Discussion: Training & Managing Volunteers --Welcome, Kathy Houghton!

I am excited to warmly welcome, Kathy Houghton, Executive Director of Literacy New York, to our community. Starting next Monday, Kathy will facilitate a discussion on training and managing volunteers in adult basic education programs. As you can see from Kathy's bio, she brings a wealth of experience to this important work.

What would we do without our wonderful volunteers?!

Kathy will also address how to support, train and manage volunteers during the unique circumstances we are all in currently due to the pandemic.

You are all invited to share your experiences and pose questions about your work with volunteers.

I'm looking forward to a great discussion next week!

Take care, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning CoP

Kathy's Bio:

Kathy Houghton is the Executive Director of Literacy New York.  In this position, she creates, implements, and monitors systems and procedures to ensure delivery of grant and project deliverables, and supports staff in meeting outcomes.  Prior to becoming LNY's Executive Director, she was the Director of Program Services for LNY.  She has been employed by LNY since 2007.

Ms. Houghton is also a certified trainer, and facilitates workshops and presentations locally, regionally, nationally, and virtually.  Her training certifications include many aspects of adult education including learning disabilities, reading, and writing. Ms. Houghton is a member of the US Dept of Education-supported national LINCS (Literacy Information and Communication System) training team, with specializations in Learning Disabilities, Reading, and Writing training.  She is also certified nationally to deliver Americans With Disabilities Act workshops as an ADA Training Leadership Network member.  In addition, Kathy is recognized by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) as a content trainer for TEAL (Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy) with a specialty in Writing.  


Hello Kathy, Thanks so much for being with us this week to share your expertise regarding effective ways to manage and train volunteers.

We know that volunteers teach thousands of adult learners across this country, through grassroots, community-based organizations as well as in connection with traditional adult education providers, like community colleges and adult schools.

Our volunteers are such essential contributors to our work in adult basic education!

To get us started, would you please address the following questions:

  • How do volunteer literacy organizations position themselves as a part of the solution to the issue of adult literacy?
  • What would encourage volunteer programming and support at the state level? 
  • And what are some unique strengths volunteer literacy programs can bring to the table that they can "sell" to potential partners and funders?

Take care, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning CoP

Thanks for the warm welcome, Susan!  Let me address your questions—I think they are all related:

•    How do volunteer literacy organizations position themselves as a part of the solution to the issue of adult literacy?  What would encourage volunteer programming and support at the state level? And what are some unique strengths volunteer literacy programs can bring to the table that they can "sell" to potential partners and funders?

Volunteers have been a part of adult literacy education for decades, since the formation of organizations like Laubach Literacy and Literacy Volunteers in the 50’s and 60’s.  Thousands of volunteer tutors work with thousands of adult learners every year, across this nation. But they are not always recognized as essential adult education providers, and often not funded as such.  I can share a few things we’ve learned in New York State, where community-based, volunteer-centric adult literacy organizations have access to funding directly from the NYS Education Department, through a competitive grant process. 

First, we found our niche.  Our volunteer literacy organizations (VLOs) receiving state funding are seen as effective providers to adults at the lowest literacy levels—in fact, our state contracts require that 50% of our learners are to be in NYRS (our accountability system- more on that later) Levels 1 and 2.  One to one and small group tutoring work for low level learners, and these services are not something that traditional adult education programs can typically provide. Our programs’ success with this population encourages support at the state level. 

I encourage VLOs to play to your strengths and find what it is you can provide that other programs cannot—maybe you have a great digital literacy program, or you offer successful soft skills tutoring.  Showcase your program’s unique strengths, and ‘sell’ them to potential partners and funders—including your state Department of Education.  

