Idea 1: Know why your organization wants volunteers.

The first step in planning to work with volunteers is to look at the goals and strategies of your organization. Does working with volunteers make sense for what your organization does or wants to do, and how it wants to operate?

If working with volunteers enhances the work of your organization, identify the roles where volunteers are needed. In literacy organizations, volunteer tutors often come to mind. But there are a number of other positions that volunteers can fill, including board members, fund raisers, and clerical help. While many positions may be long term, there are also volunteers needed for short term assignments such as helping at events. For each role, describe the skills and characteristics required.

Voices from the field:

  • Ensure you have meaningful volunteer positions within your organization for the volunteers you recruit.
  • Have a clear idea of what you want volunteers to do.
  • You need to be clear so that you can make job descriptions clear.
  • Why volunteers?
    • to connect needs in the community with skills in the community. We wouldn’t have the capacity or skill base within our staff to offer one on one tutoring to the number of people accessing our adult tutoring program. Our community has a wealth of skills that people are willing to share.
    • to create opportunities for one on one work (adult tutoring, reading with kids in school etc.) Sometimes the biggest thing needed is time. Volunteers are willing to give time.- some of our community goals are around creating a culture of learning and making literacy visible in our community. The more people involved and the more levels they are involved on, the more this is created in our community.
    • to create a place for everyone who wants to participate. We have volunteers working with adults, with school students, managing book boxes in the community, labeling and sorting books. Finding a place for everyone creates the culture.
  • We can’t run a program like ours without volunteers. We do not have the staff hours to help all the learners we have coming through our program.

To learn more:

Barrie Literacy Council. (2007). Volunteer handbook. Retrieved from
» This handbook outlines the various positions that volunteers can fill in its organization.

Fader, S. (2010). 365 ideas for recruiting, retaining, motivating and rewarding your volunteers: a complete guide for nonprofit organizations. Ocala, Fla.: Atlantic Publishing Group.
» Includes a chapter on volunteers and fundraising.

MacDonald, R. & Cosburn, J. (2005). Literacy volunteers: value added toolkit. Barrie, Ont.: Community Literacy Ontario.
» The section on planning for volunteer management includes tools to help determine the positions volunteers will play in an organization, based on organization needs.

Volunteer Canada. (2012). The Canadian code for volunteer involvement: values, guiding principles and standards of practice. Retrieved from
» This resource is designed to provide a framework for discussing the role and relevance of volunteer involvement. Includes values for volunteer involvement and principles for volunteer involvement.

Last updated: November 12, 2015