Creating a Culture of Volunteerism Manual

Who is this manual for?
Built on industry best practices, this manual highlights how to create a corporate culture that embraces volunteerism and accessibility for volunteers with vision loss. It has been written for CNIB staff, as well as colleagues in other not-for-profit organizations, regardless of their role.
This manual is available as a WORD document at the bottom of the page. We have done this to make the material as accessible as possible - and to allow people from different organizations to be able to adapt and tailor the manual for their needs. If you do so, please provide an acknowledgement that CNIB created the original document.

We’d like to thank everyone who made it possible for us to offer this manual in accessible, alternative formats - our braille room volunteers for creating braille manuals, our library volunteers for producing audio copies and Jim Parkin for formatting large print versions.

To request an accessible (braille, audio, large print) copy, please email
Providing input into this document was a Working Group of volunteers and CNIB staff, including David Wallis, Jill Jukes, Rose Jobin-White, Ruth Millard, Tanis Boardman  and Tracy Holland.

Volunteers and donors who shared comments and stories with us included Ian Mason of Toronto, Justin Buttar of Vancouver, and Linda Bosch of Brockville. Our sincere thanks go out to all of them.
Special thanks to Susan Ellis, founder of Energize, Inc. who provided valuable insights and is quoted throughout this manual. Thanks also to the Strengthening Communities Through Volunteer Program Development Core Project Members – Jennifer Spencer, Kat Clarke, Marilyn McGale and Susan Cheeseman (all of CNIB).

What is a Culture of Volunteerism?

You have a culture of volunteerism when the value of volunteers is realized from the top to the bottom of your organization and when staff recognize the environment they must create for volunteers to thrive and are accountable for creating it. At CNIB, leadership volunteers govern and guide the organization; professionals volunteer by sharing their expertise on our committees and advisory councils; other volunteers provide input into program design; and still others spend their time on the front lines with the people we serve. Ideally, volunteers and staff unite as equals. They appreciate each other’s roles, perspectives and motivations.

We know we couldn’t do our work without volunteers. The Canadian Code of Volunteer Involvement recognizes that volunteer involvement has a powerful impact on Canadian society, communities, organizations and individuals. Volunteer involvement gives everyone a voice and a means to contribute and it connects people to the causes they care about. Individuals have the opportunity to engage in collective efforts vital for inclusive strong communities.

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"We need to make sure our organizations see that money donors and time donors are closely intertwined – and that people move in and out of both roles over a lifetime."
- Susan Ellis, Volunteerism expert

Volunteering (donating time) contributes to community building – just as donating money does. One significant motivator of both volunteers and donors is to do good – to give back – to make a difference in their communities and in doing so, make a difference for themselves.

It helps to understand that volunteers are donors. When a person chooses to make a donation to an organization such as CNIB, whether it involves time or money, we must remember that they are making an investment in the community – not in CNIB. Each volunteer is therefore an investor and should be treated as one. Just think about all the research an investor does before deciding on a stock, and the amount of feedback an investor receives about the performance of their investment. And just like an investor, the volunteer (and the donor) needs to see a return on their investment. In this case, the return on investment is measured in outcomes and impact – improvements to the quality of life of the people we serve.

When CNIB engages volunteers (and donors), it is important to remember:
  • The gift (the volunteer's time, skills and effort) is not to CNIB; the gift goes through CNIB to the people we serve. CNIB is the connection or the conduit to the community.
  • Saying CNIB needs volunteers doesn't work. Volunteers care that the work we do is valued in the community.
The difference between donors and volunteers

There are a few critical differences between donors and volunteers. In fact, being a donor is relatively easy. Once they have made their choice of what to support, they just need to write a cheque and their work is done.

For volunteers, the moment they make a choice to donate their time is only the beginning of a journey, which we hope will be a long one. In many ways, the length of that journey is up to us.
  • Volunteers choose to join the causes that suit them, so we have a selling job to do to attract them to our cause.
  • Volunteers are also attracted to types of work that they enjoy and feel they can do well. They want to keep busy, knowing their efforts will make a difference to someone. It is our job to place them in roles that suit them and to provide them with the feedback they need to gauge their impact.
  • Volunteers are also choosing an environment in which they will be spending time. They want, at the end of the day, to look back and feel great about what they did and how they were treated. And we want them to keep on doing it.

Volunteer Comment – Justin – Giving and gaining

As a full-time university student, it isn’t always easy for Justin Buttar to find the time to volunteer. But he does, with pleasure, in his role as a Vision Mate with CNIB.