Speaking of showcasing and selling, data collection and accountability are important when positioning your program as part of the solution to the adult literacy problem.  In NYS, until 6 years ago, VLOs receiving NY State funding operated under the rules of the National Reporting System (NRS).  Our programs proved that they could be accountable to the state for their funding, and consistently met and surpassed state benchmarks—same as all other funded adult ed programs.  With the advent of the “new” NRS, our state recognized that the updated requirements could create an undue burden for VLOs, and created a new accountability system called New York's Reporting System-- NYRS (with benchmarks similar to the “old” NRS).  The NYRS dovetails into the NRS as learners progress up educational functioning levels, so the two systems work together-- an important aspect, as it lets VLOs work with traditional providers.  Our programs still have to comply with the rigorous demands of a formal accountability system, and show that they are a good investment of state dollars. Data collection can be a lot of work, but it gives the NY State funded VLOs stature within the adult ed system, and in their communities.  Programs have learned to make their data work for more than just their state accountability purposes as well, and are able to point to hard data when ‘selling’ to others.

So, find your strengths, have data to back up your effectiveness, and talk it up—be part of the solution. 

Hi Kathy, 

Thank you for sharing your expertise today. I second all of Susan's initial questions and would like to add one more for your consideration. 

How are programs using volunteers for remote support during this pandemic? I wonder if having volunteers operating a virtual tutoring session is possible? Have you seen any programs moving in that direction? 

I'm looking forward to learning from you through this discussion. 


Kathy Tracey

Hi, Kathy!
Yes, volunteers have been providing a lot of remote support here in NYS.  A number of the programs Literacy New York (LNY) works with had their volunteers call their students early in the pandemic, just to maintain connection and provide community information.  As it began to look like this would be longer than a couple-of-weeks event, volunteer tutors began teaching students, via videoconferencing, paper packets and phone calls, social media tools and more. I’ve personally “Zoomed” into a number of small group and one to one virtual tutoring sessions, and there is certainly teaching and learning going on!
One thing LNY did early in the pandemic was create a new module in our online tutor training system (Intake to Outcomes) called “Successful Remote Tutoring”.  It is so important for tutors to feel comfortable with remote delivery of instruction, and this module covers some of the basics around technology, lesson planning for remote delivery, etc. It is available for free to anyone who would like to access it here:

Also, I highly recommend a tutorial recently posted on LINCS called “Introduction to Zoom” from colleagues at SABES in Massachusetts that provides technical support for educators using the Zoom platform—it would be very helpful for volunteer tutors:


Since March, volunteer tutors in our network have logged thousands of hours of remote tutoring.  We received a message from an adult learner that makes it all worth it:

I am very lucky that English class online has begun. I can continue to study English following my teachers at this difficult time. I can meet my teachers and classmates again online. I am back in the learning team.

What a great team to be part of—the learning team! 

I’m sure others have information they could share about what volunteer tutors are doing in their areas—please post!  And we’ll be expanding on this topic tomorrow, addressing recruiting and training volunteers during COVID—stay tuned!


Hi Kathy Houghton,

It's inevitable that tutors will sooner or later have technology problems in working with their students, on either end, or because of Internet challenges. I wonder if you have advice based on what you have learned from helping tutors prepare for these problems or challenges. Of course you can't anticipate every kind of problem, but perhaps you have some advice about how tutors can learn to be resilient when they happen?


David J. Rosen

Hi, David!

Thanks for joining the discussion. Yes, tech problems are an issue in these days of remote delivery of instruction—for both tutors and students. Again, providing tutors with specific training for delivering instruction remotely is a necessary first step to supporting your tutors with remote tutoring. Just like we have our volunteers take tutor training in typical times, not expecting that they will show up ready to teach, we need to provide training and specifics on remote tutoring. An example of a promising practice-- one of our programs partnered with their local library and secured live Zoom webinar training for their tutors through the library system. Libraries have a charge to bring in patrons, so it is a win for both agencies.  Once tutors become confident with the technology, they are able to build confidence in their students. And don’t discount the value of having kids home—a number of our tutors have reported asking their students’ children to assist with the tech!


Tutors are great at having “back up” plans, and this will serve them well should tech troubles arise. One of our pairs on Long Island has been faithfully meeting each week, all through the shut downs, etc.  Here is what we heard from the tutor:


My adult basic literacy student and I continue our classes through use of Facetime, as my student does not have a computer nor is he computer literate. During one class his phone FaceTime was not working, so onto plan B! I pulled out the English conversation newsletter and some of the worksheets that were mailed to each of us and we proceeded on our journey together to discern the English language! It was truly a Godsend! During the days when both phones work, with each of us having the same material, classes go much smoother and easier as well! 


