Training volunteers

Training is an increasingly important aspect of attracting, supporting, retaining and rewarding volunteers.

This page aims to help you learn more about the role of training in volunteer management and how to approach planning, developing, implementing and evaluating training programs for volunteers.

Why is volunteer training important?

Training is important for the development, motivation and retention of volunteers. It can benefit your volunteers, your clients and your organisation by:

  • Improving the quality and consistency of the services your organisation provides
  • Ensuring your organisation caters for a diverse range of volunteers and their needs
  • Building your reputation as an organisation committed to supporting and developing its volunteers
  • Helping you to secure funding from government, business partners or philanthropic organisations
  • Making the volunteering roles you offer more attractive to prospective volunteers
  • Giving volunteers a deeper understanding of their role and motivating them to consider expanded or new roles
  • Rewarding volunteers for their commitment and involvement
  • Keeping existing volunteers involved in your organisation for the longer term
  • Providing volunteers with pathways to work or study opportunities

With the diversity of people who volunteer and the variety of roles and activities they undertake, training provides volunteers with the broad range of skills they need to be effective, competent, and confident volunteers.

What does volunteer training involve?

There are many ways to provide training for volunteers. Some organisations will have a formal volunteer training program that runs throughout a volunteer's lifecycle. Others might run an initial induction program and then schedule ad hoc informal training. Some might provide training in partnership with a local training provider such as a Neighbourhood House or community centre. Others might have a buddy system where volunteers support and mentor each other.

The point is that there is no set way to train your volunteers. The best method is the one that suits the principles of your organisation and the types of volunteers you have.

Whatever your approach to training, it's useful to view the training cycle as a series of steps that includes:

  • Working out what training you need
  • Deciding the objectives of your training
  • Plan and design the training
  • Doing the training (in-house or through a provider)
  • Evaluating the training

You can then use the results of your training evaluation to improve and refine your training program.

Whether you plan to develop your own in-house training or find relevant external programs (or mix up the training options) this approach will help you to develop an overall training strategy for your organisation.

What training do volunteers need?

While there are core skills that volunteers need to be more effective in their roles, the training needs of volunteers will depend on things like:

  • the principles and goals of your organisation
  • the different things volunteers do in your organisation
  • who your volunteers work with (e.g. clients, paid staff)
  • the backgrounds, skills and experiences of your volunteers

Some of the more common skills and competencies required by volunteers are listed on our What training do I need? page (in our Information for volunteers section). While these can give you ideas for your training program, there's no one-size-fits-all solution that works for every organisation.

A training needs assessment is a useful way to start planning a training program. This will help you work out what sort of skills volunteers need to do their work, what skills and knowledge they already have and what additional skills they need to acquire.

The results of the needs assessment will help you to define the objectives for your training program, i.e. which volunteers need training and what skills they need. Your needs assessment might actually conclude that your current volunteers have all the skills and knowledge they need.

Designing a training program

Once you have done a training needs assessment and defined your training objectives, you can start to plan and design the training program. Again, the kind of training you provide will depend on your organisation’s goals, what skills are required and what your volunteers are like.

Designing a training program involves:

  • Deciding who will design the training i.e. someone from within your organisation or external
  • Developing the content of the training
  • Deciding how to present the training, e.g. lecture, informal discussion, one-on-one mentoring, role play
  • Selecting materials to support the training e.g. video, guest speaker, hand-outs, books
  • Deciding the best setting for the training e.g. in the field, on the job, in a classroom

When designing your training also consider the different needs of your volunteers. Is it suitable for younger people, older people or people with different cultural backgrounds? Do you need to provide different kinds of training for different people? Or do you need to adjust your training to be more inclusive? Our Encouraging diversity toolkit has more information about ways to accommodate diversity in your organisation.

Doing the training

Once you've designed the overall training program you can then decide the best way to deliver it to your volunteers. You might choose a mix of in-house training and some formal classes. You might bring an external trainer or you might conduct the training yourself. There may even be some relevant online training your volunteers can do.

See our Options for volunteer training page for more ideas for how and where to source training providers.

Whatever your approach, you will need to finalise venues, schedule training sessions, coordinate participants and (if you are doing the training internally) organise things like catering, training materials and technical equipment.

Evaluating the training

Evaluating the training is the best way for you to determine if it was successful and how you can improve future training.

You can use an evaluation form to collect feedback on your training sessions e.g. who attended, how much they learned, if the training was suitable, what techniques worked best and what information was missing.

At a later date you can also get feedback from volunteers about how they apply the training to their roles and other things that would help them to do their roles more effectively.

Tools and resources