Ideas about orienting (inducting) and training volunteers, as well as tips for training paid staff to work with volunteers.   

Looking for volunteer management training for your staff? The Everyone Ready® Volunteer Management Skill-Building Program offers online training for everyone in your organization. 

Beginning with Day One, Sally Gardner Reed, Library Volunteers, McFarland & Company
The Big Picture: What Staff and Volunteers Need to Know, Sybil F, Stershic, pp. 60-62, Windsor Media Enterprises
Cultivation and Critique, Claudia Kuric and Sharon Koll, with contributions by Myrl Weinberg, A Roadmap to Managing Volunteer Systems: From Grassroots to National, National Health Council
Cultural Awareness, Ruth Wilson, p. 37, The National Centre for Volunteering (England)
Decision Making in Small Groups, Nathan W. Turner, Leading Small Groups, pp. 49 - 50, Judson Press
Effective Event Signs, Darcy Campion Devney, Organizing Special Events and Conferences: A Practical Guide for Busy Volunteers and Staff, Pineapple Press
Get Your Life Organized!, Robin Halley-Gillin, The Time of Your Life: A Leader's Guide to Retirement, Leisure Planning and Volunteering
Getting Together: Icebreakers and Group Energizers, Lorraine L. Ukens, Getting Together: Icebreakers and Group Energizers, pp. 106-107, Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer
Give Volunteers a Voice, Susan J. Ellis
Prepare: Equipping a Volunteer to Serve, Barry Altland, pp. 81-83, Peppertree Press
Redefine Evaluation, Sue Vineyard, The Great Trainer's Guide, Heritage Arts Publishing
Reinventing Conferences, Susan J. Ellis
The Room, Carol E. Weisman, The Secret of Successful Retreats, pp.17-18, F.E. Robbins & Sons
Training Design and Content, Betty Stallings, Training Busy Staff to Succeed with Volunteers: The 55-Minute Staff Training Series, Betty Stallings and Associates
Training Mentors, Elsy Arevalo and Becky Cooper, Running a Safe and Effective Mentoring Program, Friends for Youth Mentoring Institute
What Not to Say, Simon and Karen Fox, pp. 11-13, Adventures in Caring Foundation

From the  Alliance for Nonprofit Management (The Alliance) and the Building Movement Project (BMP). Offers information, tools, case studies and other resources to develop core competencies on constituent and community engagement -- to facilitate efforts to integrate the voice of community members and constituents into the daily practice of nonprofit organizations.

, 2015, pp. 32

Volunteering New Zealand produced this summary of their identification and development of key competencies for leaders and managers of volunteers. 

, 2013, pp. 12

Guide from Volunteer Canada on how to consult stakeholders in the development, design, delivery or review of services and programs.

, 2002, pp. 37

Created as a "A Guide for South Australian Local Government" by the City of Salisbury in SA, this contains many useful tips for determining potential risks in volunteer work, even if the legal issues discussed will not be the same in all locations. Also suggests ways to create volunteer position descriptions from a health and safety perspective.

, 2014, pp. 60

Written by CNIB for people who would like to become volunteers to support fundraising, including those who are interested in holding or supporting fundraising events and campaigns. Accompanied by a Toolkit.

, 2017
CASA "Working with Volunteers"

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) provides universal information on many volunteer management topics, particularly on screening and training. 

Charity Days UK

Fascinating program in the UK offering a group of professional trainers who have volunteered to give their time free of charge to registered charities to help them "make a bigger difference by making their training budget go further."

CNIB Volunteer Resources

CNIB (Canadian Institute for the Blind) shares an array of excellent resources to foster a culture of volunteerism within your organization. Under a Government of Ontario grant, CNIB developed a series of resources identifying best practices for partnering with volunteers. The documents – manuals, toolkits, training guides and templates – are posted on the CNIB Ontario website. One goal was to share these resources and best practices with other not-for-profit organizations, and to assist them with their inclusion goals. While these documents have been created with CNIB examples, you can adapt these Word versions for your own purposes. Some of the materials focus on working with volunteers who have vision disabilities.

Compassion Fatigue UK
Do your volunteers have to cope with "compassion fatigue"? Get advice, training, and resources at this site that promises volunteers it "will help you get back to being brilliant; so that you can remember why you're doing what you're doing and get back to doing it; making that difference to the people you care for."
ConventionPlanIt Stellar Tips

Archive of dozens of practical tips from professional convention planners that are applicable to any conference or training event.