I have had the great pleasure of seeing this kind of commitment across our community of volunteer literacy providers.  Training and support from the volunteer literacy organization, materials that can be used flexibly, and a “can-do” attitude from both the tutor and learner have led to thousands of hours of remote instruction.

Kathy, As we know, running a volunteer literacy program is challenging in the best of times-- let alone in this time of a global pandemic. You've already addressed some issues related to the challenges of supporting volunteers during the current pandemic. Thank you for these helpful tips! Here are some additional questions for you:  

  • What are some strategies for recruiting volunteers, especially during COVID?
  • What tips and strategies can you recommend for training volunteers remotely?
  • How can programs best train volunteers who will be engaging with learners remotely? 
  • How can technology play a role?  
  • What are some strategies for retaining volunteers, especially during this pandemic? 
  • How can programs best support volunteers who are engaging with learners remotely?
  • Do you have any promising practices to share, from what's happening in programs now?

Take care, Susan 


This is such an important topic, and I am seeing some promising practices that I’m happy to share.

Volunteer Literacy Organizations (VLOs) supported by Literacy New York (LNY) have access to online tutor training, through LNY’s Intake to Outcomes training platform (https://intake-to-outcomes.teachable.com/) as a benefit of their state funding.  Online/remote activity has been key to recruiting, training, and supporting volunteer tutors in this time.  As you may know, New York State has had and continues to have some of the strictest rules around shut downs and community gatherings in any state—including shutting down VLOs early in the pandemic. We at LNY thought we’d see a dormant training platform, with little to no activity. However, to our surprise, we’ve seen 476 completed tutor training workshops on our I2O platform since March! Explore options for delivering tutor training remotely—we’ll talk more about finding resources for this later in our discussion.

 In talking with our programs, I collected a few promising practices around recruiting volunteer tutors during COVID:

  • One program reached out to people who had expressed interest in volunteering in the past, but had not followed through.  They found that, due to shut downs and stay-at home orders, these folks now had time on their hands, and because they could take training and tutor remotely, they signed up!  Here is what the director said: “I think people are really bored, would like to volunteer to do something but are afraid to go out.  This is perfect.”  So, go through your files, and pull out those applications from people who never followed through before—you never know!
  • Another program created a profile on the local volunteer match site—your community should have something similar, where people searching for volunteer activities are matched with opportunities. This brought in some younger volunteers, and remote training and tutoring are a good fit for this cohort.
  • Another idea that was shared—get press and be active on social media. Literacy Buffalo Niagara was able to get on the local news, and that resulted in a group of tutor trainees. And they have a great social media presence that keeps them in the community eye—find them on Facebook!
  • One program recommended advertising in the local free paper—I’m sure your community has one—as this has brought in potential tutors. Maybe with more time at home, we're reading everything that comes in the mail? This same program has long offered monthly Volunteer Opportunities Information Sessions, and they transitioned these monthly sessions to Zoom with good results.

As far as supporting and retaining the volunteers already engaged in your mission, regular communication is key. One program has been holding a “Zoom” Tutor Happy Hour every month—I was able to attend one, and it was fun!  Others have invited their active tutors to take online training modules, or to re-take some online workshops to expand their skills.  LNY has offered webinars to tutors at the VLOs we support around online resources they could use with their learners. We are going to invite tutors to take free, online Learning to Achieve modules through LINCS this winter, and offer facilitated post session discussions on Zoom, to build skills in working with adults with Learning Disabilities.  All of these activities support the tutors’ remote work with their learners and keep them in touch with their local volunteer literacy program—as we all know, retaining tutors is the most cost effective thing a literacy program can do.

Kathy and all, 

In my experience as a program administrator (many years ago), I saw a direct coorelation between volunteer literacy tutors and increased student retention in a program. Many times, students transitioned to literacy volunteers when the classes were not in session. It kept learners engaged during these times, leading to increased retention rates and increased student achievement. 

