As volunteer managers, we are experts at recruitment, training, and supervision of volunteers, but we often forget education. Education can be a powerful tool for recruiting and retaining knowledgeable, committed volunteers in our organizations. Whether we work for an organization that addresses health, poverty, disabilities, animals, environment, or another cause, we can work to incorporate volunteer education into our programs. Because we know so much about the cause we serve, it’s sometimes easy to forget how little the general public might know. We need to back up to square one and provide a solid background for volunteers, as well as ongoing training throughout their volunteer position.
Education can be time-consuming—so why take the time and energy to educate your volunteers?
Educated volunteers know why they’re doing what they’re doing. One of the biggest reasons volunteers choose to quit is because they don’t know how they are making a difference. This is especially true of volunteers in roles behind the scenes, such as office work. Providing education about the cause your organization serves, and how the volunteers’ work contributes, leads to volunteers working with a clear-cut purpose.
Educated volunteers will communicate what they know to others. If volunteers are excited about what they’re doing, they will talk to others! This will spread the word about your cause, and can lead to new volunteers, funders, etc.
Educated volunteers stick around. Volunteers who are committed to the mission are more likely to stay connected with your organization and brainstorm new ways to help. We can all use those types of volunteers, can’t we?!
Educational events can also be great networking/community building opportunities. Education doesn’t have to be a lecture or a list of facts volunteers are required to read. It can be fun! Think of an educational event you could host that allows volunteers to interact and network with one another.
- Written/online materials. Your website, blog, newsletter, and social media is a great place to start. Add a few statistics, a story, or a link to an article related to your cause.
- 2. Volunteer orientations. Do you require a volunteer orientation and/or ongoing training? If so, incorporate some education about your cause into these events. For example, if your volunteers will be working at an animal shelter, include some statistics about how many animals in the community are abandoned each year or a printed article about the common causes of abandonment. If your organization serves refugees, provide some education about the country the refugees are from and some information on their culture.
- 3. Events. Be creative! Have a film screening and discussion or a guest speaker. Host a book club on a relevant book for your volunteers to attend. If your organization addresses poverty, consider a poverty simulation or a poverty dinner. The possibilities are endless!
- 4. Online tools. Using already existing online tools or resources is a great way to save your time and take advantage of what is already out there! Tap into tools such as playspent.org or browse the websites of similar organizations to see what they have put together.
Education can take time, but it is worth it. One of my favorite stories comes from a volunteer who helped remove invasive species at Warner Nature Center. The organization did such a fantastic job educating the volunteers on what plants to remove and why it was important that the volunteer started identifying and removing the species on her own during her daily walks! Let’s work together to educate and inform our volunteers about our causes. Through these means, we will contribute to creating a community knowledgeable of local needs.
Elena Ballam, Volunteer Center Program Manager