Explore is a philanthropic community whose mission is to champion the selfless acts of others by documenting leaders around the world who have devoted their lives to extraordinary causes. Its growing library of more than 250 original films and 30,000 photographs from around the world features a wide range of topics and everything can be used free of charge for motivation and training.

Hello, My Name is Scott

Unusual, funny, and wise Web site devoted to the power and uses of nametags (yes, nametags) to foster interaction among strangers. See the free article section.

Mentoring Partnership Resources

Excellent list of resources for any mentoring program from the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA. Includes materials on recruiting, screening and training volunteer mentors, many of which can be used in any type of volunteer effort.

National Network for Collaboration Training

Devoted to "the goal of community collaboration, bring individuals and members of communities, agencies and organizations together in an atmosphere of support to systematically solve existing and emerging problems that could not be solved by one group alone. Offers a variety of tools, self-training materials, and more to support community collaborative efforts.

Nonprofit Management Education: Current Offerings in University Based Programs

Seton Hall University maintains this site of educational opportunities in the US for nonprofit management, including courses in volunteer management.

NVSC Training Materials Database

Wide range of free learning materials from Australia's National Volunteer Skills Centre.

SALTO Training Toolbox

Large number of group training exercises on all aspects of diversity and youth action from Support, Advanced Learning and Training Opportunities within the European YOUTH programme.

Training Games

60+ fun group learning activities from consultant/trainer Thiagi. See also his "Tips for Facilitators"

Youth Service America Resources

Long list of free, downloadable guides for students and teachers on all aspects of creating the best service-learning projects and curricula.

Youth Worker

Youth ministry resources, lessons and group games. Articles for and by youth in faith-based settings, with emphasis on topics related to volunteering, organizational relationships, and leadership.

Print and e-Books in Our Store

Book cover

A compendium of the best techniques for leading volunteer engagement, proven to work in a myriad of settings.

Ever wondered where volunteers find their inspiration, what makes someone a great leader?  Tonyehn Verkitus, the Senior VP of Nonprofit Engagement at GiveGab, interviews volunteers doing amazing things, leaders who inspire debate, and nonprofits finding creative solutions to problems big and small. "Snapshots" in 7 Questions take a small dip into the lives of people who do big things. New interview monthly. Free archive of all podcasts remains available.

This series of three webinars was produced by the Anglican Church of Canada.  Given by two well-known Canadian practitioners in volunteer engagement, Marilyn MacKenzie and Suzanne Lawson, these free, on-demand sessions will help you better understand "how lay ministry is mobilized and led, and the ways that people’s God-given gifts can be best used in service of God’s mission."  (2015) Watch the sessions directly from this site.

"Fun weekly videos to help nonprofits raise money, steward donors, and inspire board members," produced by Chris Davenport with a range of guest presenters.  A new, short video (usually less than 5 minutes) comes out every Monday and you get the link via e-mail. 

Fun With Nametags
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

We're always looking for ways to raise awareness about the scope and impact of volunteering. As with anything else, personalizing a subject makes a greater impression. So I want to make the case for nametags as an educational tool.

Every conference gives out name badges of some sort, yet these are often totally non-informative (not to mention unreadable with small print and long neckbands lowering the tags to our navels). Less formal "hello, my name is" sticky tags or name tents appear at smaller meetings, without much more data than a scribbled first name.

Whenever possible, consider adding some information on nametags to bediscussion starters. For example, wouldn't you want to know how someone might answer:

  • What was the very first thing you remember doing as a volunteer?
  • What was something you did last week as a volunteer?

You could ask either of these of anyone to respond about volunteering anywhere, or you can limit the answers to volunteering in your organization.

Other topics might be:

  • What was the most fun you had through volunteering?
  • Name 3 things you learned through volunteer work.
  • What does your favorite movie star volunteer or raise money for?

You get the idea. If the meeting is of people who think they know one another well - and usually don't even wear nametags with each other - skip the names but keep the tags and answer a different question at each meeting!

If you are convening both volunteers and paid staff together, you might ask volunteers to put on their nametags what they currently do for pay in the work world (or did before they retired) and have the employees write in what they do as volunteers on their own time. Both sets of answers might be surprising.

Making It Happen

As a practical matter, you can either ask one or two questions when people register or RSVP for the event or meeting and then prepare the nametags with their responses before they arrive on site, or you can post a sign at check-in with the key questions and ask people to handwrite their answers onto the nametags right there.

