Last Updated:

September 23, 2022

How to Train Volunteers for Your Nonprofit in 7 Steps


September 16, 2022

How to Train Volunteers for Your Nonprofit in 7 Steps

For many nonprofits, volunteers are the lifeblood of their organization. There’s no question about it—volunteers provide critical support to nonprofits in countless ways.

You might be wondering: how do I train volunteers to work at my organization? What does nonprofit volunteer training look like?

Don’t stress! We are going to explain why training your nonprofit’s volunteers is important. We’re even going to give you 7 steps to train your volunteers properly. Keep reading, and you’ll learn everything you need to know about training volunteers for your nonprofit!

7 Free Nonprofit Volunteer Application Templates

What is Nonprofit Volunteer Training?


Once you have recruited volunteers for your nonprofit, you have to train them!

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for nonprofit volunteer training. The training and onboarding programs will look different for every nonprofit depending on your organization and the type of work you’re asking your volunteers to do.

For most organizations, volunteer training is part of the volunteer onboarding process; its purpose is to help volunteers successfully function in their volunteer roles.

Volunteer training should equip volunteers with the knowledge they need to complete their volunteer tasks effectively. Volunteer training should cover topics such as:

  • Responsibilities, expectations, and key tasks
  • Tools and resources that will be useful on the job
  • Feedback mechanisms, such as volunteer reviews and surveys
  • Policies and procedures such as timekeeping, dress code, etc.

Why is Training Volunteers for Your Nonprofit Important?


Because volunteers are such a critical component of many nonprofit organizations, it’s important to make sure that they have a positive volunteer experience! A key way to ensure this is by having a well-thought-out training and onboarding program.

An effective volunteer training and onboarding program for your volunteers will help them understand your organization, their roles and responsibilities, and the potential impact they will have. It will also help them feel empowered and keep them engaged with your organization long-term.

Training your volunteers will also help them perform their duties well by setting clear expectations at the start and providing them with all the tools and resources they need.

Volunteer training and onboarding are also important from a legal perspective. Ensuring that all volunteers are vetted, have relevant clearances and background checks, and are trained on the specifics of their role will ensure that they can operate safely and legally.

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7 Steps to Train Volunteers for Your Nonprofit

1. Design & Plan your Volunteer Onboarding Program

Planning is the first piece of creating an effective volunteer training and onboarding program. During this step, you want to consider things such as:

  • Budget: Establishing a budget will help you allocate financial and human resources to the training of your nonprofit’s volunteers. You want to consider if you’ll need to pay for things like refreshments, rented space or equipment, or printed training materials.
  • Location & Space Needs: Your space needs will vary depending on how many volunteers you will be training at once. If you don’t have space available to you for free, you might need to consider renting space to train your volunteers. You could also consider going digital! These are important things to consider before developing your training materials and scheduling your training.
  • Time: Your volunteers are donating their time to you, so you want to make sure to consider the amount of time you will require of them for training and onboarding. You want to make sure they are adequately prepared for their roles, but you also want to be sure that you don’t require too much of their time. It’s a delicate balance!
  • Content: What content needs to be included in your volunteer training? Think about content related to your policies and procedures, safety, role-specific content, and information about your organization’s mission and vision.
  • Teaching Methods: Consider how you will deliver your training—will it be in-person or virtual? Also, think about the tools you will use to support your training. Adults have varied methods of learning and retaining information, typically falling into three categories: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (hands-on) learners.

This means that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to training volunteers. You will need to integrate teaching methods to reach all three categories of learners, regardless of whether you are training your volunteers virtually or in person.

2. Develop a Volunteer Training Manual

A volunteer training manual serves as a guide for volunteers during their onboarding process and can be used as a reference for the duration of their time volunteering for your nonprofit.

A volunteer training manual should include organizational policies and procedures, your organization’s mission statement, a history of your nonprofit, a list of the services you provide, a directory of important contacts and phone numbers, evaluation procedures, and safety procedures.

