From Theory to Action: New Ways Training Works for Volunteers

By Lisa Dewey
Illustrations by Diane Allison


With its proud legacy and rich traditions, Girl Scouts is anything but short of information. In training, it's tempting to want to share this great information all at once. That can enrich the experience or make it so cumbersome volunteers are discouraged from participating. The trick is to find a balance and then, if necessary, make changes.

Cindy Zwickel
Vice President of Program and Volunteer Support, Girl Scouts of Cumberland Valley in Nashville, Tenn.

Cindy tackled this challenging issue head-on by carefully and systematically scrutinizing their courses. "We brought together volunteer trainers and went through everything, distinguishing between 'need to know' and 'nice to know.' The 'need to know' material stayed; the 'nice to know' material was pulled and delivered as handouts and resource lists such as online links, books, and other reference materials," explained Cindy. "It was a great opportunity for our volunteer trainers to participate in course design. They used their years of experience and their knowledge of adult learning theory to meet the needs of today's volunteers."

As a result, course lengths were significantly reduced. For example, the initial outdoor training course decreased from six hours to three. The biggest change was the decision to completely revamp the annual Service Team Summit, which was two days long, with multiple tracks for both novices and experienced volunteers. Due to the time commitment, including travel time to council headquarters, less than half of the service units were sending participants.

In 2004, council staff took the redesigned two-hour training on the road to multiple regional meetings. Volunteers from 64 out of 77 service units received updated information. They also had the opportunity to ask questions that specifically pertained to their region.

Bev Marty
A volunteer for 15 years in Clarksville, Tenn.

Bev thought the new format was excellent. "If you've been around for a few years, information can start to become repetitive. This year we had a great refresher, found out what changed, and were done—plus it was close to home! That makes more people willing to go, and I believe training is so important. The more training you get, the more confident you feel."

Lisa Adams
Brownie Girl Scout troop leader, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Lisa, who's been a volunteer for four years, agreed. She found the regional training wonderful: "It was one Saturday, in one building. I took notes, got handouts, and left more excited than ever," she said.

"We need to make training easier for volunteers," agreed Cindy. "We need to be as accommodating as possible for what works for everyone's schedules."

Judy Muhn
Director of Adult Development and Volunteer Services, Girl Scouts of Metro Detroit

Girl Scouts of Metro Detroit is showing its versatility training 18- to 29-year-olds as STUDIO 2B advisers. The council brings the training to them, even if it means meeting with only two young women at a time.

"We developed a strategy for recruiting college students, but we knew getting them to training would be difficult given the demands on their time," Judy said. "We had to make this easy because if we didn't show we could be responsive to their needs, they would volunteer somewhere else, and not with Girl Scouts."

Beyond scheduling, developing direct training sessions presented some significant challenges. Metro Detroit revamped their entire curriculum into module components based on learning objectives or outcomes. Each component can take anywhere from 15 minutes (brief Girl Scout history) to an hour (safety). Initial training sessions are easily tailored to the situation: length of time available and volunteers' specific interests. After this, the volunteers are referred to a more standard training schedule.

Rachel Jacobs
STUDIO 2B adviser

For example, Rachel completed module components for new volunteer orientation for the Junior Girl Scout age level and STUDIO 2B. While she's waiting for a program to get started at a local middle high school in Ferndale, Mich., she's signed up for Basic Leadership, and First Aid and CPR. "I think the training is wonderful. It is hands on, comfortable, and done in a timely manner. The people who schedule the training keep in mind that the volunteers have many things going on in their lives like school, work, and even kids, and they do a good job of finding times that can work for everyone."

Miya Perkins
STUDIO 2B college-recruit adviser

Another STUDIO 2B college-recruit adviser had similar feedback. "My instructor was really great and the training was very informal and exciting," said Miya of Rochester, Mich. "I believe training is necessary for volunteers so that they are not just thrown into a meeting or situation with no knowledge about what is to happen."

When asked if the extra work to recruit and train younger women was worth it, Judy replied, "Absolutely, in light of the New Directions for Girls Ages 11–17 research. Plus, women this age bring great freshness, energy, and perspective. That's great for girls, and it's invaluable for Girl Scouting."

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Adapted from LEADER, Summer 2005. © Girl Scouts of the United States of America.