A variation that I love to suggest but rarely see implemented is getting meeting goers with many professional credentials to list all their formal "identities" and then (ideally in another color) add one more line to reveal what they are doing as a volunteer in their private lives. Discovering that a CEO is a youth sports coach or an IT specialist is a volunteer firefighter is priceless - and insightful - information to counteract stereotypes of who volunteers and for what.

Huge Conferences vs. Manageable Ones
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

I've just returned from the 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Service in New York City, where 6,000 attendees wore matching name badges but only rarely had the chance to interact. No event of this size can be truly satisfying. It might have some fun moments and, by the luck of the draw, someone at your table in a workshop might be a great "find" for networking. But if what you want is real learning and sustainable exchange, avoid the mammoth circus in favor of events gathering under 1,000 people.

For example, consider attending a state or provincial conference on volunteer management. These rarely have the money for plenary sessions with glitz and hoopla and so can focus on skill development workshops and participant interaction. I have never found a planning committee that wasn't thrilled by a registration from another geographic area (and when one comes in from another country, there is genuine excitement). You can find (and submit a posting for) regional conferences in the events area of the Energize Web site.

Here are some ways to decide if a conference might meet your needs:

  • See if there is an online description of the conference that gives details about the speakers and topics to be covered. If the organizers can share such details in advance, there is a greater chance that the event will actually deliver what it promises. Ultimately, avoid conferences that cannot describe their program (even in a personal e-mail or phone call), or have many slots with "to be announced."
  • Consider physical logistics. Conferences are always better if they have a home base. Be cautious about events that scatter registrants across three or more hotels, since that means people sleeping off site will not remain in the primary hotel's lobby or restaurants. This cuts down on your networking opportunities and increases the amount of energy you will expend during the event, too.
  • Are you attracted to the location? Visiting a new or appealing city is always a good reason to pick one conference over another - really. Does the event have off-site learning opportunities such as field visits or service projects? Even better.
  • Learn about the keynote speakers. Often the presenters in break-out sessions are local, which is fine. As with any conference, you will find a range of solid speakers and inexperienced speakers, which is not necessarily a big problem in a small group (if the person at least has something worthwhile to share). But in a plenary session, you want to be sure of quality. Personally, I try to avoid "celebrities" such as local tv news anchors and all politicians! Google the names of the speakers and learn more about them.
  • Do not assume that travel will be expensive. I have learned one truth from my airline experiences: you cannot predict the cost of a ticket! Before you nix an event because of distance, check a travel booking site and see whether there are any special deals available. This includes checking what a room at the conference hotel costs if you do not  book through the conference. Very often you can get a better price on the room than the so-called "special conference rate." It's worth a try.
  • Contact whoever is listed under "for more information." We are a friendly field. The person acting as contact point will be more than happy to answer your questions, both about the  conference itself and about the people who usually attend - and also about what to do on a visit to the area.

It always amazes me that people will go to a giant national conference without any advance notice of what will happen there, while a little bit of exploration will uncover conferences far less expensive and far more useful. Give it a try - maybe I'll see you off the beaten path!

Observe Your Way to Becoming a Better Trainer
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Every leader of volunteers is a trainer. Sometimes it's obvious, as when we present orientation/induction sessions, create an in-service volunteer training workshop, or speak at staff meetings. Other times it's much more informal, as we convey all sorts of information and offer support through conversations and even e-mails.

How successful are you in the role of trainer? You can improve your skills or add new training techniques to your repertoire by intentionally observing learning situations led by others. In other words, when you are the learner, step back mentally to watch how you are being taught as well as paying attention to the subject matter itself.

Here are some questions to guide your observations. In all cases, you may find examples of great training techniques or bad ones - but you can learn something from either perspective.

When participating in a session with professional conference or workshop speakers, ask yourself:

  • How did the speaker/trainer open the session? Was it effective in getting the audience's attention? Why or why not?
  • In general, how did the speaker interact with the audience?
  • What type of visuals did the speaker use along with oral presentation? How did s/he integrate those? How about use of handouts?
  • What small group exercises were used? How did the small groups form? Were the instructions clear? Was enough time allowed for discussion? How did the speaker "debrief" the exercise for the full group?
  • How did s/he transition from one topic or theme to another?
  • How did s/he deal with questions from the audience?
  • Did anything unexpected occur and how was it handled?
  • Did you laugh at any time and did it help you learn?
  • How did the session end?