Whoever conducts your volunteer training and onboarding should refer to the manual throughout the training process so that volunteers become comfortable with it. To make it accessible, you can provide volunteers with a hard copy during training and store the manual in a digital location for future reference.

Check out this example of a volunteer training manual from the Johns Hopkins Hospital!

3. Determine Staff Roles & Responsibilities

You need to determine who from your organization will lead your volunteer training and onboarding program. If you do not have a dedicated Volunteer Manager, this role might fall to your chief executive or another leadership team member.

Regardless of who leads the volunteer onboarding and training, it is important that they are familiar with your volunteer program, policies and procedures, and the volunteer handbook.

This staff person should also be comfortable serving as the main point of contact for volunteers at your organization so that volunteers can contact them with questions after their training has ended.

4. Establish a Volunteer Mentorship Program

If your organization has dedicated, long-term volunteers, you might want to consider launching a volunteer mentorship program. Pairing up an established volunteer with a newer volunteer will allow them to interact and build a relationship.

Your more tenured volunteers will be able to advocate on behalf of your organization and help the newer volunteers navigate their roles and responsibilities.

5. Conduct Your Training

Once you are prepared, it’s time to conduct your volunteer training and onboarding! This training has the opportunity to be a transformational opportunity for your volunteers; it can help them feel connected to your organization and mission and empowered to serve on behalf of your nonprofit.

Although your training will be unique to your nonprofit, make sure to cover the following topics:

  • Mission & vision
  • Relevant policies and procedures (timekeeping, attendance, safety information, etc.)
  • Supervision and feedback processes
  • Role-specific content

6. Follow-Up!

Your work isn’t done when the training is over! It is important to follow up with volunteers once their training and onboarding are completed.

Volunteer engagement is an ongoing process and can certainly occur in tandem with volunteer training and onboarding.

After the volunteer training is over, consider writing your volunteers a thank-you note for attending the training session. You can also offer them opportunities for further training if there are things that they feel unclear about or if there are additional learning opportunities available.

Lastly, ask for feedback on your training program! Find out what was effective, what worked, and what didn’t. Show your volunteers that you are committed to continuous improvement and that their feedback is of value to your nonprofit.

7. Supervise & Evaluate your Volunteers

If you want your volunteers to be lifelong supporters of your nonprofit, you have to continue to engage with them after their training has ended. Providing supervision and support to your volunteers will show them they are just as valued as your paid staff.

It’s also essential to evaluate your volunteers! Communicate your observations and feedback, and consider implementing a formal evaluation mechanism. Even better—allow your volunteers to evaluate their volunteer experience too! Two-way communication and transparency will build trust, and when volunteers trust you, they are more likely to continue to give their time and talents to your cause.

These seven steps will help you develop and execute a successful volunteer training program that engages your volunteers beyond their initial orientation with your nonprofit.

If you're looking to start building your own nonprofit epmloyee handbook, get started quickly by using our Nonprofit Employee Handbook Template. The template is made in Canva, an an easy-to-use creative design tool. You can jump right in, change colors, add your logo, and adjust the copy so it fits your brand.Why start from scratch when you can use one of our templates?

Wrapping Up: How to Train Volunteers for Your Nonprofit in 7 Steps


In summary, volunteers are incredibly important to many nonprofits. For volunteers to be effective and feel empowered, they need to be appropriately trained. Thorough volunteer training that sets volunteers up for success is equally important for volunteers and your nonprofit alike.

When you’re ready to train volunteers, you must develop a training program and a corresponding volunteer training handbook. Keep in mind that adults learn in a lot of different ways, so your training methods should be varied to meet each of the three main adult learning styles.

When the training is over, your work isn’t done! Follow up with your volunteers, thank them, and be sure to provide continued support and avenues for feedback.

If you follow these steps, you will be well on your way to training volunteers for your nonprofit in no time!

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