When a video complements a live orientation, the results are powerful

Volunteer Video Training - Twenty HatsI had dinner with my friend Gena the other night.  What’s great about Gena is that she has managed volunteers – she knows all about the potential of volunteers to expand an organization’s mission and effect real change — and she does a lot of volunteering herself.  So when she praised her recent experience as part of a volunteer group with DC Central Kitchen, I listened.

One of the things that impressed Gena the most was the video that her group watched before they jumped into their kitchen duties. She thought the video did a great job of training them for their volunteer role in the kitchen while introducing them to all of the great programs that the Kitchen offers.

That got me curious. Video training is an idea that gets tossed around a lot. A well-produced video has the potential to save time for busy volunteer managers, especially those who run large or understaffed programs.

But there is a downside to shifting things to video that experienced volunteer engagement pros know all too well:  when we take ourselves out of the equation, we lose an opportunity to get to know our volunteers better and strengthen ties with the program. 

So how does a program offer a video training and retain the relationship-building?

That short answer is: don’t expect your video to do all the heavy lifting.  At DC Central Kitchen at least, that’s not the goal.


Jessica Towers makes the video training experience more meaningful by sharing her story as volunteer, client, and now volunteer coordinator

I know this because I went right to the source and spoke with the nonprofit’s Volunteer Program Coordinator, Jessica Towers. Jessica had lots of great info to share.

For one thing, the video is considered a complement and not a substitute for live training.  Jessica greets every group of kitchen volunteers.  She welcomes them, walks them through their role, and then shares her own experience at DC Central Kitchen Then, she shows the video.

The video does three very important things.

  1. Before covering any training, the video educates the volunteers about ALL the programs of DC Central Kitchen and explains why their model is so effective in reducing hunger.
  2. Then, the video walks the volunteers through important safety information, demonstrating tips and techniques in the very same kitchen where the volunteers will work, and using a lot of humor to underscore the message.
  3. Finally, the video leaves the volunteers with the sense that the program has high standards for their work and values their contributions.

Ultimately, it may be Jessica’s own story that connects what’s seen in the video with the volunteers’ experience in the kitchen. That’s because Jessica began as a volunteer herself – a court ordered volunteer in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Jessica had so many community service hours to fill that DC Central Kitchen was one of the few places that could accommodate her mandate.

Through her time as a volunteer, Jessica came to see the resources of DC Central Kitchen as opportunities that might improve her life. She enrolled in the culinary training program, earned her food manager’s license and joined the staff about 8 months later.

For Jessica, volunteering is about more than spending a few hours making a difference – it’s about opening people up to a new, more powerful point of view.  “My goal is to change people’s minds about hunger and homelessness,” says Jessica. “We’re using food as a tool to empower people’s lives.”

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