During any in-house meeting (staff, committee, whatever), consider:

  • How did the leader open the meeting? Was the right tone set?
  • What's the balance between reporting and discussing?
  • Do all participants feel free to ask questions or make comments?
  • Which parts of the meeting felt most useful or informative and why?
  • Were written materials provided before or during the meeting and were they helpful?
  • How did the meeting end?

Similar questions apply to online training sessions, such as webinars.

The point is to be more intentional in your observations, specifically analyzing how and why one speaker engages you while another doesn't. (This is a great way to make a really boring session useful, of course!) For sessions that intrigue you, talk to some of the other people in attendance and see if they agree with your assessment of what worked. Depending on the situation, you can even talk with the speaker directly to ask why she or he chose a particular exercise or handled an incident in a certain way.

By making it a habit to observe any speaker or trainer (on television, too), you will become more aware of how important it is to present information in an engaging way - and how often the method and tone have a greater impact than the content itself.

Orientation and Training Are Different
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

In casual conversation, we often link "orienting and training" together and, of course, they are related - but they are not the same. They are sequential, with orientation (British colleagues say "induction") coming first.

Orientation places the new volunteer into context. It provides an introductory overview of your organization, sets the tone you want, and clarifies rules and procedures applicable to all. It's important that orientation be provided consistently for every volunteer, regardless of position or background (except, probably for volunteers in single days of service, though they, too, need some context for their work). Because it is done for all volunteers, in most agencies, orientation sessions are created and presented centrally by the volunteer services office, including such elements as:

  • A physical tour - with basics such as how the phone system works or where to store personal belongings
  • Introductions to key people - or at least a list of staff and volunteer names
  • How to find information when needed
  • Emergency procedures

Training includes both initial training necessary for each volunteer to get started on his or her assignment and in-service or ongoing training that can be offered to keep skills current over time or simply as a way to maintain enthusiasm.

Initial training must be relevant to each specific volunteer position description, and also must be tailored to the abilities and experience of each volunteer. Therefore, it is usually provided by the volunteer's direct supervisor or someone in the unit where the work will be performed. To be effective, the trainer needs to:

  • Distinguish between what someone needs to know before starting on an activity vs. what can continue to be taught over several sessions as the volunteer is on-the-job.
  • Develop content based on learning objectives for the distinct elements of knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
  • Understand that sometimes what is needed most is simply good instructions!

Ongoing or in-service training is both skills-oriented and a perk for volunteers. Therefore, you can involve volunteers themselves in planning and delivering such sessions. Be clear on your objectives (freshen skills? develop team spirit?) and then design a process that achieves those objectives. Consider:

  • What needs a group meeting, but also what can be shared through the written word? Online?
  • Can you build in cross-department fertilization?
  • Can updated information be made available to volunteers via a password-protected area of the agency's Web site?
  • Can you collaborate (and share the work) with other nearby or similar organizations to bring in guest speakers for all of you at once?

Finally, whenever possible, mesh what you offer volunteers with training that employees get. This should be two-way: volunteers should be invited to staff professional development, but the volunteer office can also score a lot of points if the in-service sessions you offer are equally available - and of interest - to paid staff!

Personal Volunteer Histories
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Here's an easy and revealing group exercise that you can use as an icebreaker in new volunteer orientation, in training paid staff about volunteering, or with any audience which you would like to educate about how integral volunteering is both to community life and to each of our personal histories.

Create a worksheet with several columns. Head the left column "Stage of Life."Below, enter the following age periods, creating a row across for each:

Before age 5 (might have been with your family)
As an elementary/primary school student (might have been with your class)
As a high school student
As a university student
In your 20s
In your 30s and 40s
In your 50s and 60s
Age 70 and above

Make the second column the widest and head it "What You Did." Then make columns for "What Did You Call It?" and "Why Did You Do It?"

Give these instructions at the top of the sheet and also explain orally:

We have all done some form of service to others and our communities, but often have not labeled these activities as "volunteering." Think back to different times in your life and identify some ways you "volunteered," "helped in the community," "served others," or did anything to assist a cause for which you were not paid a wage.

Give time for people to complete the worksheet. They may need to jog their memories!

There are lots of ways you can then share or use their responses. Here is a starter set of discussion questions. Adapt these to who's participating and to your goals in doing the exercise:

  1. Can you see how, regardless of the vocabulary you used to describe these things, they share the common attributes of "volunteering"?
  2. Were you surprised at the amount and range of the things you've done in your life (whether a lot or a little) that could be called "volunteering"?
  3. Which of your personal volunteer experiences were the most memorable, valuable or rewarding for you? Why?
  4. Which did you dislike or feel wasted your time? Why?
  5. Which activities do you feel made the greatest contribution to the person, organization or cause you were trying to help? (Did any make things worse?)
  6. How might your answers to the previous questions give you an understanding of how to treat volunteers in our organization today?


