Developing Your AmeriCorps Members
The Corporation's “80/20 Rule” specifies that up to 20% of AmeriCorps members' time should be spent preparing for service and enriching their personal and professional development. A majority of the member’s development can be provided through trainings. Training is a time when a Program Director can educate members on a variety of topics and provide them with the tools necessary to be successful during their service. It is also a time when you can connect to members on more professional and personal levels.
Training is a process, not an event. It begins long before participants show up and continues until we see results in the workplace. Just because I’ve said it doesn’t mean you’ve learned it. In 451 B.C., Confucius said, “What I hear, I forget; what I see, I remember; but what I do, I understand.” The more we involve people in the learning process rather than lecture them, the better the results will be.
— Bob Pike, Bob Pike Group
Well-trained members provide high quality, high impact service and increase the value of the AmeriCorps program. Training helps members develop skills in areas that they might not be introduced to prior to AmeriCorps (e.g. effective communication, conflict resolution, diversity and inclusion, leadership, CPR/first aid, outdoor education, volunteer development, resource mobilization, partnership development, etc.). In trainings, members can learn more about the community they are serving and what National Service entails. Training can also broaden attitudes and perspectives and increase a member’s sense of empowerment, civic values and service ethic. Lastly, trainings can promote retention and a lifelong engagement in service.
Member Training Design
It is mandatory that each program maintain a Member Development system (see Systems). This system must meet minimum requirements in the areas of training content, structure, evaluation, and documentation. You may also refer to the Commission's Risk-Based Monitoring Tool Part I - Systems and Part II - Compliance for information on CNCS/CCCS expectations.
The structure, style, and content of your member training design should be mindful of your program’s needs, your member’s needs, and be tailored to the fact that your members are adult learners. The space you use for training, the learning environment, the trainer/facilitator selected, the training goal takeaways, the learning styles of your audience, and the training tone will leave an impact on everyone. All trainings must be inclusive and the Commission is available as a resource. Preparing a training should start with analyzing the budget.
The more organized the Program Director is, the more organized the trainings will be. Each member training should be planned well in advance. In the planning process, you must determine:
- Who — who will facilitate/conduct the training? who will be in the audience?
- What — what are the training goals, outcomes and/or learning objectives? what materials/tools will be necessary to conduct the training?
- Where — where will the training take place?
- When — when will the training take place?
- How — how will the training be evaluated?
All programs must document for monitoring that each training included the following elements:
- Sign-in sheet and attendance
- Game/ice breaker
- Opener (activity to create buy in)
- Learning objective
- Skills area (learning content)
- Energizer (refresher of material)
- Reflection activity
- Closer (activity to end training)
TIP: Refer to the Member Management Resources page for a link to a video about a "Wall of History" activity. This activity is used at the beginning, middle, and end of service as a reflection and team building vehicle.
Programs are responsible for ensuring that members are provided the following mandatory trainings during the program year:
- Conflict Resolution
- Diversity & Cultural Awareness
- Sexual Harassment & Ethics
- Civic Engagement
- Teamwork & Leadership
In addition, the following trainings are highly recommended for relevance to member development:
- Wellness and Stress Management. Preparing individuals for the stressors that can result from service.
- Life Skills/Money Management. Some members will be challenged by living on a limited stipend and will need tips for budgeting.
- Career Building. Creating a portfolio including resume, cover letter writing and interviewing.
- Basic First Aid/CPR. The American Red Cross can help provide a local trainer to prepare members for emergencies.
All AmeriCorps*State programs must conduct a minimum one-week member orientation. Orientation is the first training that educates your members on a variety of topics and provides them with the necessary tools to be successful during their service. Orientation is an opportunity to be creative and build teamwork through a wide range of activities and strategies. In your role as Program Director as a supervisor and mentor, orientation is an opportunity to express your expectations to members and volunteers in a professional, yet fun way. Incorporating former program members in the orientation is a great tool utilized to create member buy in. Ask other staff, colleagues with other organizations and other experts to share knowledge and best practices, also.