Do you have any models of how volunteer tutors are used to increase student retention? 

Yes, Kathy, we do have some partnerships between what we call “traditional” programs (school districts, BOCES, community college adult ed programs) and volunteer agencies. Though I don’t have official retention statistics to share, there is certainly evidence showing that these relationships are beneficial to adult learners—and they should be constructed to benefit traditional programs and volunteer literacy organizations as well.

A number of years ago, a large traditional adult education program in New York State incorporated volunteer tutors from a neighboring volunteer literacy organization into their low level ELL classroom settings. They went from 54% of learners moving up an educational functioning level per year to 77% moving up an EFL per year, in three years of programming. We also have a volunteer literacy program that has been supplying volunteer tutors to adult ed classrooms as part of New York State’s Literacy Zone initiative for many years, to provide extra support to low level learners in both ABE and ELL classes, with positive results. Here is what a classroom teacher says about the students working with volunteers:

“Those working with tutors seem to have a better grasp on their literacy skills which leads to a better understanding of the content”.

They’ve developed a few recommendations over the years as far as “what works”:

  1. Clear communication and accountability
  2. Well trained tutors
  3. Standard protocols and procedures
  4. Strong teacher guidance
  5. Matching tutor skills to student needs
  6. Flexibility
  7. Resource


And what doesn’t:

  1. Tutors who are not trained effectively
  2. Tutors asked to teach content they are not equipped to teach
  3. Inflexibility on the part of tutors, teachers, or students
  4. Lack of resource

I want to point out the idea of resource—all programming needs to be supported by resources. In some cases, the traditional program contracts with the volunteer organization and pays them for their time, usually with a dollar figure per “tutor block”.  In other cases, the programs share student numbers and outcomes, so both benefit from meeting contract numbers and hitting benchmarks. I caution all of the volunteer literacy programs I talk with about this—don’t do it for nothing.  Your literacy program is bringing a valuable resource to the traditional program, and the relationship needs to benefit all parties—with the greatest benefit going to adult learners.

Hi Kathy, You've shared a lot of helpful information related to volunteer programming during the pandemic. We have to believe that we will get back to a more normalized delivery of instruction eventually-- when we do, what are some successful program models that you've seen in volunteer literacy?  What have programs learned that works? And doesn't work? 

Take care, Susan

Yes, Susan—and with news of promising vaccines, the reality of this grows closer! 

As far as program models that work, I addressed one yesterday—volunteer tutors in traditional adult education classes. I’ve seen others succeed as well.

One model is tutoring in the workplace. One of the programs in our network, Literacy Volunteers of Rensselaer County, has been providing tutors to workplaces since 2007.  A team of volunteer tutors, supported by a staff member, goes to the worksite and offers classes before or after work shifts, or on scheduled breaks.  The curriculum is connected to the work—for example, vocabulary instruction is focused on terminology that is job related, and connected to the work environment.

Over the years, LV Rensselaer has identified promising practices:

  • Communicate early and often with employers and workers
  • Provide well-trained and supported tutors
  • Create an environment of respect
  • Be on time, start on time, end on time
  • Keep instruction relevant
  • Provide feedback

One potential benefit to this kind of programming is getting corporate donations and support—LV Rensselaer recommends inviting management to visit classes, sharing data with the employer, sharing photos and stories-- make the business a partner in your work.

The program has also identified some possible pitfalls that can adversely affect the program:

  • Lack of participation or “buy in” from any of the parties
  • Inconsistency
  • Poor communication

As you can see, communication is key to the success or failure of this kind of programming.  One note-- this programming could be provided in a “fee for service” model.


One more model I’d like to highlight is working with colleges and universities. Many volunteer literacy organizations have steered clear of recruiting college students as volunteers, with issues about short-term service due to college calendars and other concerns. Literacy Volunteers of Chautauqua County and Literacy Volunteers of Clinton, Essex, and Franklin Counties in NYS have embraced this model, with positive results. They pull volunteers from student and faculty pools, and provide tutoring opportunities in small group and one to one settings.

