•	Volunteer Motives

As part of CLO’s Value Added research people were asked to identify the reasons they first became involved as volunteers in Ontario’s community literacy agencies, as well as the reasons they have remain involved over time. The chart below shows how reported motives for volunteering shifted over time.

Why Literacy Volunteers Begin vs. Reasons they Continue Volunteering

Chart of reported motives for volunteering shifted over time - Why Literacy Volunteers Begin vs. Reasons they Continue Volunteering

Clearly the top reasons literacy volunteers cite for volunteering and remaining active as volunteers have to do with making a difference – either in their communities or in the lives of individuals. Bringing success stories to the forefront and making sure volunteers see the positive results of their efforts will give these volunteers a sense of accomplishment.

The data also suggests that for a large number of literacy volunteers relational issues are important, and that this aspect becomes more important to people after they start volunteering. These are your people who thrive on a positive atmosphere, and social interactions within the agency. Providing encouragement and opportunities to gather socially motivates this group.

Three additional motives were identified by more than 50% of the respondents as reasons they continued to volunteer. They are:

  • I feel supported by program staff (72%)
  • I enjoy the challenge offered by my volunteer work (68%) and
  • I am growing personally (55%)

The frequency of these responses suggests that although opportunities for personal growth may not initially influence a person’s decision to begin volunteering, these relational and personal growth opportunities may well influence a volunteer’s decision to remain - another reason to keep ongoing training and retention efforts in mind.

Four Volunteer Motivators
In addition to understanding the motives that bring people to your organization, it is useful to have a framework for understand the way different motivators will encourage different people to stay.  In her training kit Recognizing Volunteers: Right from the Start, Nan Hawthorne offers one possible framework to work with. She identifies the following four types of volunteers and the kind of recognition that is meaningful to them.


This group of people like:

  • being recognized for their skills and accomplishments
  • seeing their achievements identified
  • having others see the results of their efforts

They might appreciate:

  • letters of reference
  • certificates of accomplishment
  • picture and write-up on the bulletin board


This group of  people like:

  • seeing evidence of their work
  • practical , tangible projects
  • seeing what they have accomplished

They might appreciate:

  • certificates upon completion of training
  • reward upon completion of project


These people like:

  • being part of a group and not working alone
  • the social aspects of the programs

They might appreciate:

  • social gatherings
  • organizational pins, mugs, posters, etc.
  • recognition of length of service

Power / Influence

These people like:

  • influencing others
  • showing others what they know
  • filling positions where they are involved with making decisions, and training

They might appreciate:

  • training opportunities
  • invitations to new volunteer opportunities

In addition to these four categories, volunteer coordinators should also give careful thought to whether or not particular volunteers would prefer to be acknowledged publicly, or in a more private way. Not everyone is comfortable being centered out in a crowd.

Finally, CLO's research into practitioner training in Ontario, many volunteers reported that they were less concerned with individual recognition. They indicated more value in highlighting the collective importance of literacy volunteers in their community and throughout Ontario!

In recognition of this desire, one of CLO’s goals for our “Literacy Volunteers: Value Added” website is to highlight and celebrate the collective contributions of Ontario’s literacy volunteers!