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How to Train Volunteers Online

Volunteers are incredible. Alongside dedicated paid staff, they keep thousands of charities running every single day, and training these volunteers is a big undertaking. Traditionally, this may have taken place in person, and during the COVID-19 pandemic swiftly moved to a similar format but presented online – perhaps via a scheduled video call. Of course, face-to-face training sessions are still very important for many volunteering roles, but have you considered using online training courses that learners can complete in their own time?

One big advantage of elearning is the scalability: plan and create a course once, then enrol as many volunteers as you like, whenever you need to. It also ensures that every volunteer has access to the same high-quality information that they can revisit as necessary; and volunteer coordinators can keep track of exactly who has completed their training (and who might need additional support) without juggling spreadsheets! Interested? Read on to find out how to make online volunteer training work for your charity.

Finding the expertise in your charity

All too often, in all sorts of organisations, the people who plan and design training programmes don’t consult those who really know where the learning gaps are. Seek out those people in your charity; they could be staff working in head office, employees in the field, long-term volunteers themselves, or indeed service users. By finding the expertise in your organisation, you can begin to design online training that will equip volunteers with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

Building online training that works

Off-the-shelf courses in standard topics are undeniably helpful, and a great start when it comes to getting volunteers up to speed. Everyone who works with your charity needs to understand the importance of compliance; depending on your organisation’s focus, volunteers may need basic GDPR training, or an understanding of how to safeguard vulnerable people. But this is just the start. Why not widen your training programme to include bespoke, step-by-step courses that make every volunteer confident in their ability to carry out the role?

Creating engaging, effective elearning doesn’t need to be difficult or time-consuming. Choose the right authoring tool, and building online courses can be a quick process without a steep learning curve. Look for a tool that has a straightforward, drag-and-drop interface and can be used in your usual browser. Nimble Author ticks all these boxes, and customers agree that it’s super easy to use.

Managing enrolments

Depending on the size of your charity, you could be training a handful of volunteers – or thousands. A straightforward system to manage enrolments onto your elearning courses is a must. If you don’t already have a Learning Management System (LMS), now’s the time to look around for one that meets your needs. You’ll need an LMS that makes it easy to enrol learners, view their results, and create reports to gain an insight into the uptake and effectiveness of your training programmes. If you have a large team of staff and volunteers to train, you’ll also want a system that facilitates multiple administrators and groups of learners.

Alternatively, you might want to go for an authoring tool and LMS that work seamlessly together. When used alongside Nimble Author, Nimble LMS allows you (or your administrators) to see exactly how each learner has responded to all interactive activities in a course, providing information about where further training could be directed. It also provides you with all the key functions you’ll need to monitor and track learners, regardless of your organisation’s size.

Widening access to technology

It can be hard enough to ensure staff who have laptops, email addresses and desks complete their online training. When you’re trying to achieve it with volunteers working in different locations, at different times, and potentially without an email address or computer at all – well, that’s a real challenge! However, there are great benefits to providing learning opportunities that can be completed by volunteers at any time. So how can you bridge this gap?

If you choose an elearning platform that works seamlessly on mobile devices and adapts to screen sizes (whether phone, tablet or desktop PC), reaching volunteers can become a lot easier. 93% of adults in the UK own a smartphone, and perhaps contrary to expectations, 83% of over-55s have one. Make it easy for volunteers to access courses on their phones, and you’ve cracked a large part of the problem. If you can make a basic tablet available to those volunteers who don’t have a smartphone, you’ll widen that access even further – and depending on the nature of your charity, you may have suitable devices on-site in volunteering locations.

Re-engaging past volunteers

Putting effort into re-engaging people who have volunteered for your charity in the past is definitely a worthwhile endeavour. You already know that they care about your cause, and have a realistic understanding of what volunteering involves. But before reaching out, you need to consider: why did they leave in the first place? For many lapsed volunteers (and in particular those in older age groups or with health conditions), the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to their involvement with charities. For others, a change in circumstances could be the cause: relocation, a new job with different hours, or caring responsibilities.

Consider carefully how you could allay concerns and be flexible to meet these past volunteers’ needs – and how providing short, accessible elearning courses could help you boost their confidence after some time away. Why not create 30-minute refresher courses on key topics for returning volunteers?

Getting started

Feeling inspired? If you’re thinking about starting an online training programme for volunteers, it might be helpful to learn about how other charities have tackled the issue. Salvation Army Trading Company Ltd (SATCoL) use Nimble to train both staff and volunteers; see how they approached their training plan and created a highly successful elearning programme. The NCVO also has some excellent advice for charities getting started with online learning.