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Training in the voluntary sector


I have been asked to deliver training/coaching to people from the voluntary sector and have been advised that they need training in a differnt way . Is this correct and how should I change my normal delivery format ?
Julie Ryland

8 Responses

  1. Different how? From what? Says who?
    without knowing what your normal style is, it is diffult to know how you might need to change it.
    If you did need to change it, would your advisor mean that the ‘new’ style should then apply to all training in the voluntary sector (VS)?
    What prompted the person who advised you to beleive that you need to change your style? (is the advice based on extensive knowledge of the VS? Or in depth knowledge of your training style?(
    What, if anything, have the people in the VS said to you about your approach or their prefered style of delivery?

    Those, Julie, were my thoughts on first reading your request.
    If the VS delegates are volunteers, you may well need to consider their level of energy or commitment to training.
    I have done quite a lot of work in the VS and the paid workers can find it very difficult to challenge the volunteers when they are not doing what is required in the appropriate way, often because are so grateful to have any kind of support. The (over-stretched underpaid) staff may allow or accept almost anything, even when it is clearly detrimental to the agency, the staff and the clients.
    This has implications for e.g. managing or supervising volunteers or building a good team spirit

    I always try to determine the where, what, how, why, who, who else and why, then I design training for that particular situation.

    Lastly, you may simply need make small amendments or slights adjustments to some of the specific strengths and weaknesses of the VS and how they relate to the individuals who attend the training.

    Go well

    If you would like to discuss this, you can call or email me. Contact details on

  2. Good Luck and be yourself, you will knock ’em dead.
    As someone new to the Voluntary Sector, working for ‘The Council For Voluntary Service’ (CVS) I know exactly how you are feeling.
    I have been a trainer for only 2 years and then found I needed to move from my training role within the public sector, where I had been all my working life, to working in a very new environment.
    I worried that I would need to change my style and delivery and decided to observe other trainers in different courses. Once I had done this I realised that there is no real difference.
    The only thing that I do differently is when talking about performance plans etc. where volunteers obviously do not have to do these. But as for treating them any differently then I would say DON’T. If they are good volunteers they will take on board customer service, attitude etc. and if the volunteers need a bit of a push then they are just like some people in paid employment and you need to find out what makes the individual tick.
    I hope this has been of some help and if you want to talk to me in more depth then please feel free to e-mail me.

  3. No change to your style
    As someone who has worked in, with, for and alongside the charity sector for over 10 years, I would say no – they don’t need training in a different way


    that your normal approach to training is to find out what your trainees need from the training, what the training context is and what the organisation wants to gain from the training – and then deliver your training accordingly.

    (Which is what you should be doing for ‘non-voluntary sector’ clients anyway).

    Some of my most recent training has been with mixed voluntary sector/commercial sector groups and it has worked very well.


  4. What voluntary sector?!
    You need to establish whether you are training paid staff or volunteers, or a mix of both.

    I would suggest you bring yourself up to speed with legal aspects of the voluntary sector – it is subject to every law of the land and then it has some of its own as well. For example, paid staff do not have the final say, nor are they the responsible body – management committees/trustees have legal responsibility for everything done in the name of that organisation. This may be subtle, but it does really change the power structure.
    Thirdly – the voluntary sector is a very big sector, comprises not-for-profits such as BUPA and CAMRA as well as tiny self-help groups. Your training content may vary accordingly – but your style should depend on other variables.

  5. Your format MAY need to change
    I absolutely endorse all the other comments. I joined the voluntary sector as a Learning & Development Manager 3 years ago and found that many of the aspects of my style, built up over 17 years as a training specialist, were just as valid, but I also had to take into account some fundamental differences in operational realities.

    The biggest thing for me was designing and organising training for volunteers based in 850 different sites around the UK. Many volunteers generously give a few hours a week to their chosen organisation, and have lives full of other activities the rest of the time. That means that you cannot expect them necessarily to give up a whole Wednesday, say, for a training workshop in Nottingham when they normally give 2 hours on a Friday afternoon in Penzance.

    Motivations to work can also be very different for volunteers compared to paid staff, and therefore motivations to learn, change behaviour, and take part in training can be different. You need to understand this, and the very wide variety of motivations, in order to design any training that will be successful.

    Do email me if you’d like to discuss more. I’m always happy to help others in the sector…

    Alison Lewis

  6. No change just be Sensitive
    In my experience of workng with voluntary committee members of housing associations they like to be challenged and stretched and not be given simplistic material. NCVO have a lot of stuff on working with volunteers and I think National Standards are being produced which would provide good background for you. I’m on 0141 550 7595 if you want to discuss. Rod Hunter

  7. training in vol orgs
    In my experience of training in the voluntary sector, as opposed to commercial, I have seen some differences, mainly in value-base and general attitude. As has been said, “voluntary sector” covers a very wide range of organisations and styles; and as Alison says, you need to identify whether you’re working with volunteers or paid staff.

    Probably the most important thing is to check your own assumptions about motivation etc, and spend time finding out (preferably beforehand) what real outcomes they are expecting for the time and money spent.
    And as someone else has said, work from their perspective.

    The other thing I’ve found is a resistance (which I share) to management jargon and general hype; and in some parts of the voluntary sector a resistance to what might be seen as “commercialisation” and the general influence of mammon. This means watching language and only offering principles and practices that not only make sense but can easily be seen to make sense.

  8. Differences are minimal
    I provide a training programme for voluntary, community and public sector employees involved in giving advice and information on education/training/employment to members of the public. We have put on a series of Professional Development Seminars over the past 2 years and they have been equally well received by staff from both sectors. We have managed to meet the needs of mixed groups mostly because all the staff involved are attending events that will help them improve services to their clients. The lesson we have learnt is that the training needs to be meaningful and allow participants to use the skills and knowledge directly in their jobs as soon as they have completed the learning activity. In this way I haven’t noticed any differences, except voluntary sector people seem less constrained by bureaucracy. Also, as they don’t get a lot of formal training they are always very grateful for the free courses and seminars we provide.


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