A number of years ago I was struck with a sense of clarity about the importance of good training for volunteers.  I was talking with a friend who had attended our church for many years and as far as I could tell she was jumping onto a serving team for the first time.  She wasn’t the sort of person to try and hang out along the fringe, so I thought it was interesting that it had taken her so long to land on a ministry team.

As I talked with her about volunteering she told me an interesting story.  She said she had tried to begin volunteering about 5 years earlier – she signed up and showed up ready to learn.  When she showed up they just threw her into the mix of the team.  She is a go-getter so she said she gave it a couple of weeks to try and figure things out – but eventually she felt overwhelmed because she didn’t know what she was doing.  So, she stopped showing up to serve.  And she stayed on the sidelines…for 5 years!

That conversation helped remind me of the importance of a good training experience for new volunteers.  No matter what sort of team you lead, there are a few essential elements to a good training experience:

Inspiration – New team members come your way for a variety of reasons, and you bring everyone together on one page by inspiring volunteers around the mission of the team.  People need to have vision for why the team exists.  Help your people to know why you do what you do.  The why creates context for everything.

Information – People don’t know what they don’t know.  There is a balance between “jump in and learn” and tossing all available information at a new volunteer.  Good training involves imparting timely information that new volunteers can use to begin engaging on the team.  They don’t need to understand the team inside and out just yet, but they do need a framework for how things work.

Interaction – While information feeds the mind, new volunteers also need something of tactile experience to get comfortable on the team.  Provide a training experience that allows people to try things out as practice as well as dialog with others about the team.  Interaction allows new volunteers to ask questions and begin showing the initial skillset that they bring.

Initiation – This might be one to easily overlook, but you have to give people a way to feel initiated onto the team.  Athletes experience this through profession drafts, where they are selected and then put on a hat or jersey for the new team.  Provide a moment when new volunteers can feel like you have transitioned them from outsider to team member.

One final thought on training – remember to have a clear steps that maximize engagement for new volunteers.  For more on this please refer to Three Steps for Volunteer Engagement.