Creating a Successful Volunteer Training Program
When it comes to training our helpline volunteers we all seek the same result: success. How we achieve that success varies amongst centers. How can you improve your training while balancing the needs and limitations of your agency? Here are some key factors to consider when creating or transforming your training.
Selecting Prospective Volunteers
Volunteer selection is an important part of the process in order to determine if a prospective volunteer can be an effective crisis interventionist and is the right fit for your agency. Volunteer selection can be done individually or in a group setting. Identify the appropriate person/s to provide this, such as staff and/or current volunteers. Just because someone wants to volunteer on a crisis line, doesn’t always mean that they should. Protecting your agency, those we serve and the volunteer are all critical pieces to keep in mind. Identify individuals you feel believe in and can carry out your mission, possess the qualities and skills you find important and are trainable.
Choosing the right facilitator/s to provide the training is important. The facilitator/s should preferably have experience in crisis intervention, teaching, a strong knowledge of the material and familiarity with how the crisis room operates. You may want to consider offering opportunities to current volunteers to co-facilitate sessions.
Other important skills you may want to consider when selecting a facilitator:
- Ability to adapt and utilize different teaching and learning styles/techniques
- Ability to provide meaningful feedback
- Ability to identify individuals that need to discontinue the training
- Ability to debrief individuals, training can be intense and trigger individuals
- Possesses keen observation skills
- Professional, organized, punctual, represents the agency well
- Actively engages well with others
- Has a good sense of humor
Duration and Schedule
How long should training be? The duration of your training should reflect the amount of time needed to properly teach and prepare individuals. It may be tempting or more convenient to provide a shorter training, but that may not always be in your best interest. There are advantages to offering shorter and longer trainings. Shorter trainings may attract more volunteers because it is less of a time investment and they produce volunteers that are ready to take calls sooner. Longer trainings can provide more time to teach and develop volunteers and give you the opportunity to get to know each of them better. Invest the time; you are only as good as your training.
Give thought to the amount of time between trainings, to give your volunteers and instructor time to process what has been taught and keep them rejuvenated. Allowing a few days between training classes can be beneficial. As you are scheduling your training keep the calendar in mind, you may want to avoid scheduling your training too close to any holidays.
Make sure the training environment is comfortable. Important features may include:
- Comfortable temperature
- Comfortable chairs
- Good lighting
- Enough space
- Easily accessible bathrooms
Remember to cater to different learning styles and don’t be afraid to experiment. More agencies are offering courses on line, which can be convenient but may exclude those that are not computer savvy. However, don’t forget to offer some traditional courses in person because human contact is invaluable.
Asking volunteers to practice using their own past resolved crises instead of made up scenarios can be really beneficial. It offers them the opportunity to bond with the other trainees, see firsthand how the crisis intervention works and most importantly, demonstrates how hard it can be to be vulnerable and how brave our callers are to share their stories with us.
- Debrief your volunteers after every session
- Provide a balance of exercise, didactic and skill practice
- Ask volunteers to observe the crisis room and calls
- Provide opportunities for continuing education
- Send volunteers to workshops and conferences
- Keep the training and topics up to date
- Get their feedback and make changes accordingly
- Prepare them, but most importantly have fun
GraduationOnce the volunteers complete the training, don’t forget to honor them with a graduation celebration. Certificates, awards, cake and small gifts are some nice ways to honor the graduates. You may also want to consider hosting a graduation party that includes crisis line workers and other agency staff, including the CEO.