Trainings, workshops, gatherings and meetings: all are important tools that networks use to bring volunteers closer to the heart of the organisation.

But what do you do when you need to train volunteers spread all across the country but you don’t have the financial budget or carbon budget for an in-person training? You need to get creative if it’s not an option for staff to travel around to meet volunteers in the field one by one.

This is a good time to experiment with digital meeting tools.

Group Leadership 101!

In March and April 2014, an international group of volunteer leaders came together to test online volunteer training: Group Leadership 101. It was the first time Greenpeace volunteers have been offered the opportunity to develop skills in an international community using a multi-week online learning curriculum.

A screenshot from the online classroom, showing multiple participants on video and chat, and a shared whiteboard/presentation that everyone can contribute to

The classroom (Blackboard Elluminate, delivered for free to community educators via was highly interactive. Chat, voice and video, a whiteboard/shared screen, and break-out rooms were all available AND it came with an integrated website to store all training materials and upload assignments.

Each week, participants attended a 90-minute interactive online training and submitted an assignment to apply the learnings to their own group.

The objectives of the international project were:

  1. Build a learning community amongst volunteering-community leaders;
  2. Equip participants with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need to be effective as group/network leaders;
  3. Test curriculum and learn what works for training; and
  4. Increase organisational proficiency in online facilitation and training tools.

Interactive drawing in an online classroom is always good for a laugh.

The initial debrief after the course noted that these objectives were broadly achieved, though some more strongly than others. A “6 months later” survey will be circulated shortly to help measure medium-term impacts of the course.

Key practices covered by the curriculum were:

  • Setting group ‘ground rules’ or ‘norms’;
  • Building a diverse group with a united identity and purpose;
  • Structuring your group – who is a ‘member’? How do we organise teams? What is our engagement ladder?
  • Doing great 1-1 meetings with individual volunteers;
  • Facilitating excellent group meetings;
  • Conducting meaningful evaluations and measure group progress; and
  • Building a culture of sustainable activism and constant learning.

What did we achieve?

  • Fourteen leaders of local groups in five countries completed the full training course and all required assignments. (About 4 hours of work every week for 7 weeks.)
  • An additional 10 leaders participated in part of the course, but did not qualify for a certificate.
  • All of  the participants remain connected to each other via a Facebook group and strong 1-1 relationships.
  • We achieved a Net Promoter Score of +78 (a pretty high satisfaction rating from participants).
  • Volunteer coordinators in New Zealand and Canada (the countries where most participants were from) report that the practices covered in the course curriculum are now being regularly used in local groups, resulting in a more professional and united volunteer network.
  • Two of the offices involved (Brasil and Canada) are already planning to use the same technology and training methodsfor their national volunteer networks.

“Would you recommend this course to another Greenpeace group leader?”

What did we learn?

Our biggest #Fail, and also our largest learning, was about the interaction between recruitment and scheduling – especially in an international environment. Our initial recruitment target was 40 participants but only 24 individuals started the course.

Our recruitment failure was evaluated as being largely due to the lack of certainty about course schedules – especially because it was an international course spanning a 14-hour timezone difference! We imagine that for a national course, a smaller range of timezones would cause much less of a recruitment issue.

Next time, instead of recruiting first and then consulting about the best times, we would simply set the dates, choose a regular time of the week, and then recruit participants – less confusing for everyone.

A set of oher key learnings are recorded in our evaluation document here.

Despite recruitment difficulties, our time was still well-spent. about 150 staff hours were spent on organising and running the course, which resulted in 460 hours spent by volunteers in active training – and zero hours by anyone ‘in transit’ getting to a face to face venue.

What technology did we use?

The tool that we used for this course ( is not going to be the ideal tool for every online training opportunity. Every tool, whether it’s Google Hangouts, Greenpeace’s internal Video-Conference, Blackboard Elluminate, or something else, has strengths and weaknesses. The decision of which technology to use should be informed by your objectives – how many people do you want to train, over what period of time, over how many sessions? Also consider how interactive you need the tool to be.

Of course, it’s also important to remember that the planning doesn’t stop with the choice of meeting tool. You need to know how do you use that tool to it’s full advantage, and to think about how planning and facilitating and online training differs from an in-person event.

How can I learn more about Online Training?

Due to considerable interest from other NROs in the GL101 course, the Volunteering Lab is now starting up a mini-project to further investigate online trainings – both the tools and practices needed to make them work.

People who are enthusiastic to join the project can contact Anna Keenan ( We want to hear from you whether you have experience in the area that you wish to contribute or just want to learn!