Having transitioned your nonprofit’s volunteer programs to accommodate the pandemic, now you must also transition your volunteer training. Your orientation is crucial to ensuring high-quality work and high volunteer retention. Here, we have collected 6 tips on how to effectively train your volunteers in a remote space.
Tip 1. Contextualize Your Work
If volunteers understand your work’s context, then they’ll provide higher-quality labor and feel more intellectually engaged. During your orientation, provide background information about:
- The social issue’s causes, history, scope, and impact
- The community’s history, demographics, opportunities, strengths, and current challenges
- Your organization’s history, impact, challenges, current goals, and how it intersects with the community
All of this information should be updated for this moment in time. For example, if your nonprofit addresses homelessness, explain how the economic downturn is affecting eviction rates, how homeless individuals experience a higher risk of COVID-19, and how housing inequities can be viewed through a racial justice lens.
Tip 2. Share Stories and Stats
Don’t just tell your volunteers — show them! Take advantage of virtual orientations to get creative when presenting information to your trainees. Demonstrate community need with eye-popping statistics and informative news articles for them to read ahead of time. Videos are engaging; whenever possible, use video calls and share well-produced videos, possibly of your clients speaking to camera. Ask current volunteers to share stories, lessons learned, and advice.
Tip 3. Value Volunteers
Your volunteers need to know and feel like their work truly matters. Maintain your volunteers’ motivation (and retention) by explaining how their work impacts your organization and the community at large. Explain how their service will save resources because the work might not have happened otherwise due to limited staff time. Also communicate how their work will be remembered and be built upon into the future — people want to know that their seemingly small task contributes to a series of efforts that make a sustainable impact.
Tip 4. Encourage Participation
The last thing volunteers want is to listen to a monologue for 45 minutes. Offer multiple opportunities for trainees to speak up and participate during orientation. Ask them to engage their prior knowledge, relating their experiences with those of clients; for example, when talking about summer learning loss, ask volunteers to describe what their own childhood summers were like. Use break-out rooms to not only have volunteers role-play, but also to socialize and build a sense of community. Take advantage of polls and online quizzes to test knowledge learned and get temperature checks on group opinions.
Tip 5. Build Up Skills (and Confidence)
Set your volunteers up for success by covering the hard skills, soft skills, and expectations needed for the work. Whether it be packaging donations or virtually filing documents, demonstrate the task before letting them practice. Consider sharing your screen or recording demonstration videos for their reference. For more interpersonal and relational work — such as answering 24/7 hotlines — have your volunteers role-play with each other in break-out rooms. Your orientation provides an opportunity to depict ideal behaviors and give volunteers the confidence and direction they need.
Tip 6. Be Flexible
By their very nature, virtual trainings differ from those in-person. Attention spans online are shorter than in person, so limit your orientation to thirty minutes, an hour at most. It is easier to host multiple small orientations online than trying to find a single large in-person time that fits everyone’s schedules. If you don’t have enough time to re-write your orientation curriculum for an online platform, outsource to your current volunteers! Your long-term, most trusted volunteers can help design and lead your virtual volunteer orientations.