5 Things I Learned About Training & Development Over 5 Years of Volunteering

150 150 Ellen Ensher
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By Daniel Perez


Last June marked my fifth year serving on the Board of Directors of the Alhambra American Little League, a non-profit organization providing a baseball, softball, and T-Ball programs for over 300 children in the San Gabriel Valley.  The league is run entirely by a volunteer Board of Directors, elected each year by the parents of the players. Serving on the Board yielded a surprising number of insights regarding professional development.  These are five things I have learned over the years that can give an insight into the volunteering world and inform training & development.


  1. No matter what title you have, you’re there to be of service.

I’ve held the titles of Secretary, Registration Coordinator, Information Officer, and others during my time at AALL, and I sometimes catch myself letting the titles go to my head.  I’ve certainly seen my fellow Board Members embark on some power trips. Before the politics start approaching Emmy-worthy drama series levels, take a step back and remember why you’re there: to create the best experiences for the players and their families.  In professional training environments, I’ve used this experience to remind myself that I am not expected to know everything; often telling my clients what I know as well as what I don’t know lends to especially successful co-collaborative spaces.  Hopefully you’re volunteering/working to better serve the community/business, and feel free to remind yourself (and others, if you feel comfortable) of that as often as you need to do so.


  1. Prioritizing sucks.

In the five years I’ve been on the Board, I’ve been in school full time (one year as a senior in high school and soon-to-be four years at university), working at least 20 hours a week, and was involved in extra-curricular activities on campus. Study for an exam or spend a couple hours posting the baseball game schedule? Easy decision, right? Not for me.  Balancing class/work commitments with Little League responsibilities was tough. It was surprisingly difficult to convince myself that Little League volunteering had to come after my other commitments, despite the pressure to make the best program for the kids and their parents.  Don’t end up resenting your volunteer work; bite the bullet and prioritize your time. This one is easy enough to relate to training &development: you want to impart the most onto your clients as is possible during the allotted time.  Finding the balance between skimming the surface on too many topics and going in-depth on too few topics can be a major challenge for trainers, but finding that sweet spot makes all the planning worth it.


  1. Take breaks and learn to say no.

I didn’t even mention in the last paragraph allocating “me time” for self-care, whether that be sleeping (yes this is a thing!), hanging out with friends, cooking, writing, reading, etc.. It’s surprisingly easy to feel beholden to your volunteer role, but you don’t want to end up harboring resentment towards the organization or its staff/other volunteers.  Pace yourself.  Get mentally prepared to say no. It might be you saying no to a different role, an additional responsibility, an extra shift, or something else. It’s ok to say no.  In training & development contexts, make sure you aren’t overloading your clients.  Take breaks, allow time for clearing questions or folks who need for things to be repeated.  And sometimes when workshop participants ask for more information about something, the best thing to do is tell them to connect with you after the workshop or apologize for not being able to spend more time on a topic because the whole group’s needs have to be respected.


  1. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo.

Volunteers have a voice.  To rephrase: You have a voice!  Just because you’re unpaid or new to the organization doesn’t mean you can’t make a suggestion, file a complaint, or offer a dissenting opinion.  Both new and old-timer volunteers can bring fresh ideas to the team.  If the folks making the decisions reject your idea, ask why.  On the flip-side, make sure you’re listening to your clients’ needs, suggestions & complaints.  Maybe you don’t have all the information. Maybe the organization’s leaders aren’t ready for change. Don’t be discouraged. Balance your desire to serve your community with your sanity.


  1. You’re not in it for the money, so embrace your other payments.

I don’t consider myself free labor.  I’m not paid for my time in dollars or discounts; I’m paid in smiles and stories.  Once a friend told me that if I really wanted to make a difference, then I should volunteer at a homeless shelter or domestic violence center.  Without dismissing the amazing work of homeless shelters or domestic violence centers, because I’m sure I would feel humbled as hell to assist those people, I am still making a positive impact on my community through Little League volunteering.  The same goes for training & development; you’re not always going to be jazzed about a client or a training module, but if you find ways to make it impactful for you, then your clients will get more out of it than if you half-ass it.  Find your passion, so both you and your clients/co-workers/community/business/team can get as much out of your time as possible.