Training: Volunteers

These training articles will look a little different from previous ones.  That’s because no explanation needs to given as to why training is important.

We know it is.

So let’s get to the meat of it:  Tips to help with training volunteers.

  1. Make training standard.  Some campsites do that already, and reap the benefits of well-equipped volunteers.  Others wish they had the time, but just can’t seem to find it.  Find it.  Standard training will lower your turnover rate, will make your volunteers more valuable, and will send the message to anyone your  volunteers speak to that your campsite is professional and well-organized.  People trust that.
  2. Let volunteers know where they fit.  Volunteers need to know what is expected of them, and who they are within your organization. Do they join staff during coffee hour?  Can they put their lunch in the fridge?  Should they answer the phones?  Can they show up when they aren’t volunteering?  What interaction should they have with campers?  Can they use the  beach for fun?  They won’t generally ask many of these questions themselves, so you need to provide that information for them.
  3. Train in specific areas.  Campsites are complicated.  A tour of the place is good, so is a general orientation.  But you really want volunteers to be in a place they can feel ownership over, and that means training them well in a small sliver of the campsite (at least to begin with).  Instead of trying to get volunteers who can do anything you need, train volunteers to be able to do one thing really well.  Do you have a volunteer who can help with baking?  Or a group of volunteers who are your painters?  What about training a few volunteers only in the ropes course?  Specialized volunteers will be more useful in the long run, and will also be more likely to stay.
  4. Don’t rush.  It is rare to find a non-profit organization that over-trains.  Very rare.  Take your time with training, and make sure you don’t end the training period until after the volunteer is feeling comfortable.  If you personally have too much work to offer much time in training, share the responsibility with other staff members or volunteers.  Take slow steps towards ending training.  Slowly start giving the volunteer more responsibility during the training phase, while they know you are still around and easily available to answer questions.  As the volunteer gets comfortable, step further into the background; don’t leave all at once.
  5. Training comes before working.  This may  be obvious to some of you, but many campsites are so limited in the human resource department that they take on volunteers and just put them to work.  Then, after a few weeks or months, the finally have time to train them.  But by then it is too late.  The volunteers are already oriented to the organization and have developed habits and patterns that are unlikely to change.  They already have an idea of where they fit and what they are about–whether it is what is best for the organization or not.  And the longer you wait, the more like an insult pulling them away to train them will feel. If you want to be part of this discernment process, you need to train them immediately.

Related Work:

Orientation Checklist

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