A quick guide to training volunteers

A quick guide to training volunteers

Training volunteers is an essential part of running a charity.

A well-trained, competent volunteer is much more likely to thrive in their role than one who lacks confidence, does not feel part of the team, and gets stressed due to lack of adequate training.

However, training volunteers is not just about making the role easier for themselves. It can also help you to manage risk effectively and minimise the chances of a claim being made against your charity.

Volunteer induction - the first step in training volunteers

You are likely to have volunteers coming from all backgrounds, so it's important to make your volunteer induction process straightforward and supportive for the new recruit.

Before they start, give them an information pack detailing the charity's mission statement, history, volunteer role description and any necessary contact information.

  • Show them around your building (if you have a permanent office space) or, if they are volunteering as a one-off for an event, show them around the designated area. Also introduce them to key people at the charity, from trustees to fellow volunteers. If necessary, set up individual meetings for them to get a better idea of what each person's role is at your organisation.
  • Spend some time talking them through policies such as service user confidentiality, IT restrictions and, most importantly, health and safety. It is likely your volunteer will be unfamiliar with accident reporting, designated first aiders or emergency routines - so make sure they are brought up to speed.

Who should train volunteers?

Deciding who runs the training programme depends largely on your situation: the amount of volunteers needing to be trained, the resources you have available, and how much training they need, to name just a few factors.

In smaller charities, the employee or volunteer who did the recruiting also tends to handle the training programme. Generally this consists of 'shadowing' a similar volunteer to learn and better understand the role they will be doing. It can also help existing volunteers feel more connected to your charity as they are playing an integral part of growing the operations.

In many ways, the best person to train employees is the person who arranges the insurance cover. Even when volunteers mean well, they can create unexpected risks for your organisation; for example, allegations of abuse against service users or allegations of fraud are high risk areas that need addressing. The person in charge of arranging the insurance cover will understand what the biggest risks facing your charity are, and what volunteers can do in their day-to-day working to avoid them.

If no-one in your organisation has time to train volunteers, you may want to consider outsourcing to someone who can run the training for you on an ad hoc basis – however, as no-one will understand your charity as well as your staff, it is usually more effective to train new recruits internally.

How to develop a training programme for volunteers

Before training commences, you need to consider what you want the volunteer to gain from it. Decide what you want to teach volunteers and what they should know by the end of the training. It is important that both the trainer and the trainees have goals, and it helps to note these down. It may be something as simple as understanding the companies health and safety policy, or something more complex such as what advice they can and cannot give to service users.

Next, decide how you will teach them: what kind of training programme do you want to give to new volunteers? Simpler tasks and the shadow system works well for smaller organisations, whilst formal classroom settings and challenging work may be advisable for larger groups.

Another option that needs to be considered is budget: you need to decide what materials you wish to use and how this will fit into your budget. You will also need to make sure all the logistics have been worked out before each session and make sure volunteers are comfortable (enough chairs and plenty of tea and biscuits!).

Protecting against volunteer risks

Once these measures have been put in place, you are likely to see numerous benefits of having well-trained, confident volunteers representing your cause. But even with a well-run training programme, your charity is likely to face a range of volunteer risks. There is, however, insurance cover available to protect your charity:

  • Professional indemnity insurance can cover against volunteers providing poor advice to service users
  • Public liability insurance can cover your charity against injury caused to a third party (such as a service user) as a result of a volunteer's negligence
  • Fidelity cover can protect your charity against loss of money or goods as a result of volunteer dishonesty

Find out more about our charity insurance, or find more quick guides on our useful information for charities page.


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