Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) faces many of the challenges that are common to nonprofit and for-profit organizations. One particular challenge is the on-boarding of volunteer leaders in a decentralized organization. According to Sarah Clark, managing director of outreach and training at AIUSA, developing leaders is part of a greater challenge of balancing between training for current program needs and building capacity for the future.
In the past, each regional office was charged with the training and development of these volunteer leaders. This often led to inconsistent results and a lack of focus on the national level. At another time, AIUSA offered training developed by the central office with minimal regional participation. This led to a lack of buy-in and spotty use and implementation of the programs.
But AIUSA recently hit upon a collaborative development process that works well. It gathered key leaders and staff from each regional office and held a strategic planning session where they developed consensus on needs, outcomes and solutions for on-boarding leaders.
As a result, AIUSA came up with a blended approach that includes an online component and readings followed by regional workshops. Cedar Interactive was contracted to develop the online orientation program that provides core knowledge about AIUSA. Instead of just presenting a large amount of information, which can be stultifying to get through, the online orientation keeps the participants engaged in the learning, as the program poses a series of scenarios and questions that set up “teachable moments.”
At these decision points, participants are motivated to actively seek the key information in an online Reference Guide. An added benefit of this approach is that the Reference Guide can be used as needed after the online training is completed.
This e-learning orientation was used as a prerequisite to provide a common base of knowledge for new leaders and was followed by a four-hour workshop that focused on building the leadership skills necessary to carry out AIUSA’s human rights programs and campaigns. The next step is to follow up with coaching and program-specific training.
Clark commented that “by collaborating from the start in identifying needs and objectives. The regional staff realized that their differences [were] not as great as they had thought.” This process resulted in buy-in and active participation from all the regions. Most importantly, according to Clark, “it set up a model of collaborative training development, where the central office plays [a] facilitative role that we will apply to future training needs.”
AIUSA’s investment in capacity building paved the way for more specific training and implementation on current program needs.