As with other models discussed, here is a list of “what works”:

  • Ability to train volunteers via online tutor training
  • Placing volunteers in “drop in” and teacher aide roles
  • Creating a “semester” timeline
  • Tutors paid via work-study; tutors credited for volunteer hours
  • Set up as internships

Literacy Chautauqua also talked about matching the right student to this kind of volunteer model.  Perhaps there is a learner very close to passing the math portion of his or her High School Equivalency.  13 weeks of working with a tutor on HSE math may be exactly what this learner needs—a short term goal matched with a short term tutor. And providing a benefit for the college student is very important too—college students see value in earning their required volunteer hours, or in getting paid through work-study.

Here are some things to avoid, according to the programs:

  • Full year interns
  • Inflexibility
  • Lack of ‘buy- in’ from all parties

The programs also talked about the time it can take to develop this programming—it was not an overnight success.  If you know anyone at a college or university start there; it’s all about networking.  If you don’t know anyone, start with Career Development Office (CDO) and the Internship Coordinator. Ask the CDO to help publicize the internships.  You could set up a table at an internship fair, put an ad in their job database, present during class or a club meeting. For the programs mentioned here, the “resources” they are gaining from these partnerships are student numbers and outcomes, helping them to fulfill their contracts with the state. More potential benefits could be office space on campus (as LV Clinton, Essex, and Franklin enjoys), donations from student groups and clubs, “bridge” opportunities for your adult learners to help them transition to higher ed, and more.

Regardless of the model, one thing has to be a constant—deliver on your promises. If you partner with a traditional adult ed program, a workplace, or a college/university, have clear, written expectations for each party, and do what you said you would do. I’ve seen promising partnerships fail when programs did not follow through. 


I’m sure there are many more successful program models volunteer literacy organizations are involved with—please share here!


Kathy, Thanks for mentioning the many ways programs could involve college students as volunteers. Keeping the college student's commitment to a semester makes good sense. He or she can always opt to sign on for an additional semester if interested.

A program we had success with was a conversation class with high intermediate/advanced English learners and college student volunteers. Both the adult English learners and their college student partners were quite faithful in keeping their appointments during the time we ran this program.  We provided the conversation prompts and asked the English learners to prepare before they met with the volunteers. The English learners were also expected to record their conversations, listen to the recording, and reflect in writing on what they learned.

I bet some of our members are offering something similar. How about a remote conversation class?

Take care, Susan



Susan-- One of the NYS programs, Literacy Volunteers of Chemung/Schuyler,  is conducting a very well- attended remote English conversation class called Coffee, Tea, and English: Conversation. The class was in person, and moved to Zoom last spring. The volunteer tutor who runs the sessions sends out conversation prompts and resources about the topic for the session before each session, via email.  The participants are not wedded to the prompts, but they help get things going!  There are tutors and learners in the group, and once in the session, the tutor puts the learners into breakout room pairs (tutor/learner) for a period of time to chat.  Then, she brings the group back together, and sends them into new pairs for more conversation. I attended the class recently and the learners were very engaged-- a lot of fun. The volunteer runs a Coffee, Tea, and English: Vocabulary class too, and they have an active Book Club-- all happening remotely!

Hello, All.  Going back to the early 1990s, the Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education (SCALE) served as a national network of college-campus-based programs that connected university students to local adult education programs, where they served in tutoring and other roles. (http://readwriteact.org/116-2/  ). New York University's Gallatin School ran a "Literacy in Action" service learning course in the early 2000s, in which undergraduates learned about the adult literacy issue through readings, class discussions, research, quizzes and a final exam, and weekly visits to a local adult basic skills program (options included ESOL programs in settlement houses and a refugee center, GED classes at a prisoner re-entry program, and literacy groups at Literacy Volunteers of NYC (now Literacy Partners).  The NYU students recorded their experiences on a "Site Visit Log" which became part of a portfolio of documents they compiled for review at the end of the course. (Visit https://pauljurmo.info/pauljurmo/Writings_(US_&_Canada)_files/Ivory%20Tower%20Sept%202003.pdf  for more information.) 

