It’s that time of year–the time of year when people’s charitable spirit spikes. Indeed, for most nonprofits, the Thanksgiving to New Years stretch is critical. It is when most donations (money and good) come in and when one is most likely to find people eager to pitch in to help too. But there’s a problem. While anyone running a food bank, women’s shelter, or soup kitchen needs all hands on deck, volunteers can also be a liability. In essence, it’s like bringing dozens and even hundreds of entirely untrained employees on board.
A recent British study by the National Council of Voluntary Organisation (NCVO) concluded that every volunteer should receive 40 hours of continuing professional development (CPD). As reported in The Guardian, nearly all nonprofits have balked at the suggestion, “Not because they are uninterested in the essential development of their workers, but on a practical basis, just how can cash-strapped, over-burdened charities achieve such a target?” It’s a good point. While the goal may sound wise, how can cash strapped organizations train their volunteers without breaking the bank? Bear in mind that some organizations, like the Red Cross, rely on volunteers to carry out up to 90% of their work. The good news is that with eLearning, nonprofits can afford to train their volunteers and do it in a way that works with their volunteers’ schedules.
Why Organizations Need Volunteer Training Programs
Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of skills and sometimes with all sorts of deficits. Some volunteers will be qualified to handle phones or send out the mail while others may be major talents looking to share their skills. Simply put, if a retired school principal or CEO walks in the door, don’t ask him or her to volunteer at the next bake sale! Of course, to find out what your volunteers have to offer, you first need to carry out some form of onboarding. If possible, meet one-on-one with new volunteers–find out who they are and what work and organizing skills they are or are not bringing to the table. Find out how much time they have to share and when they are available. Then, create an appropriate onboarding experience for them so they end up in a situation where they can offer the most to your organization.
Next, it is important to offer all new volunteers a background in nonprofit work. Even a seasoned CEO may not fully understand just how complex and challenging it can be to run a nonprofit. Give all new volunteers insight into the nonprofit world and more importantly, get them up to speed on the history of your organization and its central mandate.
Next, focus on position-specific training. In some cases, this may only take a few hours (e.g., how to sort clothes so the useful items get to people in need, pricey vintage finds are sold to local clothing and antique dealers, and the garbage is shipped out). In other cases, you may need several days of training (e.g., how to volunteer in accounting during a fundraising drive). If the training is specific, give experts in specific departments (e.g., accounting), relief time or overtime to oversee the volunteer training. Don’t ask your employees to simply train a volunteer while they are doing their regular job. This is one of the biggest mistakes made by nonprofits. Training works best when its truly prioritized.
Finally, whatever your approach, don’t assume that training for volunteers should be a one-time deal. Volunteers also burn out. To avoid constant volunteer turn-over, make training an ongoing process. This will also enable volunteers to do many rather than simply one task in your organization. Like employees, the more engaged they are, the more likely they are to stick around.
Ramp Up Your Volunteer Training Now with eLearning
With a flexible and affordable learning management system, you can roll out training courses to employees or volunteers any time and any where on a budget that is affordable enough to meet the needs of even the smallest and most cash-strapped organizations. Whether you just want to ensure that your clothing or food sorters are putting the right types of items in your clients’ holiday gift baskets, or you need to train volunteers for your board of directors, eLearning is an affordable and effective way to ensure all your volunteers are prepared to take on their assigned jobs.