The Power of Instruction Sheets
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Training does not always occur in classrooms and formal workshops. A powerful and effective tool for skill building is the humble instruction sheet. Yet the funny thing is that we often don't bother to write them or create an archive of them.

Instruction sheets are great because they let volunteers (and paid staff, of course) be independent by self-teaching. Any time you or someone else who knows what or how something should be done cannot be on the spot to explain it, an instruction sheet can be your substitute.

Everyday, Ordinary Instructions

Think about all the things that almost all volunteers will encounter in their work and write down essential information. For example:

  • How a piece of equipment works (like your phone system!)
  • Where supplies for that task are stored and how to put them away, reorder them, etc.
  • Codes, passwords, and other information that can stop someone dead in their tracks if not known
  • Who should be contacted with questions or if something goes wrong (along with a phone number or extension)

This may sound so basic that it's not necessary. It is necessary! And think how much time you'll save by not having to repeat all of this out loud endlessly.

For some common things (like the phone system), you can even post or glue down the instructions right next to the item (of course not with secret passwords visible!). Otherwise, keep a paper file or notebook - with a table of contents - in your office AND create an electronic file for online access from anywhere.

Specific and Special Uses

Instruction sheets really shine during special events or activities in which groups of people (often new to your work) volunteer together. In these cases, you start every sheet with a welcoming, "Thanks so much for your help today! We're providing these instructions to guide you in being successful." Or some message like that (and you can repeat the thank-you at the end, too).

Make the sheets consistent so that volunteers can easily compare instructions and also step into one another's roles if necessary. In other words, make a template and then you can even fill in some details by hand later. For example:

  1. Title of the volunteer role - be specific so that it is clear this is not one-size-fits-all and the instructions are specific to this role.
  2. To whom the volunteer reports and how to contact/find them (also useful to say if this is an individual role or if other volunteers are doing the same thing and where they might be found).
  3. In sequence, list out the tasks to be done and, for each, include information such as where, what, how.
  4. What to do at the end of the shift, such as how to transition to the next volunteer, where to turn materials in, etc.

You will also need a method for distributing the instruction sheets to the right people (and make sure to give any team leader all of them!).

It's Simple but Not Easy

I'm sure you can all figure out what types of information you need to give in any instruction sheet, but I caution you not to whip these out at the last minute. If you are very familiar with the task being described, ask someone who is not to read your instructions and try to follow them. That's how you will discover what you missed!

Finally, given the ease of making short videos these days, visually record any physical task as a volunteer does it properly. Post the video on line and give the link at the top of the instruction sheet! Someone with a smart phone can even watch it on site while doing the task for the first time.

At the end, be sure to ask every volunteer to let you know if something needs to be updated or further explained on his or her instruction sheet, to help the next volunteer.

Refrain from emotional involvement
Submitted by Laura J. King, The Children's Inn at NIH , Bethesda, Marlyand, USA

Supervisors need to advise volunteers to refrain from becoming emotionally involved with the children and their families and also help them learn how to do this. The more the volunteers know about a child's illness the more difficult it is to remain detached. If volunteers get attached and the child dies, the emotional toll can be overwhelming. If the volunteer experiences this repeatedly the result can be burnout or stress. To prevent this we encourage volunteers to enjoy and share "in the moment" when interacting with a child: to focus on the child and the activity they are sharing rather than on the disease; to focus on the present, not the future.

Supervisors also need to limit the amount of time volunteers give, especially when they are new. Taking on too much too soon can also lead to burnout. Supervisors can also help volunteers cope with some of the negative experiences they will have. Family members are under a lot of stress and may be angry, rude, abrupt and insensitive. They may not treat volunteers with kindness and appreciation. Volunteers need to be coached on how to avoid taking this personally and how to give support and comfort to families, too. Finally, supervisors have to be willing to offer emotional support to volunteers when they are having a rough day. Giving volunteers a hug or a pat on the back or listening attentively as them talk through their pain is essential.

Training Others about Volunteer Management
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Last month I conducted several long training sessions in Singapore, my fifth visit to that lovely country. The National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre recruited a group of well-qualified volunteer program managers for a special train-the-trainer opportunity, combining observation of my presentations and group debriefing/reflection. As part of mentoring these colleagues, I developed a tip sheet based on my personal experience in training many, many different audiences about volunteer management. If you need to raise awareness of volunteerism, whether for in-house staff training or in presentations to the public, the following might also be helpful to you.

