Having a good volunteer induction programme shows the volunteer you care and take their contribution seriously. Appropriate, quality and timely training gives them the skills and information they need to do the job to the best of their ability and to your satisfaction.
While this may seem like common sense, a number of organisations think that once the volunteers are in, everything else falls into place. This misplaced assumption is one of the main reasons why volunteers leave.
This section goes through the common sequence of training inputs offered from induction onwards.
Everyone remembers their first day so make sure that your volunteer's first day is memorable for the right reasons and avoid comments such as the following
"No one had a clue what I was meant to do"
"She handed me the health and safety manual and I never saw her after that"
"They all went off to a meeting and left me answering phones"
The first thing is to invite the volunteer to start on a day when you have time to welcome them and help them settle in. That first day is a key part of the induction.
All volunteers need some level of planned induction that covers:
Induction can happen in groups or individually. If your recruitment process is staggered and you plan to run an induction after some volunteers have started, you will have to go through the points above with each individual.
In-house preparation: this list will help you prepare for the new volunteer starting.
A trial period is very useful for testing the water. It gives the volunteer an insight into the work and you get a chance to see if the person is suitable for the job. The length and components of the trial period vary according to the role and resources. Either way they need to be structured and keep to the agreed time frames and sequencing. Here is an example of how it might work.
Once the trial period ends, it's important to clarify the ongoing commitment agreed between the volunteer and the service. The advantages of using a Volunteer Agreement are
Training is an investment in staff aimed at developing their skills and abilities to do the job well. Because funds are always limited you have to be clear about what training people actually need to do the job and what training would be good to offer, if the budget permitted. One way of doing this is to list the core, essential training for each role and the team and then what would be additional. Some organisations make a point of offering non-work related workshops as a way of thanking staff. Sessions such as relaxation, stress management or music therapy can be very enjoyable and good for team building and morale.
The two most common ways in which training happens are:
i) structured training programmes prior to starting work as a volunteer
ii) volunteer jobs where the training/learning happens by doing the job
Structured training programme
Organisations which require volunteers to do certain jobs often run compulsory training programmes which volunteers must successfully complete before they can join as a volunteer. These courses can take a number of weeks or months and they form another opportunity for the organisation to get a sense of the commitment people are willing to make as well as give an insight into their potential suitability for the role. They may also be attractive to the volunteer, for a host of reasons. Courses are resource intensive and can result in people choosing to opt out of the volunteering experience. However on the positive side the organisation benefits by having a well trained and committed group of volunteers.
On the job training
Every job requires some element of learning. New skills might need to be learned and even if the volunteer already has the skills, they still have to learn how the work is done in your particular organisation.
The application form and the interview you tell you what skills the volunteer has and what skills they will need to learn to do the job well. On the volunteer's first day, or very shortly after, you will need to sit down and discuss with them bridging the gap between the two. The methods of learning a new skill include:
You will have to decide what is the most effective way for volunteers to develop their skills within the resources available. However it is important that you include a training budget for volunteers so that volunteers can access expert training either in-house or by attending courses externally. A sample of a Training Budget can be downloaded below.
You should provide on-going training as the role changes or develops. Below are some pointers for you to remember:
It's important to specify that on-going training is part of the volunteer commitment and a refusal to attend can result in asking a volunteer to leave.
It is important to keep a record of all training undertaken. A sample training record sheet can be downloaded below
It's important that the training offered does what is intended. You can assess this by asking participants for their impressions of the training but also by observing what, if any, impact it has in the workplace. Some training outputs may be easier to measure, for example computer skills. Others, such as dealing with queries, may be difficult to assess. Where a volunteer is dealing directly with the public, the best way to check the impact of the training is to observe the person dealing with the service user.
You must decide what is the most appropriate way to assess training and what impact it has on the volunteer's ability to do the job better.
Some key questions could include
Most managers face these extremes at some stage and even if you haven't yet it's worth putting a training policy in place. With new volunteers you can be clear from the start what the training plan is and what is expected. With existing volunteers it can be difficult for some of them to accept the introduction of a training policy.
One way to make it easier is to involve the people directly affected in drafting the policy. Some guidelines on what it could include would be:
Vineyard, S. (1995) The Great Trainer's Guide. Heritage Arts