Christina 06 Dec 2020 | 4 min read

How to: Train Your Dream Volunteer Team

In 2014, Forbes reported that corporate training in the US has grown to over $70 billion (a 15% rise from the previous year). Why are companies investing additional learning opportunities for their staff? 

Because training works. 

Here at Volunteer U, we’ve learned the value of training volunteers. Some sources have found that trained volunteers are more consistent, confident, and feel more valued.

There are two levels of volunteer training. 

The second level is more of a concentrated, professional training that consists of specific skills and tasks for a particular role (think CPR Certification, database management, or machine operation). This level of instruction is necessary for many volunteer positions, but typically, not all since is role-specific. 

Level one volunteer training is for everyone and contains the basic information your team needs to serve the organization well. Level one training is where you discuss the important stuff like company culture, vision, mission, history, and heritage. It’s what baptizes a recruit in the culture of your business, and unfortunately, it’s what many organizations are currently missing. 

Here are three practical tips to TRAIN your dream volunteer team. 

1. Set a date and time. 

How often have you run into an old friend and said, “Let’s get together for lunch sometime and catch up”? Did you ever actually meet up with them? 

There’s an old saying, “What gets written down gets done.” 

And there is a reason that the things we put on the calendar are more likely to happen. It’s the difference between intention (“Let’s meet up sometime.”) and doing (“Are you free on Saturday at 1 pm?”). 

Put a hard deadline on something, and it automatically starts to build pressure to accomplish the goal. Not only does it clarify your goals, but writing down items helps you solidify your priorities. So, whether you train your volunteers as they come in, at specific times per year, or annually, make an intentional plan to do it. 

Bonus tip: Regularly scheduled training can help you recruit new team members. Our experience has shown that organizations that have a set training day (that internally well advertised) tend to have more walk-ins. This happens naturally as current team members who know about the training invite others to go. 

2. Tell your story. 

Disney is famous for having some of the best Cast Members (what they call employees) on the planet. It’s (literally) a part of a Cast Member’s job to make every guest’s experience magical. How do they deliver on this high expectation with thousands of guests at their theme parks each day? Training. At Disney, they call their Cast Member training Traditions, and it not only takes them through the history of the company, but it also highlights organizational heritage through the personal stories of hand-picked facilitators. During the training, each facilitator is encouraged to sprinkle some magical pixie-dust by sharing their own heartfelt experiences of working at the Mouse House. The result? New Cast Members emerge filled with optimistic ideas of how they can help turn a guest’s stay into a magical experience. 

Your organization can use this same, powerful tool to your advantage. 

Research shows that people remember stories. In their book Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath give the example of Stanford students listening to their peer’s presentations. When asked to recall the information, 63% remembered the stories, while only 5% remembered any individual statistic. 

But don’t worry. You don’t have to have super charismatic facilitators to seal the deal. 

According to the Heath brothers, “…The people who were captivating speakers typically do no better than others in making their ideas stick…The stars of stickiness are the students who made their case by telling stories, or by tapping into emotion, or by stressing a single point rather than ten…”

Find someone passionate about what your organization is doing and give them the chance to share that excitement with recruits. 

3. Create the opportunity to connect. 

People have many reasons for volunteering, but they stay for the relationships. One of the best ways to ensure a volunteer will commit is to connect them with other team members as quickly as possible. 

Creating meaningful connections isn’t as difficult as it might seem. Ask current volunteers to occasionally attend a training. Encourage them to talk about their experience and be available after the training to meet new team members and answer questions. Not only will you give potential volunteers the chance to meet the team, but you’ll provide them with the opportunity to see what it’s like to volunteer with your organization.