Many nonprofit organizations struggle with recruiting, training, and retaining their volunteer base. We have found that automating the onboarding process using a learning management system (LMS) costs less and is more effective than trying to onboard volunteers on site. The case study outlined in this article illustrates a model Arizona Humane Society created in partnership with TraCorp, and it can be applied by any nonprofit organization to:
- Boost volunteer engagement.
- Reduce training costs associated with instructor-led training (e.g., personnel, materials, classroom space).
- Prepare volunteers for tasks before they arrive.
- Reduce overall attrition.
Over the last 60 years, the Arizona Humane Society has served its community by improving the lives of animals and saving the lives of over 60,000 homeless pets. It has seven locations across the Phoenix metropolitan area, about 200 employees in 32 departments, and a volunteer program that it continually seeks to grow.
The Arizona Humane Society has always been a volunteer-based organization, relying on animal lovers in its community to help clean its facilities, bottle-feed kittens, read to dogs, foster pets and other mission-critical tasks. For decades, all volunteers were trained in a face-to-face classroom setting; however, this presented the following challenges:
- Recruiting volunteers proved difficult because some did not have enough time to complete on-site training in addition to their commitment of volunteering one shift per week for at least six months, or specific classes were not scheduled when they could attend.
- Instructor-led training across seven sites and 32 departments required a taxing number of resources, including personnel, materials, and classroom space.
- Sometimes, volunteers’ expectations of their service didn’t match reality, leading to high attrition rates during classroom training.
For instance, did you know most kittens are born in February? During this time, the Arizona Humane Society needs to recruit and train hundreds of volunteers to bottle-feed kittens. To many volunteers, this sounds like a fun and fulfilling opportunity to serve the community; however, the Arizona Humane Society found that the reality fell short of many volunteers’ expectations. It was more demanding than it sounded. As a result, many volunteers would quit soon after starting.
These struggles changed in early 2017 when Arizona Humane Society partnered with TraCorp to implement its first LMS. This system allowed volunteers to complete online training remotely, which significantly reduced its annual training costs. By promoting its program via social media and implementing training via a LMS, this nonprofit was able to train nearly 6,000 people online over 18 months. In fact, its employees and expanded pool of volunteers have completed over 8,000 hours of training and 7,200+ course launches. In addition, attrition was reduced since the training acted as a prequalifying filter.
The Volunteer Experience
Consider this change from a volunteer’s perspective. Instead of coming in to complete face-to-face training, volunteers enjoy a more streamlined onboarding experience from the comfort of their own homes:
- A social media advertisement invites a member of the community to volunteer at the Arizona Humane Society and provides a link to enroll in the program.
- The volunteer accesses the LMS and creates an account.
- The volunteer selects a role, such as “I Want to Become a Volunteer.”
- The volunteer is automatically assigned all coursework that is required for his or her desired role prior to the first day of service (e.g., General Orientation, Canine Handling, Code of Conduct, Becoming a Foster Volunteer).
- After completing the training, the volunteer fills out a volunteer application in the LMS.
- The volunteer shows up to the first day with realistic expectations and fully prepared to interact with staff members to complete responsibilities.
Through recruiting volunteers via social media and enabling volunteers to complete training online before their first day of service, Arizona Humane Society has been able to:
- Scale its volunteer program from the ability to train volunteers in small numbers each year to nearly 6,000 volunteers in 18 months after the LMS deployment.
- Reduce training costs by delivering learning online and eliminating the need for instructors, training facilities, and classroom materials.
- Train its volunteer base before they arrive, maximizing their onsite time to complete volunteer work instead of training.
- Reduce attrition, since volunteers have better expectations of their roles and responsibilities before their first day of volunteering.
The Model for Success
If your nonprofit organization wants to expand its volunteer program, consider engaging an experienced vendor to help you implement the same model used by the Arizona Humane Society:
- Design and launch a social media campaign to boost enrollment in the volunteer program.
- Provide a direct link for potential volunteers to sign up and complete required training online.
- Use an LMS to house all online training that learners can access and complete remotely.
- Set up the LMS so courses are automatically assigned to volunteers based on their desired roles and responsibilities.
- Offer orientation and coursework that allows volunteers to experience the performance environment and properly prepares them to succeed on their first day of training. Specifically, include scenario-based interactions that help learners visualize how they should apply key concepts and skills on the job.
- Allow volunteers to apply for specific roles and responsibilities directly in the LMS after they have completed the required training.