Orientation must cover the following:
- Your AmeriCorps program goals
- Your organization’s/legal applicant’s background including history, culture, mission, etc.
- An overview of CNCS programs including VISTA, Senior Corps and other cross streams of service
- An overview of CCCS’s role at the state level and relationship to your program
- Members’ rights and responsibilities
- Your program’s code of conduct
- Requirements under the Drug-Free Workplace Act (41 U.S.C. 701 et seq.)
- Progressive disciplinary procedures
- Suspension and termination policies
- Grievance procedures
- Sexual harassment and other non-discrimination issues
- Member benefits
- A tour of the agency and program host sites
- Inspiration — service is inspiring, and understanding the role that inspiration plays can help make the year a success. Refer to the Member Management Resources page for examples.
- A reflection on each member's reasons for choosing service
- Member self-assessment — allows you to understand the skills sets and challenges of each member and also allows members to set goals for their development
- Assurances from CNCS
- Placement site orientation
- Orientation to community. Refer to the Member Management Resources page for suggestions.
- Performance measures
- All prohibited activities listed in the 2017 Terms & Conditions for AmeriCorps State and National Grants
TIP: Helping program staff and members to understand the reason behind the AmeriCorps list of prohibited activities can provide important context that will support your program in recognizing and avoiding mistakes. AmeriCorps legislation was and continues to be celebrated for its success in garnering bi-partisan support among lawmakers, largely due to their agreement on specific activities in which AmeriCorps members will not engage. Committing as AmeriCorps programs and members to uphold this agreement is a critical contribution to ensuring continued support for the important resource AmeriCorps provides to the country through national service programming. Prohibited activities include:
- Attempting to influence legislation;
- Organizing or engaging in protests, petitions, boycotts, or strikes;
- Assisting, promoting, or deterring union organizing;
- Impairing existing contracts for services or collective bargaining agreements;
- Engaging in partisan political activities, or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office;
- Participating in, or endorsing, events or activities that are likely to include advocacy for or against political parties, political platforms, political candidates, proposed legislation, or elected officials;
- Engaging in religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of religious proselytization;
- Providing a direct benefit to—
- A business organized for profit;
- A labor union;
- A partisan political organization;
- A nonprofit organization that fails to comply with the restrictions contained in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 related to engaging in political activities or substantial amount of lobbying except that nothing in these Grant Terms & Conditions shall be construed to prevent participants from engaging in advocacy activities undertaken at their own initiative; and
- An organization engaged in the religious activities described in paragraph 3.g. above, unless CNCS assistance is not used to support those religious activities;
- Conducting a voter registration drive or using CNCS funds to conduct a voter registration drive;
- Providing abortion services or referrals for receipt of such services; and
- Such other activities as CNCS may prohibit.
Retention for Members
Retention of an AmeriCorps member begins in the interview process, when you have accurately described the member role and assessed whether the member candidate is a correct fit for that role and your program. Program Directors should be honest and up front with potential members about the commitment needs of their AmeriCorps program. Otherwise, retention for your program is challenging and both the member and program staff may feel mislead.
There are several key elements of an AmeriCorps program that, if done effectively, enhance retention, including placement, orientation, training, supervision, evaluation and recognition. At the start of service, ask what the member’s motivations for service are and then honor the time they give and contributions they make to your program throughout the service year. When members feel valued, they are likely to share positive experiences with others and possibly continue serving.
Members stay because the corps is fun, because they are valued, and because they look forward to showing up every day. Members leave when it is no longer fun, they are not valued, and they dread coming each day. It really is that simple. ~ CNCS
Data collection through assessments and evaluations are essential to provide information about your program’s retention patterns. Conducting surveys and collecting written stories from members, during and after their service, will provide insight about member experiences that will help you to keep member retention rates high.