Volunteers are valuable resources for your nonprofit organization, providing support and manpower to execute programs and further your organization’s mission.
Some volunteer positions are more straightforward than others. For more specialized roles, odds are volunteers won’t come to your organization with all the knowledge, skills, and experience they need to succeed. In this case, you’ll need to implement a training program to make sure your volunteers are up to speed. After all, thrusting new volunteers into roles they don’t fully understand will likely overwhelm them and lead to poor retention rates.
For roles that require special training, it’s important to make sure every cohort of volunteers is adequately prepared for their role. To facilitate this, consider standardizing your training program into an official training course that you can re-use well into the future.
At Skyepack, we design custom digital courses for a diverse range of learners from volunteers to corporate employees to college students. We rely on a learner-centered curriculum development process that prioritizes the audience at every step. In this article, we’ll share four tips for creating an effective volunteer training course. We recommend that you:
- Create your course online.
- Pay careful attention to curriculum development and instructional design.
- Prioritize interactivity.
- Ask your volunteers for their feedback.
Starting volunteers off with a solid foundation will increase the likelihood that they stick around and provide maximum value to your organization. Let’s get started.
1. Create your course online.
While it’s certainly possible to teach a volunteer training course with a series of hard copy materials like booklets and printed PDFs, we strongly recommend that you host your course online in a suitable content delivery platform. Digital courses offer the following key benefits:
Convenience. One of the major perks of a digital course is that it can be accessed from anywhere—a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. This way, your trainees can study anywhere and don’t have to keep up with physical books. Plus, with your course centralized in a digital platform, trainees can easily access the information they need and they can return to their materials as they get acquainted with their new role.
Affordability. Volunteer management can be costly, and expenses for volunteer training materials can account for a significant portion of your training budget. Whether you’re buying pre-printed books or printing your own content, there is money to be saved by switching to a digital platform. This way, your organization can put that money to use elsewhere.
Customization. Your organization is unique, and your volunteer roles likely are, too. Digital course platforms offer flexibility in that you decide what to include and what not to include in your course. Instead of following the exact course from another organization, you can customize your course to offer the most tailored, high-value, necessary content to your volunteers.
When you’re looking for a platform to host your digital course, make sure to prioritize user experience. The last thing you want is volunteers getting confused or frustrated by your course because it’s less-than-intuitive to navigate.
2. Pay careful attention to curriculum development and instructional design.
Unlike adopting another organization’s existing training, building your own digital course does require that you give ample thought to the design and content of the training. In the e-learning space, there are two main areas of course development that we reference: curriculum development and instructional design.
Curriculum development is the process of designing your course from start to finish, filling in key details like course objectives and the sequence of content. To effectively develop your training’s curriculum, ask yourself some key questions:
What do our volunteers need to know by the end of their training?
What background information or knowledge do they have now?
What is the most logical way to order the information?
These questions can help guide the creation of course objectives, which clearly lay out exactly what knowledge your volunteers should have by the end of the course. Once objectives are established, order the objectives in a logical way that naturally flows from one topic to another. With these key plans laid out, all that’s left to do is decide how exactly to deliver the material and from what sources you will pull material .
Instructional design, on the other hand, describes how people learn, rather than what they learn. Consider the needs of your volunteers and your course. You may choose to draw from some recent instructional design trends such as these:
Microlearning involves the implementation of bite-sized learning units or activities. Microlearning may help improve retention and accommodate shorter attention spans.
Social learning is the process of learning through collaborating with others. You might ask volunteers to complete group projects or post on discussion boards to incorporate social learning.
Gamification is the inclusion of game-like elements in the learning environment. Examples include leaderboards, point systems, and badges.
If you’re building a volunteer training program from the ground up or if your volunteer management team is short on time, consider soliciting the help of a course curation and instructional design team.
3. Prioritize interactivity.
As a volunteer coordinator, manager, or trainer, you likely have a wealth of knowledge and experience to pass on to your trainees. The best way to convey all of this knowledge and experience is probably not through walls of uninterrupted text. Instead, you’re better off providing periodic breaks from dense content with other ways for your trainees to engage with the material.
This not only helps hold your audience’s attention, but can also accommodate a wider range of learning styles. Look for a content delivery platform that allows you to directly embed multimedia content into your digital course. Some elements you might incorporate include:
Videos: If your organization has any training videos you’ve used in the past, they can be repurposed as part of your digital training course. Use video to illustrate a difficult concept, provide an example, or show how to handle a specific situation. You may also use videos from open educational resources or other organizations (with permission).
Quizzes: Short, multiple-choice quizzes separating key sections and concepts can provide your trainees with an opportunity to assess their knowledge and identify the central takeaways from each section.
Discussion boards: A way to facilitate social learning, discussion boards can provide a place for trainees to ask questions and discuss key topics from the course.
Drag and drop activities: Drag and drop activities can provide a different way for trainees to check their understanding, identify relationships between concepts, and reinforce key terms.
Be sure to double-check that every element you add to your course is mobile-friendly—you’ll want your volunteers to be able to access multimedia content and traditional course content from their mobile devices.
4. Ask your volunteers to provide feedback.
No matter how great the course you’ve designed is, it could almost certainly be better—you just need to know how. At Skyepack, our curriculum development process (which we outline here) has a feedback step built-in because we believe there’s always room for improvement. Turn to your volunteers to ask questions like:
Was the training course useful?
Was it engaging?
Were you confused at any point? If so, where?
Did the ideas presented proceed in a logical order?
Is there any content you would add or remove from the course?
A few months down the line, you might choose to repeat these questions to see if experience in their role has changed your volunteers’ opinions of their training experience. Once they’ve performed in their role for several months, they’re likely to have a more informed opinion on the content of your training. For example, they may have encountered an area they felt unprepared for and could suggest you add a lesson in about it.
Soliciting feedback from your volunteers will not only help you improve your training courses, but it will also make your volunteers feel valued. As discussed in the Double the Donation guide to volunteer management, showing your volunteers that you care about their thoughts and input goes a long way to boost retention.
It can be difficult to know when and how to implement volunteer training programs. Once you’ve decided to standardize a given training program, we recommend you turn to a digital platform to deliver your course—doing so offers many benefits to your volunteers. From there, make sure to keep volunteers engaged with a logical progression of ideas and interactive elements. Of course, once the course is over, reach out to see how it was received. Best of luck!
Brady Kalb, CEO
Brady is a "reformed engineer turned entrepreneur". After engineering gigs at two Fortune 100 companies, Brady left the corporate world to pursue a business degree and seek out new challenges. Brady's passion for education stems from his desire to "always be learning" and find innovative solutions to difficult problems. Brady enjoys family outings to the park, explaining the answers of "Life, the Universe, and Everything" to his daughters, and reading just about anything (favorites are classics, popular fiction, and biographies).