Many organizations plan in-service training opportunities for volunteers, both to keep everyone's skills updated and as a form of recognition and motivation renewal. Most often, the topics and speakers are chosen by the paid staff, sometimes with input from a planning committee of volunteers, to be presented to volunteers. How about a series of programs by volunteers?
One approach is to identify current volunteers - or exceptional volunteers no longer active but still in the area - who demonstrate strong skills in the work they do. Are they role models for how you want all volunteers to perform? Shine the limelight on them and teach others by their example.
Of course, not every excellent volunteer is necessarily able to explain their activities or is automatically a great speaker. If they are, wonderful! Help them to create a "master class" for other volunteers or to focus on one to three recommendations they want to share.
If you are unsure of the skilled volunteer's training ability, invite her or him to do only a specific segment of a session facilitated by someone else who can get the participants engaged. Perhaps videotape the volunteer while doing the service you most like, show the video to the group, and then have a live question and answer period about it. Or conduct the session as an informal interview, with a moderator drawing out stories and tips from the expert volunteer.
Discovering New Talents
Even more fun is learning what else current volunteers (and paid staff, for that matter) are skilled at doing, whether or not they apply those skills in their service with you now. You may be amazed at the hidden talents of people you know well. Once a year or so, do a quick survey. It might work best if you give a starter list of subjects/skills you would most like to uncover for everyone's professional development, of course leaving room for someone to list something special to them. For example, think of the kind of in-service programs you might create if you find volunteers with expertise in things like:
- Using social networking sites, such as Facebook, and how that might relate to helping your organization in its work
- How other local agencies do their work (because the person worked there or was a client there)
- Keeping up with teenager jargon, especially texting language
- Where to buy inexpensive supplies for craft projects done with clients or discounts on local recreation activities a mentor might do with a young person
- Foreign languages spoken by your clients - to teach useful, common phrases
- Making short videos that effectively convey a message
Sometimes you might want to find a comedian or ventriloquist simply to give everyone a chance to laugh together. Or, if you are all coping with the effects of a crisis, disaster, or death of a key person, it might be very helpful to know who does counseling, motivational speaking, or even writes poetry.
One caution: an obvious benefit of seeking out the talents of volunteers is recognition. It's very affirming for the organization to show interest in individual volunteers and extend opportunities to share what they know. Therefore, be alert to those people who identified an area of expertise you cannot use or don't need at the moment. Acknowledge them appreciatively and explain why they have not been asked to do a presentation. In some cases, you might ask if you can "offer them" as a speaker to another organization that would value that information and they can speak as an "ambassador" of your organization. Either way, you will be recognizing them.
The idea here is to create something of an in-house "speakers bureau" with volunteers you can call upon as needed. But you do not have to wait for a group meeting. Consider creating a library of videos that you can recommend to anyone who has a question on a topic, or can be used as a self-teaching series, or might even become YouTube postings to promote your organization.
Ask the volunteers with the skills you want to capture and transmit to others what ideas they have for how to be of help. Maybe a conference call will work well. Online tools such as a discussion forum or even a live chat might be viable options.