Community Readiness for Economic Development: Working with Volunteers

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 880
Publication Date: June 2001
Order#: 01-031
Last Reviewed: June 2001
History: This Factsheet is one of a series of six. See also 01-033, Community Leadership, 01-035, Community Readiness Checklist, 01-037, Resolving Conflict, 01-039, Facilitating Group Processes and 01-041, Chairing and Managing Meetings.
Written by: Chuck Bokor - Community Leadership Specialist/OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Volunteer Job Description
  3. Volunteer Recruitment Planner
  4. Helpful Hints for Training Volunteers
  5. Recognizing the Efforts of Volunteers


In a Community Economic Development project it is community members who see the need, plan the program, and carry it out. A community-based approach generates more support, ownership and commitment by the community than a 'top down approach’;, which is conceived and implemented by an agency or government department in isolation.

Community Volunteers are critical to the community-based approach taken in developing a community economic development project. Volunteers make up the majority of people, and they are primarily responsible for the community and business outreach visits. Volunteer involvement has many benefits.

  • It develops grassroots support for the program.
  • It expands the capacity of the community for economic development.
  • Citizen volunteers, who have a stake in the overall health of their community, will take the program and its results seriously.
  • It reduces the overall cost of conducting the program since there are few, if any, staff to pay.
  • Local businesses being visited see the commitment of community members to help the business climate.

The Benefits of Using Volunteers for a community project are numerous. To ensure success, a good volunteer program must be well organized and managed to ensure success. Four key elements of a volunteer management process are:

  • planning and preparation
  • recruitment
  • orientation and training
  • recognition

In the Planning and Preparation stage you look at the kinds of volunteers required. Jobs are defined and lists of requirements and qualifications, and job descriptions for specific positions are developed.

Recruitment starts with a candidate list. Who do you know that might be interested and qualified to do each specific task? When the list is complete, interview the candidates and ask those qualified to be involved. Often, community groups ask for everyone and anyone to volunteer. The result of this shotgun approach is that volunteers are mismatched to the tasks, and less than ideal involvement and results are achieved.

Orientation and Training include a thorough discussion of the community economic development project: its purpose, methods and expected results. It also describes who else is involved, and what their duties and responsibilities are. Review each person’;s own job description at this point in time, along with skills training if required. For example, involve volunteer visitors in a mock business interview to help prepare them for the actual situation.

Recognition of Achievements is the finishing touch of a good community volunteer program. Occasionally, celebrating successes and accomplishments helps the group take stock of results, gives recognition where it is due, and moves the project forward to its next stages.

The Volunteer Job Description

One of the greatest sources of conflict within a volunteer program is related to expectations — not knowing what is expected, who is expected to do it, and how it was expected to be done.

A job description is a tool that helps the volunteer and the organizer better understand expectations. It contains all the essential information about the position, including:

  • job title
  • purpose
  • specific tasks, duties and responsibilities
  • results expected
  • qualifications and skills required of the position
  • training required
  • time commitment
  • relationships and reporting
  • benefits and rewards

Prepare job descriptions for every volunteer position in the program. Take them with you when you recruit a volunteer for a particular position. It will provide answers to most of the questions the candidate might have about the position.

Volunteer Recruitment Planner

A community economic development project requires many volunteers. The task of recruiting volunteers is critical to the overall success of the project. Finding volunteers may be as simple as contacting community members, organizations or entire community networks. Asking them for potential candidates may result in a significant list for you to pursue.

A Guide to the Recruitment Process

  • How many volunteers are needed?
  • Volunteers to work on implementing actions
  • Whom do you want to inform about the community economic development project, with the intent of involving them in some way?
  • What organizations and/or groups do you want to become more informed about the program?
  • Which individual do you know, or have heard about, who should be contacted?
  • Who are the "old friends" of economic or business development that you’;ve lost touch with? Do you want to reconnect with any of them?

Helpful Hints For Training Volunteers

  • Volunteers need to understand what’;s behind their efforts. Take the time to explain the program, its purpose, and their part in it.
  • Skills training can be fun! Be creative and make the session interesting.
  • People learn best when they are involved and actively participate. Keep the training hands-on and meaningful to them.
  • Draw on the experiences of the volunteers themselves to enhance discussions.
  • Use role playing to have volunteers practise specific situations.
  • Make the most of the time you have — no one likes to have his or her time wasted. Even though they are volunteers for this program, they may have many other priorities in their day.
  • Review the information you plan to present to ensure you are familiar with it and are comfortable talking about it.
  • Remember: Have Fun!

Recognizing The Efforts of Volunteers

There are hundreds of ways to thank volunteers, and to recognize their contributions to the community economic development project. Here are a few ideas to help you celebrate the accomplishments of volunteers in your project:

  • smile
  • ask for a report
  • send a thank you note
  • invite them to your planning meeting
  • be pleasant
  • provide a baby sitter
  • respect their wishes
  • provide good orientation and training
  • take the time to explain
  • ask them to help train other volunteers
  • surprise them with a project completion reception

Pins could be given to volunteers as thank you gifts. They are available from The Volunteer Centre of Ontario for a small charge.

Revised by Luna Ramkhalawansingh, Community Economic Development Unit, OMAFRA, Guelph.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300