apple Planning and Motivation

“Being a literacy volunteer is a two-way street. You get back every bit as much as you give and possibly more.” (A literacy volunteer)


Volunteer involvement does not just happen. You must put sufficient time and energy into planning. Planning for volunteer roles and how you are going to recruit, train, supervise and support them is a critical but often overlooked step. Part of the planning process should involve looking at what volunteers do for your agency now and what they could do in the future. How and in what capacity you involve volunteers in your organization should form an integral part of your organization’s planning process.

The following questions could be asked:

  • What roles do volunteers play in your literacy agency?
  • What roles would you like them to play?
  • How many volunteers do you need?
  • How many volunteers can you effectively support given staff time and resources available?
  • Do you have the resources in place to recruit, train, supervise and support your volunteers?
  • Are you making the best use of the time and skills of your volunteers?
  • How can your agency adapt to and benefit from the changing volunteer environment?

It is also essential to assess how many volunteers can be successfully managed and supported in your agency. We know from CLO’s survey that a small number of paid staff typically manage a large group of volunteers. In fact, in the average community literacy agency, there are 3.4 paid staff and 57 volunteers.

As you plan for volunteer involvement in your agency, it is important to remember that volunteers are not “free”. Typically the following volunteer management costs are incurred: training; staff support; resources; screening; evaluation; tracking; office supplies; recruitment costs; travel; recognition costs; etc.

Helpful Resources for Planning for Volunteer

A few years ago CLO held discussions with volunteers and program staff from across the province. This valuable information was used to develop Community Literacy of Ontario’s Quality Standard on
Program – Volunteer Relations
. Use of the standard is purely voluntary. It can, however, provide ideas and information about planning for volunteer involvement in your literacy agency. Click here to view the full standard with suggested features and evidence:

The Mayo Volunteer Centre in Ireland has written a useful article that with some tips to think about when you are creating a new volunteer position or revising an existing one. You can find this article here.

You can also find more information about planning for volunteer involvement at another Irish site:

The Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement” was created by Volunteer Canada to help organizations discuss and plan for how their volunteers are engaged and supported. You can access it here:

CLO’s “Smartsteps to Organizational Excellence” has an excellent chapter on assessing organizational capacity. This includes a section on volunteers.SmartSteps is available at:

Volunteer Motivators

Thanks to Community Literacy of Ontario’s survey, we now know some of the main reasons people are motivated to volunteer for literacy. When asked, “What encouraged you to volunteer for literacy?” here is what literacy volunteers had to say:

  • 91% – An opportunity to make a difference in the life of another person
  • 72% – An opportunity to increase literacy skills in my community
  • 64% – A warm and encouraging atmosphere
  • 57% – An opportunity to meet new people/ social interaction
  • 54% – Flexible hours
  • 51% – An opportunity to learn new skills
  • 44% – Training
  • 23% – The opportunity to build my job skills and bolster my resume

The above motivators reflect overall Canadian trends in the 2000 National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating. In this national survey the top reasons for volunteering were:

  • To help a cause they believed in
  • To put their skills and experience to use
  • To support a cause that has directly or indirectly affected them
  • To explore and develop their strengths
  • To fulfill religious beliefs
  • To support an organization that a friend or family member also supports
  • To improve employment opportunities. (Source:

Do you know what motivates volunteers in your organization? Knowing some of the main reasons people volunteer for literacy should help you plan how to recruit them. In order to increase your chances of success, your recruitment strategies and materials should directly appeal to the things that would typically motivate your literacy volunteers!

Questions and Activities for Reflection

  1. How do you determine how many volunteers you can realistically support in your agency?
  2. How do you plan for volunteer involvement in your agency?
  3. What motivates the volunteers in your agency?
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