These models might be learned from and adapted by our field.  Well-planned and -supported uses of college students in tutoring and other roles can not only bring quality supports to adult learners but build college student awareness of adult basic skills as a social and economic issue.  While some of these college students (who could come from  not only four-year colleges but also two-year community colleges) might go on to work in our field, many of them can also bring their heightened awareness of adult basic skills to their future roles as, for example, employers, union members, healthcare and social service providers, and K-12 teachers.) 

One more thing: Another great potential source of volunteers is the 7500 former Peace Corps Volunteers who were evacuated back to the US  in April from 60-plus countries where they were working when COVID-19 hit. Many of those Returned Peace Corps Volunteers were working ih literacy/TEFL type of projects and come with significant expertise in education, intercultural communications (most of them were trained in the language of the country where they were working), and other topics. They also often bring a lot of resilience, ingenuity, and a spirit of community service with them, qualities they needed to work in a foreign culture which was often resource-poor, Many of these recently returned Peace Corps Volunteers -- and others who returned in the pre-COVID years -- are looking for meaningful work.  Adult education program should consider reaching out to them. 

Paul Jurmo (www.pauljurmo.info)

Paul-- Thank you for sharing-- your comments regarding college students and the exponential benefits of engaging this cohort in adult literacy are spot on.  Can you provide some suggestions as to how programs could find returned Peace Corps volunteers in their communities? This is a great suggestion-- many of the volunteer literacy programs enjoying 40, 50, 60 years of operations today were founded by volunteers serving through federal programs. 


Hi, Kathy.  Many states and larger cities have "Returned Peace Corps Associations."  Interested adult educators might Google "Returned Peace Corps Association of NAME OF STATE."  Another option is to check out the National Peace Corps Association's list of affiliate groups at https://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/companies?current_page=1&sort_type=featured&filter=%7B%22nothing%22%3A+%22nothing%22%7D&asset_type=company&display_type=default . I believe that the NPCA has been lobbying Congress for including Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in plans for various kinds of national service programs.  Another, related option is the use of AmeriCorps Volunteers in adult basic skills programs. (Many AmeriCorps Volunteers have in fact worked as helpers in after-school programs for children, computer teachers in community education programs, etc., so adding a special focus on adult literacy would not be a stretch.)  And, finally, several experienced adult educators who are themselves former Peace Corps Volunteers have circulated a concept paper for using volunteers -- including Returned PCVs -- as remote tutors (using both computers and telephones) in support of adult basic skills programs and adult learners during this time of COVID-19. (Alas, this latter idea has been placed on hold because no willing funders have been identified -- yet;) 

Paul Jurmo (www.pauljurmo.info) 

Thank you, Paul-- I will pass this information along to the volunteer literacy programs I work with in NY. Literacy NY and local programs have had some success with AmeriCorps volunteers in the past-- the reporting is sure onerous, but you can get some really great folks though that program. And here's hoping for a funder for the volunteer remote tutoring-- keep me posted!


Hi Kathy, This has been a great discussion so far. I have a few more questions for you regarding funding and staffing for volunteer-based programs. Though volunteers are cost effective, they are not free and the success of any program depends upon having adequate resources-- fiscal and human.

  • What are some ideas for finding funding sources for volunteer literacy programming?  And what advice do you have for advocating for support and funding? 
  • On the human resources side, what should volunteer literacy programs have in place as far as staffing and volunteer positions? And what kind of support do staff need? 

Thank you, Kathy!


I’ve enjoyed the week as well, Susan—thanks for the opportunity to have the conversation.

Finding resources to support volunteer literacy organizations is a challenge for all of us in the field.  As far as looking for grants, I’m sure you’ve turned over a lot of rocks in your communities and states, but I can share a few funders where our programs have had some success. 

