5 Simple Ways to Improve Volunteer Training

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My wife and I recently attended a volunteer orientation at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, which (at 14,673 acres) bills itself as “largest privately held contiguous forest block dedicated to conservation and education in the Eastern United States.” Since Boy Scout troops across the country will soon be welcoming legions of graduating Webelos Scouts and their parents–each a potential leader–I immediately began thinking about how Bernheim’s orientation compares with what most troops do.

Here are my five takeaways:

  • Orient early and often. Bernheim holds quarterly, two-hour volunteer orientations, which it advertises on its website, through social media, and in its newsletters. Everyone is invited and no one is pressure to sign on the dotted line.
  • Assume nothing. Although many of the people in our group had been visiting Bernheim for years, the volunteer coordinator assumed nothing. She started with the history and purpose of the organization, then gave overviews of all the departments, and then talked about volunteer policies.
  • Kill a few trees. Everyone who attended our orientation received a professional-looking pocket folder with handouts on every topic discussed during the meeting. Tucked inside was the volunteer coordinator’s business card, making it easy for people to follow up afterwards.
  • Involve your audience. Orientations can feel like mere data dumps. Early in the session, we did two icebreakers that made the session more interactive. First, someone drew a letter from a box, and participants had two minutes to list words describing themselves that started with that letter. Second, we formed groups of four people and tried to reassemble Bernheim’s vision statement, which had been cut into blocks of 1, 2, or 3 words. (This was a smart way to teach the vision statement.)
  • Close the sale. The last order of business was the chance to sign up to serve in various departments. The volunteer coordinator simply laid out a series of sign-up sheets and encouraged people to put their names and contact information on whichever sheets interested them. This didn’t mean people were making a firm commitment–or that they would be accepted. Instead, staff members who oversee the various departments will follow up later to actually place volunteers in their positions and to go over details specific to those positions.

Now, you may think your potential volunteers would never devote two hours to learning about Scouting and your troop. If so, you might ask yourself whether someone unwilling to attend an orientation is someone you want working with your troop.


Need more great troop leadership ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

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