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Orienting and Training Volunteers for Success

Resource Center - Foundation

(Aug. 16, 2011) Regardless of the skills, experience, or knowledge concerning the organization for which they are volunteering, all volunteers should go through orientation to the organization and at least some training for their roles as volunteers. They must understand the overall organization, its mission and goals, expectations, and obligations. Organizations with a successful volunteer training program are more likely to get maximum effectiveness from their volunteers and, as a result, more success in fundraising efforts.

Just telling volunteers what their job is does not ensure they will know how to do it or how it fits into the bigger picture of the organization's activities. In fact, the most common complaint volunteers make is that the organization didn't adequately tell them what to do. Developing and implementing (and updating as needed) a structured and formal orientation goes a long way towards maintaining a successful volunteer-organization-staff partnership.

Regardless of the level of complexity of volunteer orientation and training, it should follow the principles of adult learning.  These include establishing learning objectives (what the volunteers should know or be able to do when it's over) and designing sessions that are engaging and relevant and that incorporate the volunteers' knowledge and experiences.

Teaching Adults

Following are some basic principles of adult learning to keep in mind in designing the orientation and training.

  • Adults have a readiness to learn based on their circumstances - in taking on this new role, they want to understand what you want them to do and how it needs to be done, if ‘how' is important.
  • Adults need to know the relevancy of learning to the work - when you're sharing content with them, explain how it fits the role(s) they will be playing in the organization. Tell them why they need to know what you are telling them.
  • Adults bring their life experiences to the learning opportunity - don't assume new volunteers know nothing, or have no other similar experiences they can draw on in volunteering. Whether in their work or personal lives, they bring who they are and what they know to their new roles.
  • Adults need to be actively engaged in the learning process -don't read it to them or lecture to them. Allow them to practice new skills before you put them in real-life situations.

Key elements to be included in volunteer orientation 

  • Brief overview of philanthropy - its history and importance
  • Overview of the organization's history and how it has benefited from philanthropy
  • Current mission, vision and purpose of the organization
  • Brief discussion of financials and finance issues (more complete for members of the leadership board)
  • Overview of what volunteers can expect from staff
  • Overview of what staff expects from volunteers
  • Opportunities for specific involvement by individuals/basic job descriptions
  • How volunteer assignments are made
  • Requirement for more detailed training depending on volunteer role

Additional training needs to be provided to volunteers specific to the role(s) they play for the organization.  This could include training about:

  • An overview of fundraising as a process of cultivation, relationships, and acknowledgement, with specific emphasis according to their roles on campaign types, e.g. overview and volunteer roles in annual, capital and planned giving campaigns.
  • Overview of case statement, campaign plans, etc.
  • Cultivation of prospects - identifying and then talking with them about the organization
  • Solicitation of prospects - identifying and obtaining contributions
  • Relationship-building with prospects and donors
  • Connecting prospects/donors to the organization
  • Maintaining relationships with prospects/donors
  • Leadership development
  • An overview of governance roles (more of this for board/committee members)
  • The volunteers' advocacy role: that of "public" spokesperson, promoting the organization to their contacts and communities (not the organization's official spokesperson)
  • How donors, volunteers and leaders are appropriately acknowledged

You can read more about motivating and training volunteers as well as other interesting fundraising topics from the AFP Resource Center Hot Topic pages at This article was adapted from the AFP Hot Topic: Boards and Volunteers.

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