before. The discovery of mirror neurons by Giacomo Rizzolatti and his colleagues at the University of Parma in Italy suggests a vehicle for an imitative reciprocity in our brain. Training behaviors are highly social experiences, which become encoded through the sense of reward, acceptance, pain, pleasure, coherence, affinity, and stress. This understanding suggests that we be more active in managing the social environment of learners, because learners are more affected by it than we thought. Effective training works to strengthen prosocial conditions.

3. Chronic stress is a very real issue for learners and trainers. A state of equilibrium is no longer a guaranteed "set point." The discovery championed by neuroscientist Bruce McEwen is that a revised metabolic state called "allostasis" is an adjusted new baseline for stress that is evident in the brains of those with anxiety and stress disorders. These pathogenic allostatic stress loads are becoming increasingly common and have serious health, learning, and behavior risks. This issue affects attendance, memory, social skills, and cognition.

4. The old-school view was that either environment or genes decided the outcomes for a learner. We now know that there's a third option: gene expression. This is the capacity of our genes to respond to chronic or acute environmental input. This new understanding highlights a new vehicle for change in our learners. Neuroscientists Bruce Lipton and Ernest Rossi have written about how our everyday behaviors can influence gene expression. Evidence suggests that gene expression can be regulated by what we do in training and that this can enhance or harm long-term change prospects.

5. Good nutrition is about far more than avoiding obesity. The journals Nutritional Neuroscience and the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition explore the effects on our brain of what we eat. The effects on cognition, memory, attention, stress, and even intelligence are now emerging.

6. The role of the arts in learning continues to come under great scrutiny. Five neuroscience departments and universities (University of Oregon, Harvard University, University of Michigan, Dartmouth College, and Stanford University) currently have projects studying the impact of the arts on the brain. Arts and Neuroscience is a new journal that tracks the connections being made by researchers. This is a serious topic for neuroscience, and it should be for trainers, too.  Issues being explored are whether the arts have transfer value.

7.  The value of exercise to the brain was highlighted in a recent cover story in Newsweek.  More important, there are many studies examining this connection in The Journal of Exercise, Pediatric Exercise Science, and The Journal of Exercise Physiology Online. The weight of the evidence is that exercise is strongly correlated with increased brain mass, better cognition, mood regulation, and new cell production. This information was unknown a generation ago.

8.  The discovery that environments alter our brains is profound. This research goes back decades to the early work of the first trailblazing biological psychologists: Mark Rosenzweig at the University of California, Berkeley, and Bill Greenough at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. In fact, a new collaboration has emerged between neuroscientists and architects. "The mission of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture" according to the group's website, "is to promote and advance knowledge that links neuroscience research to a growing understanding of human responses to the built environment." This makes the selection of physical location for training an important issue. 

Since the brain is involved in everything we do, the next question is, Is the brain fixed, or is it malleable? Is it shaped by experience? An overwhelming body of evidence shows our brain is altered by everyday experiences, Therefore, it stands to reason that altering experiences alters the brain. The brain is involved with everything done in a learning environment and trainers who understand that take that into consideration in the planning and decision-making process for all volunteer training.

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Professional Development

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

Online Training for Directors of Volunteer Programs

Recruiting Volunteers


Training Volunteers

Winter Quarter January, 2011

  • Want to improve and organize your recruiting efforts?
  • Interested in targeting a market for recruiting volunteers?
  • Looking to design and deliver effective training workshops?

Beginning in January the Volunteer Engagement and Leadership Program offers two online course, Recruiting Volunteers and Training Volunteers, in conjunction with the School of Public Administration’s Institute for Nonprofit Studies and the Department of Extended Studies.  The classes are part of a series that leads to certification in Volunteer Administration and can be taken pass/fail or for college credit.

Recruitment of Volunteers engages students in a marketing approach to the recruitment of volunteers.  Interactive activities involve students in practical discussions of the different styles of volunteering—traditional and episodic; building a recruiting plan, advertising and promotion for volunteers, and the organization of a volunteer recruiting team.

Training Volunteers engages students the most effective strategies for training adult learners, determining the content of training, writing learning objectives, selecting activities and exercises for adult classes, and evaluating the impact of training.

Assignments are interactive and designed to build skills directly applicable to a manager of volunteers program.  Assignments can be used immediately in existing volunteer programs. 

For more information on the program visit: http://distancedegree.pdx.edu//programs/v_engagement.php

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Indianapolis, IN

Volunteer Program Infrastructure

Sponsored by Central Indiana Association of Volunteer Administrators

Friday, October 15, 2010


Click here for registration form

Portland State University Training for Managers of Volunteer Programs

Institute for Nonprofit Management

Department of Extended Studies

Volunteer Engagement and Leadership Program


Portland State University’s Volunteer Engagement and Leadership certificate program offers classes all semesters throughout the year. Recruiting volunteers is the first class in a series of six courses and covers the organization of the recruitment effort. It includes the impact of societal changes on volunteering, practical strategies for organizing recruiting include conducting needs assessments, strategic planning, and position descriptions. There is also information on the basics of marketing in the volunteer arena, advertising and promotions, screening and the utilization of volunteer recruiting teams.

The second class in the series is training volunteers. It moves the student from understanding the concepts of how adults learn to organizing content, writing learning objectives, and writing a training plan. Both classes will be offered during winter semester, beginning in January 2010.

Class is fully online

x For registration assistance phone (503)725-4822 or Toll Free: (800) 547-8887 ask for ext. 4822

x Online contact: http://www.extended.pdx.edu/degrcomp/programs/v_engagement.php


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

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The International Journal of Volunteer Administration is a practitioner journal grounded in solid scholarship in the field of volunteerism, but with practical advice for those who manage volunteers.

The Journal is a refereed publication of the North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC, USA. The IJOVA seeks to provide an exchange of ideas and a sharing of knowledge and insights about volunteerism and volunteer management and administration, both in North America and internationally.

Formerly published by the now-dissolved Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA), The Journal is a not-for-profit service of the Department and North Carolina State University that seeks to connect practitioners, academicians, and consultants in greater service to the global volunteer community and the professionals who lead it.

The IJOVA is governed by a six-member Editorial Board representing the three predominant genres of volunteer management professionals: (a) practicing managers of volunteers, (b) consultants, and (c) academicians focusing upon volunteer management and administration. Three Board members represent the United States while one member each represents Canada, Mexico, and Europe.

Subscriptions are a modest $40. for the electronic journal. For more information and to read six issues for free go to the IJOVA Web site.

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The Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE) is a national organization that supports and advocates for professionals in the field of volunteer management.  Membership is diverse cross section of professionals who are managers, directors, trainers, and consultants committed to the engagement of volunteers.

You can learn more about AL!VE at their Web site.  http://www.volunteeralive.org There is information on the board of directors, resources, newsletter, and committees.  It is now possible to join the organization online as it moves forward in its development. 

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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 300 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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