Training and Developing Volunteers Includes Four Elements

The top question I hear from leaders of volunteers is, "How do I train and develop my team, especially since they are not paid staff?"

You are in control of the volunteer's training and development experience. Sound too militaristic? Let me explain.

Creating an operable framework with flexibility is critical to helping the volunteer have directional clarity and freedom to choose. 

Training and developing in the areas of physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual elements matter for each volunteer to serve effectively.

Let me clarify some language here, thanks to my friend Jeff Jackson. He helped me understand the difference between training and developing volunteers. Training is what we do with a first-time volunteer in our area of ministry. We acclimate them to our environment. Developing is what we do with team members who stay in our area of ministry. We build on what they already know through their initial training.

Why does training and development fail?

  • Lots of theory
  • Poor communicator
  • Irrelevant and/or impractical content
  • Information only
  • Communicated by leaders who have not done a good job of it themselves
  • Wrong goal in mind
  • Lacks relational elements
  • Clear expectations are not given
  • A development journey is not outlined

There are three key questions leaders need to answer on behalf of their volunteers:

  • What attitude will the volunteer need to show?
  • What knowledge will be needed for each volunteer role?
  • What physical resources does the volunteer need to do the job?

Here are four approaches that most churches and organizations employ when training and developing volunteers, and four ideas to improve each one. I find all four approaches to be important when built on each other. However, if any one of the approaches is found in isolation, you could find yourself in an unhealthy place.

1. Telling: This approach is typically the strongest because it is the easiest.

Tips to Improve: 

  • Be clear about expectations
  • Repeat constantly
  • Utilize accessible communication channels to fit the rhythm of their life
  • Create a way for them to ask questions while you tell them about the why, what, and how

2. Showing: This approach is typically started with gusto but wanes quickly.

Tips to Improve:

  • Provide real-life examples of who on your team is doing it well
  • Define the skills that matter most
  • Nothing is elementary because the simple elements that can make or break a guest experience
  • As soon as you think you have showed them enough examples, show them more because they need to hear and see everything numerous times

3. Doing: This approach is typically started but the duration is not long enough for the team member.

Tips to Improve:

  • Partner them up with a friendly and knowledgeable veteran team member for sufficient reps
  • Affirm what they are doing well
  • Slowly release more responsibility to them
  • Check and recheck on how they are feeling and doing in their role

4. Trusting: This approach is typically the weakest and potentially the most difficult.

Tips to Improve:

  • Realize there are team members who can do a great job, especially if you trained them well
  • Openly communicate your belief in them - it does something for both of you 
  • Expect that they might do it differently than you and it is okay as long as it fits in with the overall mission or system
  • Stay a safe distance away from the how but close enough to still lead the why and what