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Equipping Volunteers for Service

April 2006
By: Barbara Willsher
Equipping a volunteer begins the moment we welcome her into the center. Her first lesson is the picture we give her of the work we do and how she might become part of it. The welcome packet contains information about the center, an application, references requests, and basic governing documents. The Statement of Faith and Statement of Purpose provide the starting place for volunteer training.

Clearly stated position descriptions—including training, orientation, and in-service requirements—will help the potential volunteer assess her ability to follow through on her interest and also help the director communicate clearly her expectations of each volunteer. Including position descriptions in the welcome packet will put everyone literally on the same page and will complete the first step in equipping the volunteer.

Next, the new volunteer can be given work to do in the center while she completes her application and awaits the next formal training. In this way, we can encourage her enthusiasm and help her continue to assess what part she might play in the work of the center. During this time, she becomes familiar with the flow-through of the center and meets other volunteers and staff members. By the time training is held, the new recruit often feels as though she has completed most of her basic training and is anxious to move ahead. Some people may decide that peer counseling is not their calling long before formal training is undertaken.

To encourage participation in training, sessions should be accessible to potential volunteers. While center staff may find it more convenient to hold training during morning or afternoon hours, volunteers may find daytime difficult unless we can provide a nursery. While it may be more convenient for our staff to train one evening each week for six weeks, that initial commitment may seem daunting to a potential volunteer. Many centers have found that four weeknights and a full Saturday work best for new volunteers without being too stressful on the staff.

In addition to making training accessible to volunteers, we can structure it to allow times of fellowship. As a show of appreciation for the new volunteers, the center should provide light snacks for the break and lunch for an all-day session. Information given in training will be "old hat" to the trainer, but much of it can be expected to be new, and even surprising, to new volunteers. Therefore, the training sessions need to include time for volunteers to ask questions and to debrief.


The formal training manuals used in most centers provide the assurance that all of the essentials will be covered during training. However, manuals are not intended to be read to a class. We will honor our volunteers more and have more effective training sessions, if we can assign chapters to be read in advance and spend class time in discussion, which can be greatly enhanced by adding illustrations and client stories from our own center.

Once training is complete, each center will have its own orientation program to gradually move the newly trained volunteer toward independence as a counselor. As with any training, the orientation covers a specific time period and has specific requirements. A senior counselor can be assigned to help the new volunteer ease into her role and to provide peer support. The director or other staff person will need to make herself available to provide feedback and answer questions.

The last component of equipping the volunteer is an in-service program that is designed to help the volunteer increase her knowledge beyond the basics and to help her improve her skills. Ideally the paid and volunteer staff plans the content of each in-service to meet continuing training needs of the volunteers. Experts from outside the ministry can provide information on topics such as adoption and substance abuse. Complementary ministries and community services can be invited to present their work. Some time during each in-service should be set aside for prayer as well as for evaluation and feedback.

Once fully equipped, the volunteer is prepared for successful ministry. We can welcome her as a full member of the center staff and confidently entrust her with the work of saving and changing lives.

Barbara Willsher has been involved in pro-life work for 21 years. She has served on the founding boards of three centers and has been Director and Director of Development. Currently Barbara is Board President of Assist Pregnancy Care Center. She and her husband reside in Woodbridge, Virginia, with their six children. She can be reached at

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