Thinking locally:

  • Rotary Club
  • Community Foundation
  • United Way (though we’ve seen a shift to more K-12 funding here in NY)
  • Local businesses—our programs have had some success with banks in particular

National funders with a focus on adult literacy:

  • Dollar General Foundation
  • Nora Roberts Foundation
  • Walmart Foundation

I’m sure there are others—I invite you to post them here.  One tip—organizations like ProLiteracy and NCFL (National Center for Families Learning) often share funding opportunities in their email updates—worth checking out!

I also want to talk about generating resources from other sources and highlight the idea of sub-contracting your services as part of someone else’s grant from WIOA, or workforce funding.  We touched on this when talking about providing volunteer tutors in classrooms. Your programs have valuable services to offer– don’t be shy in advertising them. Read the RFPs when they come out, see where your literacy program can fill a niche, and work to get your program written into the grants.  You are offering a solution to an agency applying for the funding, and strengthening their response to the funding opportunity.

I’ve mentioned the fortunate position volunteer literacy providers enjoy in New York State, with access to state literacy dollars (though it is a very competitive grant process, and requires a lot of work to maintain!).  However, this budget line did not exist until people advocated for it—it may be something you can fight for in your state.

And finally, another often overlooked resource—your volunteers themselves. Volunteers can subsidize the cost of their own online tutor training, purchase books or materials, pay a “registration” fee—many volunteer literacy programs ask their volunteers for some sort of monetary investment, and very rarely is it an issue—just be sure to have “scholarships” for those who cannot pay.  Include volunteers in your fundraising efforts too—they already believe in your work!  Volunteers include your board members—make 100% board giving part of your organization’s culture.

Resources are necessary to support staff in volunteer literacy organizations (VLOs), which leads to the second part of the question for today. In the late 1980’s, as state funding became available to VLOs in NY, providers began moving from all-volunteer models to organizations with some paid staff.  This shift allowed programs to professionalize their programs, standardize their tutor training, generate additional resources through grants and partnerships, and become more effective in the work they do in their communities.

In an ideal world, a VLO has at least a part time paid program coordinator. Volunteers are an essential resource, but without some management, structure, and support, they are not utilized to their fullest potential. A program coordinator would be charged with best deploying the resource of volunteer tutors—a good investment.  In addition to recruiting, coordinating tutor training, and providing ongoing support to volunteers, a program coordinator would recruit, intake, and support adult learners.  And, report any necessary data to funders.

Volunteers and Boards of Directors can play key roles in VLOs, as far as grant writing and fundraising.  I have seen board treasurers and other volunteers take on bookkeeping responsibilities for programs—since this is another very important part of running a program, you’d want to be sure to have a qualified volunteer/board member in place.  Volunteers can act as mentors to other volunteer tutors—an effective support strategy.  Volunteers can train tutors, or coordinate their online training, should a VLO go the online route. 

As far as support for program coordinators, it would benefit them greatly to become a part of their local or state literacy council (if available) for networking opportunities, and possible training workshops. National organizations like ProLiteracy and LINCS Communities of Practice offer support and resources to those running VLOs. Also, check out websites of other literacy organizations for ideas and resources—this community is very generous in sharing ideas.



Susan and others-- I want to thank all of the readers and 'posters' to this discussion.  This is a difficult time for all of us, and having a vision for the future is important.  Volunteer literacy organizations have been providing solutions to adult literacy issues in communities for decades, and we will continue to do so. 

If you would like to contact any of the programs I mentioned this week (and thanks to all of them for sharing!), you can find their contact information on our website: literacynewyork.org.  Go to the "Providers" dropdown in the upper right of the website. Or, you can email me at khoughton@literacynewyork.org. One correction-- the agency with the Coffee, Tea, and English program is Literacy Volunteers of Steuben County, not their neighbor, LV Chemung Schuyler-- sorry for the error!  

Thanks again for the opportunity to spend some time talking about Volunteer Literacy!



Kathy, You shared a wealth of valuable information with us this week, and I want to thank you! 

Members, you are invited to reflect on what you have gained from this discussion. What are you taking away from the many ideas Kathy and others have shared? What steps might you take related to recruting, training, supporting, retaining and/or managing volunteers?

We can certainly keep this conversation going!

Take care, Susan