How Training made Champions of 10,000 Volunteers

August 30, 2022 | Activate Learning | 6 min read

According to NP Source, in the US alone, approximately 63 million people volunteer their time to a charitable cause every year. And these volunteers are often the backbone of the organizations they devote themselves to. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s estimated that volunteers contribute nearly $200 billion in value to US communities.

So, if they are so important to an organization's success, why can training them be so challenging at times?

Here's a classic scenario: a volunteer shows up for a shift, they're given credentials, a t-shirt, and a hat, a 15-minute "orientation,” and then they're set loose to dive right in. Or, a new recruit shows up, and they're handed off to an "old pro" to train "informally." And, here's another scenario: a volunteer signs up online for a shift with a charitable organization and downloads their rule book, which reads like a book of "don'ts."

But, what about the "dos"?

The truth is, it takes more than a person who is generously donating their time and a t-shirt to make a great volunteer. And, just as important, you need to create a great volunteer experience because you want them to come back again and again.

Volunteers invest their time, passion, and personal resources to make a difference. To recruit and retain the best — especially for organizations that depend on thousands of volunteers to help run the show — they deserve an investment in kind. And, that means giving them the training tools they need to be their best. The Special Olympics USA Games is a great example of doing it right.

Very Special Training Helps Volunteers #shineasone

Transforming lives, opening hearts, and encouraging a more inclusive world through the power of sport is what Special Olympics is all about. Not just for their six million global athletes with intellectual disabilities, but for over one million coaches and volunteers who show up and give their all to ensure every event is a success — and every athlete feels like a champion both on and off the field of play.

In June of this year in Orlando, nearly 5,500 athletes, coaches, and chaperones, over 132,000 spectators and families, and over 10,000 volunteers gathered for the largest Special Olympics USA Games in history. Over 99% of their workforce is volunteers — 900 on the sports committees alone. From competition support and athlete safety to operations, media, health screenings, and more, it’s critical that they have the knowledge they need to perform their job role from the get-go — especially the volunteer leaders, who spend as many as 150+ hours over nine days in addition to the hours for several months leading up to the Games.

Historically, however, training has been very last minute. Volunteers have said, “I wish I better understood my role,” and “I wish I had more time to ask questions.” For that reason, the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for the 2022 USA Games made it a priority to develop a streamlined, comprehensive training program to set clear expectations, inspire, prepare, and support their volunteers.

The LOC reached out to Skillsoft to help them to deliver an interactive and engaging online training program that would address the whole volunteer experience, from general training to targeted training for leaders. The challenge? How to ensure 10,000 individual volunteers with different roles could come together through learning to "Shine As One,” the theme of this year's games.

The new program that the USA Games team designed was around 4 Training Journeys:

  • General Volunteer Training including Safety as the top priority, Volunteer Code of Conduct, Guiding Principles, Customer Service, and how to best support athletes, their families, and spectators.
  • Protected Behavior Training, a Special Olympics Inc. learning module to understand standards of conduct, address compliance, and keep the environment safe for athletes.
  • Leadership Training to channel the energy and enthusiasm into best practices to lead their team of volunteers, set expectations, and refine leadership skills as a role model, coach, and problem solver.
  • Sports Training for an overview of each of the 19 sports played at the Games, such as venue details, volunteer roles, and general rules of the sport.

Skillsoft worked closely with TRS Volunteer Management, the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games’ volunteer platform, to recognize and track the assigned training to each volunteer based on shifts they had selected. The training focused on safety as the top priority, how to engage the athletes, customer service, what to do in various situations, and how the volunteer’s role fit into the overall experience of the athletes, families, and fans. And, athletes had input in the training; for example, how they wanted to be spoken to. Many of the modules highlighted personal insights and stories of athletes and longtime volunteers.

Here's how it worked: Each volunteer signed up through TRS; TRS connected with Percipio, Skillsoft's immersive learning platform; and the volunteer received their training assignments and had a month to complete the training which was approximately 75 minutes in total. Cheat sheets were accessible for printing to keep on hand during shifts. And a Games app was developed for quick reference, scheduling and more, along with a new Fan Enhancement section. In the future, the online training program will be available to all Special Olympics Inc. local, national, and international programs and to future USA Games.

We reached out to Jeanne Ford, Director of Operations, 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, and Lonnie Snyder, Chief Information Officer, 2022 Special Olympics USA Games recently to chat about how the program worked for them.

Jeanne and Lonnie were both amazed by how motivated volunteers were — people went online immediately, took their training, and revisited often. Many also took other training while they were in the Percipio platform, such as “Great Leaders Must be Inclusive,” “Communicating with Customers,” and “Unconscious Bias.”

"People like getting information in multiple ways," says Lonnie, "And everyone felt their preferences were represented. We met people where they were. The training was everything you need to be successful.”

Jeanne agrees, adding, “All of the feedback we received was positive.” We heard, ‘It gave me the information I needed to do my job,’ ‘I was better prepared,’ and ‘it was really well prepared and fun.’”

“The program was a big win," she continues. "Sarah Campbell, our Skillsoft Customer Success Manager, probably has a cape in her closet. Having worked at Disney for 21 years, I thought I’d seen the best of customer service and support — but Sarah and team's ownership, expertise, and customer support ranks right up there with the best I’ve ever experienced."

Custom training enabled by Skillsoft Percipio empowered 2022 Special Olympics USA Games volunteers with the confidence to step up and "shine as one.” In turn, the athletes were free to shine themselves, supported by a team of 10,000 champions — their volunteers.

If you'd like to learn more about how training with Skillsoft can transform your volunteer workforce, reach out to request a demo today.

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