  • Everyone has some personal experience as a volunteer, but practically no one has ever been formally trained in volunteer management.
    • Even people already in the role of leader of volunteers. Even volunteers themselves.
    • But because of their own experiences with volunteering, people think they "know" best practice. In reality, they often perpetuate negative stereotypes and self-fulfilling prophecy seems to confirm them in their attitudes (i.e., if you don't expect much from volunteers, you won't get much).
  • Adults bring a wealth of life experience to any training situation and we've already acknowledged that most have been or have worked with volunteers. Check this by a show of hands. Plan an opening exercise that gets everyone to share their personal perspective and what their philosophy is about volunteering in society. Valuing volunteering is the first step in wanting to mobilize volunteers effectively. But few people have ever been asked to articulate why volunteering is important.
  • It is critical to allow negatives to surface. No one can learn anything if they haven't accepted the premise of the great potential of volunteer engagement and instead are mentally reviewing their reservations or concerns.
    • But it doesn't seem "nice" to voice objections or concerns, and people feel they have to be nice about and to volunteers.
    • So the trainer must be realistic and encourage - even initiate - discussion of possible problems, whether imagined or real.
    • On the other hand, the trainer must be solidly in favor of volunteering and the best practices of recruiting and working with all sorts of volunteers.
  • Language matters. A lot. The word "volunteer" repels as often as it attracts. Find out what term resonates with each audience and be sure to use various words to describe volunteering (do some homework to learn their jargon). Also:
    • Avoid saying "use" volunteers - we use things, not people.
    • Avoid always describing volunteer roles as "assisting paid staff." First, there is a huge all-volunteer world in which there is no paid staff. Second, many volunteers do not work "under" employees - instead they are expert consultants and partners.
    • Avoid female pronouns for low-level volunteer roles. When giving examples, always try to speak about a wide range of different volunteers, at different levels of responsibility, of different ages, etc. Fight stereotypes naturally by sharing your understanding of the diversity of the volunteer community.
    • Don't assume volunteers only work for nonprofit organizations. They also are active in government agencies. And for-profit businesses send their employees out to be volunteers.
  • Know your audience. Very often the people to whom you are speaking are responsible for volunteer involvement, but are not the executive or decision-maker in their agency. Acknowledge when something is not in their control to do on their own, but strongly encourage them to advocate on behalf of volunteers by proposing changes to top management.
Volunteer Peer Training
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

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?

Tapping Experience
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.

Outside-the-Box Formats
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.

Working with Chlidren

One on one with children
Submitted by Debra Lynne, The Children's Aid Society , New York, New York, USA

Volunteers who work one-to-one with children want to have an impact on the child's life and usually have very high hopes and expectations of themselves. Therefore it is important for the supervisor to clearly outline what the role is and what it is not. This includes outlining the boundaries of the relationship, which are sometimes quite "soft" and hard to define. A tutor's job is easier to define than a mentor's. The supervisor also has to be clear about the support s/he will provide so that the volunteer knows what to expect from the supervisor.

Supervisors need to be clear about the do's and don'ts. Boundaries are healthy and necessary for many reasons, among them liability and risk management. Supervisors need to articulate the needs of the client and identify how the volunteer can help. Because volunteering with children can be both rewarding and frustrating the good supervisor needs to be a cheerleader. The volunteers have high expectations of themselves and will look for signs of progress, which they may not necessarily see. The supervisor must continuously encourage and support, while also providing gentle and sometimes direct guidance.

Supervisors of volunteers in one-to-one relationships also need to ask the volunteer, "How are things going and how can I help?" Often volunteers don't ask for help because they don't know what to ask for. Supervisors also need to help the volunteer identify what approaches are working in order to provide encouragement. It is important to say things like, "I have noticed an improvement in Maria's self-confidence. You are really making an impact."

Supervisors also need to be sensitive to volunteers' frustrations and boost their morale with words like, "I know it's hard to keep Joe's attention, but you are doing a great job. Here are a few other ways to...." Supervising one-to-one volunteers is high maintenance work. The volunteers are providing a service that the family and the school cannot provide. If your agency has put a lot of time and effort into screening and training the volunteers, then it is only logical to also put time and effort into nurturing and supporting them. A good supervisor will make volunteers feel welcome, appreciated, supported by boundaries and guidance.