Volunteers are without a doubt a crucial part of nonprofit organizations. Without them, furthering missions and raising awareness would be much more difficult! Having loyal and motivated volunteers as a driving force in your organization is a great way to ensure the development of your projects.
So, why not help your volunteers in return? A huge motivating factor for volunteers is to gain valuable professional experience that they can use for the rest of their lives, and put on their resumes! In fact, 23% of volunteers see the possibility of professional development as a crucial part of their volunteering.
Helping your volunteers develop these professional skills is a great way to foster the relationship between them and your organization.
We are here to give you our 6 tips to help your volunteers gain valuable professional skills. They are as follows:
- Identify what skills your volunteers are looking to gain
- Offer in-house training
- Create opportunities for your volunteers to further develop their skill set
- Foster training between volunteers
- Celebrate the achievements of your volunteers
- Offer to write a letter of recommendation
Let’s get started!
Tip 1: Identify What Skills Your Volunteers are Looking to Gain
This is an important first step! Listen carefully to your volunteers’ priorities in the opportunities they are looking for and the skills they hope to gain. Many volunteers are looking to learn new skills that they will be able to use in their professional lives.
- Teamwork. There is a huge collaborative effort between volunteers when working on a project. Volunteers can gain important knowledge like knowing how to motivate a team, find common ground, and get organized!
- Adaptability. Volunteers have the opportunity to work with all kinds of different people, which leads to a deeper understanding of others. Volunteers can gain the ability to adapt easily to different people and situations.
- Leadership. Many employers and Universities highly value leadership experience. In a volunteer setting, there are plenty of opportunities for someone to rise to the challenge and lead the team.
- Project management skills. Carrying out a project in its entirety (creation, financing, management) is a sought-after skill in the professional world. Give your volunteers the opportunity to get involved in a project start to finish!
These skills may be more obvious, but we encourage you to get to know your volunteers on a more personal level and ask them what they are hoping to learn while working with your organization! Maybe they have something quite specific in mind.
Keep track of these answers, and consult them when assigning your next projects to your volunteers! They will feel more seen and cared for, and you will create a better relationship overall.
Tip 2: Offer In-House Training
We recommend that you host a consistent and effective training program for your volunteers, so they feel prepared to take on their responsibilities. It can also be a great way to get to know them better, discover their skills, and ask questions about their goals in your organization!
Every nonprofit is different, so every training process will be a bit different, but we suggest that you include training about the basics of your organization and its mission. Let your volunteers know how and why you are pursuing your cause, why it is important, and your achievements. Next, it is important to provide role-specific training, so everyone feels comfortable in their future tasks.
It is important to note that people have different learning styles, and your volunteers are no different! This is important to consider when creating your training curriculum. According to The Balance, your volunteers will tend to fall into the following three categories:
- The Doer: This learning type is pretty straightforward- they learn by doing! A good way to start with this kind of volunteer is to provide small tasks and let them take it from there. They tend to make mistakes, but they learn from them! Doers are not afraid to make a mistake and they are usually the first ones to volunteer for a new project or challenge.
- The Analyzer: These are the volunteers that need to have all of the information and practice before doing, because they do not like making mistakes. They are unlike the doers in this sense, so we suggest giving them in-depth detail in their tasks, steps to follow, and most of all time!
- The Watcher: They learn best by watching someone perform the job they are meant to do, and imitate. It is suggested that after their basic training to pair them with more seasoned volunteers so they can learn by observing.
Understanding these three types of personalities will make it easier to personalize the training process and make your volunteers feel at ease!
When you are designing a training program or updating it, ask your current volunteers for their opinions! See what they believed worked well, what they wish they had known before starting, and potential improvements they think could be made. They will feel a part of the process and you will have the benefit of constructive feedback.
We would like to note that training should not just be a one-time thing. You should continue training throughout your volunteer’s career to make sure they are getting what they need to be successful.
We suggest that you go deeper with your volunteers! Don’t hesitate to give them feedback on what is working well and what could be improved. Give them credit for their hard work and make sure they are comfortable with their roles.
Plan regular check-ups with your volunteers to find out how they are doing and what else they may want to learn. Some volunteers are looking for more responsibilities, and this is a great time for them to express that.
Tip 3: Create Opportunities for Your Volunteers to Further Develop Their Skill Set
Now that you know what your volunteers want to learn, it's time to give them the opportunity to put it into action! It is important to create opportunities for your volunteers to dive deeper into learning their desired skills.
Even if there may not be an obvious position available for your volunteer, try to create one or even tweak their role so they are still gaining experience in their desired fields.
For example, you have a volunteer who is interested in event management. Try creating a junior manager position for them on your team that is organizing your annual fundraiser! They will gain valuable hands-on experience and foster their skills.
A big reason people volunteer is also for networking opportunities. Studies find that 15% of volunteers consider this social aspect necessary in their volunteer relationship with a nonprofit! There are plenty of opportunities for networking between volunteers, employees of your organization, and any partners you may have. We suggest you do the following to encourage networking:
- Create a LinkedIn profile for your organization where your contacts can connect with each other
- Organize meetings, events, or even just an after-work drink to create new networking opportunities
- Keep an up-to-date, accessible directory of your volunteers and employees (with permission, of course!)
Tip 4: Foster Training Between Volunteers
Another great way to create opportunities for your volunteers to learn is for them to interact with each other! They can share skills, experiences, and advice. Volunteers come from all different backgrounds and age groups, and their differences can be incredibly valuable!
Let’s say you have a couple of students in your organization that are looking to gain some accounting experience for their upcoming University course. Why not suggest that your treasury volunteer, who is a retired accountant, provide a crash-course?
Your volunteers will see that you recognize and value the skills that they have, and are helping them to create new ones!
In addition, the overall collaboration between your volunteers will improve and the natural networking process will get a boost as well.
Tip 5: Celebrate the Achievements of Your Volunteers
Like in any professional environment, showing appreciation and celebrating the achievements of others is a great way to increase overall morale, productivity, and satisfaction.
Recognizing your volunteers for their hard work will give them a level of confidence and pride in their work, which will help them develop personally and professionally.
A great way to do this is to showcase the positive impact their work has made. Did you know that 42% of volunteers say that the testimonies of the people who benefited from their help is their first source of motivation for volunteering? Let them know the incredible importance of their work.
Other small ways to celebrate your volunteers can be things like hosting volunteer appreciation events, always expressing gratitude verbally, and even giving small gifts.
There are plenty of ways to show gratitude, as long as you are creating a positive working environment for your volunteers, you are on the right track!
Tip 6: Letter of Recommendation
Pay it forward! Your volunteers do so much for your organization, taking the time to write them a letter of recommendation is a great way to thank them for all of their hard work. If at the end of your volunteer’s time with your organization they have not yet asked for one, do not hesitate to offer.
It will not show your appreciation and respect, but it can also be a huge help in their overall professional development, especially if they are young!
Some tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure you know the purpose of the letter before you start writing (ex: scholarship, employment, general, etc.)
- Always follow the standard business letter format
- Indicate your position in the organization
- Explain your experience with the person in regards to their volunteer work
- List positive skills, traits, and abilities you have noticed about the volunteer
- Specify the type of roles and responsibilities your volunteer performed
- Always proofread to avoid any spelling or grammatical errors!
There you have it! Our six best tips to help your volunteers in their professional development. Do you have any other advice? Let us know in the comments!