I've been asked to train "customer service" in a local charity group. I've never met the trainees, and I only know one or two people there.

One of the procedure includes small details that I feel will help them to increase "customer" satisfaction. They are similar to "wrap the money around the receipt to ensure you won't forget to give the receipt to the customer", it is actually alright not doing them, but doing them will help the workflow and increase customer satisfaction.

Due to this being a charity group, many (if not most) of them will be volunteers. Their coordinator will introduce me as their trainer, but I don't know her, so I hope I can refrain from asking for her help on this. Since they are volunteers, I'm reluctant to suggest giving punishment (for instance, banning them from volunteering next event).

I'm expecting they will say "okay", but not actually doing them (the small details) when doing their job. The result of this training will affect my reputation as a trainer. So,

How do I communicate to the trainees to ensure they will do the small details to the best of their ability?

One of my concerns is that continuous reminding of the small details will make them upset and be seen as nagging.

The training will be conducted every several months as new volunteers come in. Volunteers are not obliged to help through every event. Not doing the aforementioned small details does not directly affect anyone, but makes them prone to mistakes, for example forget to give a receipt.

  • Are all the volunteers going to be people that want to be there? I ask because I once had some work to do with volunteers and unfortunately in that case I was not told ahead that a large percentage were there to fulfill a required number of community service hours either for school related requirement or court ordered. We are not talking real criminals here, but people sentenced for littering and such. It obviously changes how enthusiastic your group is when many are forced to be there.
    – threetimes
    Aug 26, 2017 at 5:23
  • I think yes. It is a training for a fully unpaid voluntary event, that will be held twice in a month, so I imagine there's no reason for those who don't want to be there, as they are not required to always help in the event. This training will be held every several months (don't know the exact time yet) for every batch of new volunteers.
    – Vylix
    Aug 26, 2017 at 5:29
  • If they don't do the instructed procedures, what happens? In a regular job there would be certain penalties, but as volunteers I suspect there is no penalty (nor incentive) either way. I think you should address this in your question.
    – user3169
    Aug 26, 2017 at 6:28
  • There are a host of other actions possible, such as moving personnel around to suitable work, etc., but these would be better asked on The Workplace SE.
    – user3169
    Aug 26, 2017 at 6:31
  • 1
    @user3169 because I want to touch this issue from the IPS side. If people would just be told if you don't do this you will be banned from volunteering future events, they will complain behind my back and not actually understand why these small details are important. Not doing them is actually fine, but it's kind of making them more prone to making mistakes. I'm reluctant to make some kind of punishments because it's not actually required to do that.
    – Vylix
    Aug 26, 2017 at 6:59

4 Answers 4


That's a tricky situation to be in. I was in your shoes, supervising 30 to 40, all volunteer helpers, following Hurricane Andrew in South Florida. (1989/1990?)

What I found most effective was to remind them, in many, many different ways, what the results of their actions would be on the receiving end.

For example, putting ONE can opener into a case of canned beans would not be as useful as a case of beans AND a case of can openers in a single shipment.

Try to get your volunteers to put themselves in the position of the customer/recipient as often as possible. There are so many situation-specific ways to do this that an impression of "nagging" can be avoided.

  • Can you give an example of ways to remind them? I'm kinda a direct person when it involves efficiency and effectiveness.
    – Vylix
    Aug 27, 2017 at 3:19

When I lead volunteers, I separate my instructions into "must" and "should". I don't mean that I separate the teaching, but for each thing that I teach, I know which it is and let that influence how and when I teach it.

If there are a lot of musts to begin with, I triage the shoulds. People aren't going to remember a ton of frontally-presented information before they ever do the task; they don't have all the context yet. The most-important shoulds are the ones that significantly affect the customers (like giving the right change) or make the job significantly easier (like addressing all the envelopes first and then stamping them all, as opposed to addressing and stamping each one together).

When presenting information, I make the musts clear ("do this") and cast the shoulds as helpful tips ("most people find it easier to do it this way", "it'll be much faster if you do this", etc). Don't be ambiguous: if there's something you want people to do all the time, present it as a must. I tell people that we'll learn some helpful tips along the way and if they have questions, please ask. People learn at different speeds, so if someone's picking it up quickly, don't hold that person back from learning the helpful tips -- but don't do it at the expense of the people who are still learning the basics.

Sometimes the importance depends on the situation. For example, when I'm working with volunteers to prepare a large meal, some dishes require that you add ingredients quickly, so you need to have everything ready and right there next to the pan. So I'll say something like "for this dish you need to add everything within a couple minutes, so measure everything out and put it next to the stove before you start heating the oil -- you don't want to be running around the kitchen looking for the garlic while your onions are overcooking. That's a good idea in general -- make sure you have all your ingredients before you start. It'll save you time in the end and mean less waste." What I just did was to teach a must for this specific context and a general should at the same time.

Finally, remember that volunteers are not homogenous. Some learn more quickly than others, and some are better suited for some tasks than for others. While the training you give is aimed at the group, have a plan for individual coaching too. If you have control over task assignment, try to match volunteers with tasks that suit what you've seen of their abilities, and keep an eye out for people who are having trouble or seem to be bored. An unwritten goal of volunteer training is keeping volunteers.


I would use a two step process.

The first is general, informational training. That is, teach everyone the "information" so that everyone knows what to do. Most will probably do this, a few won't.

The second, is persuasion. That is, take aside the few that don't follow instructions, and try to persuade them to do so, by demonstrating the impact of wrapping and not wrapping the money in the correct way. Some may need extra help, or at least motivation, to do this properly.

In a profit situation, there would be a third step, weeding out or firing people that don't follow instructions. But this is a volunteer, non-profit situation, so you level of tolerance should be higher. If you have the leeway, "volunteer" not to ask these people to volunteer. But in many situations, you may need all the volunteers you can get, even if they aren't very good.

  • I'm thinking of making an example of "mistake", when (or after) it happened. Similar to "Yesterday there's a batch of shipped bottles missing straws. Now, that can be avoided if we put the straws before putting in the bottles, like we learned in the training before." Is it a good idea?
    – Vylix
    Aug 27, 2017 at 3:23

The answer is in monitoring (which, where I come from is a bit of a dirty word, but that's a story for another time).

Watch over people, say nothing if they do the right thing, and intervene if they don't.

Presume they didn't hear or understand you the first time, and explain it to them again. (Maybe they're just refusing, but assuming they don't understand when they're really refusing is gentler than assuming they're refusing when they really don't understand.)

If it happens again (same person), kick it up a notch. Let them know you expect more careful work from them.

Keep track of who did what and on what dates.

Keep such interactions individual; don't chastise the group (unless a lot of people are making the same mistake).

Don't try to correct everyone's behavior in one big lecture; but perhaps a refresher (scheduled and made known in advance) would be occaisionally appropriate.

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