This program manager earns the apple for her volunteer training methods
Of all of the phases of volunteer management that I blog about: marketing, screening, supervision, leadership – there is one thing I have not touched upon, and that’s training.
So I decided that the time had come to explore what’s important in a volunteer training program, and for that I turned to Amia Barrows.
Amia is the Program Manager for a sister program to my former workplace – Newport News CASA. She also sits on the National CASA Association’s Curriculum Development Committee, where she helped create an innovative flex training program. Amia has been active in the CASA world for over 11 years: this woman lives and breathes quality volunteer management.
Volunteers Who Can Meet the Mission
Knowing that Amia played a part in developing a nationally standardized training curriculum, I anticipated our conversation to be all about adult learning principles and educational techniques. After all, this is training – how do we help volunteers learn best? Amia is plenty competent in those areas, but that’s not what we discussed. Instead, she focused on using training as an opportunity to get to know the volunteer as a person and figure out how she can best develop that person into a top-notch child advocate.
She asks herself, “Will the skill set of these volunteers inspire better outcomes for children?” — tying training right back to her program’s mission.
For starters, Amia sees her volunteers as highly coachable. She occasionally dismisses a volunteer from training if she does not like the way that person interacts with classmates or herself – poor interpersonal skills are a non-starter when working with child welfare professionals or families in crisis.
Finding Teachable Moments
Otherwise, Amia treats the issues that arise in training as supervision alerts or as teachable moments.
For example, if a volunteer is not turning in background checks or assignments on time, Amia knows she will supervise that volunteer with a lot of reminders and reviewing of expectations to stay on top of the deliverables.
The teachable moments start to surface when training shifts to case studies. Inevitably, the scenarios bring up limiting beliefs around highly charged topics, such as mental illness, substance abuse, or race. If a volunteer shares something inappropriate, Amia will discuss the comment within the context of advocacy, illustrating how that viewpoint might play out in a real situation.
Creating a Safe Space
This type of educating around a controversial topic is only possible if the program creates a training environment that is absolutely safe. Amia considers her training room a judgement-free zone. “I encourage the volunteers to share all points of view. It’s my job to help the group process the conversation and redirect.”
Perhaps this is the takeaway for other volunteer programs – even those that are not preparing their volunteers for such highly specialized roles. The best way to train volunteers is to create an environment that’s judgment-free, where every opinion has a place at the table.
It’s the ongoing conversation that makes each training class so interesting and the volunteers so valuable. As Amia says, “There’s never a class that does not have a new perspective.”
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Elisa Kosarin, CVA coaches, trains, and consults on volunteer management. She believes volunteers are a powerful force for change in our communities — if they are managed by volunteer engagement pros with the skills to cultivate this resource.