For the past 18 months, Justin has been visiting regularly with a CNIB client in his local area in Vancouver. Because of her vision loss, she can have trouble doing daily tasks and getting out and about. As her Vision Mate, Justin helps her with small things like reading, shopping and just talking – but it all makes a big difference in her life. 

The best part is, Justin feels like he’s gained as much as he’s given.

“I am astounded at the knowledge that I have gained from this volunteer experience,” he says. “My client is caring, understanding and appreciative of the time I take to spend with her. I am continually inspired by her determination and outlook on life.”

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There are so many organizations that try to attract volunteers. At CNIB, we know that people tend to give to organizations whose values they share and whose cause matters to them.

The cause needs to be clearly stated so that it resonates with people (or organizations) whose values make them receptive.

We communicate our cause most effectively when we tell the personal stories of the people we serve and the people who give. Because of that, we are avid collectors of stories. The stories we share about the experiences of the people we serve capture the hearts and minds of the people who engage with us, making them want to become characters in the story. When we engage them we give them a role in the story and a chance to improve the story's outcome.

Sharing the stories of other volunteers is equally important. Those stories address the natural concerns potential and new volunteers have about exposing themselves to an unknown environment. No one else resonates quite as deeply as a person who has walked in your shoes. Hearing from a peer who has "been there" can be transformative.

Because we are in a partnership with volunteers (just as with our donors), we understand there is an expectation of dialogue and feedback. Our aim is to fulfill this by showing volunteers how their role has changed the story for the better and by offering opportunities for them to do more. We recognize that it isn't about the amount of time they give us – it is about what that contribution does.

Volunteer Comment – Ian Mason, Toronto – The Power of Feedback

"I have volunteered in the recording studio for the past six years (where books are read aloud and recorded onto CDs that are made available to people with vision loss through the public library system). I occasionally think that we are sending recordings out into a void. But when a blind or partially sighted person writes in to express their gratitude, it gives me a metaphysical pat on the back and I want to make it even more memorable for the next recording. It's great to hear feedback of any kind."

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We actively recruit volunteers who provide the skills sets we need – from speaking different languages, to engaging in high level philanthropy. Volunteers are involved in almost every aspect of our organization, contributing their knowledge, skills and abilities by:
  • Providing oversight and leadership at the National, Divisional and Regional levels that are both beneficial and legally required through Canada’s Charitable Act. Our Boards, Committees and Councils include business leaders, eye care professionals and committed CNIB advocates. We ensure that many of our leadership volunteers live with vision loss to ensure robust community representation.
  • Inspiring government officials, funders, stakeholders and community members with their personal stories as they serve as CNIB Advocates and Ambassadors.
  • Planning fundraising events and liaising with donors.
  • Extending our services in a wide variety of ways, including participating in our peer-to-peer programs and serving as Vision Mates.
  • Delivering essential operational functions. Volunteers provide customer service to clients in our Shop CNIB locations.
Some volunteers stay for years, occasionally even decades, and some sign on for a commitment of one day or to a single event. But most volunteers make a commitment that is somewhere in between. And they become lifelong supporters and friends of our cause.

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There are many studies that demonstrate that volunteering increases well-being. In fact, people who provide help to others without any expectation of receiving something in return are more satisfied with their lives than people who expect some kind of payment. However, for some, that satisfaction is increased if the volunteering is socially recognized and respected, which tends to happen in societies where high levels of volunteering occur.

Beyond that, today's volunteers are looking for:
  • Meaningful assignments that will make a difference for others
  • Opportunities to learn new skills
  • Opportunities to contribute their skills and expertise
Trends we are seeing
  • Assignments that use online technology (virtual volunteering)
  • Opportunities for family volunteering
  • Short term, goal-oriented, outcome-focused assignments
  • Younger volunteers, newer Canadians and people with different abilities who are seeking opportunities to gain experience
  • Baby boomers shopping around to donate their skills, expertise and to partner on projects (e.g., as a consultant who does not charge a fee)
  • An increase in corporate and group volunteering
Volunteers stay engaged when
  • Their role is clearly defined
  • Their role is appropriate to their skills or abilities
  • An orientation is provided about the organization and their role
  • Specific training is provided regarding the tasks they will be completing
  • They understand the 'why' of their role
  • They are provided with opportunity for input
  • They feel heard and valued
  • Staff or other volunteers are available to provide, support or direction, when needed
  • Feedback is provided on what they are doing well, what they may need to do differently
  • Concrete results of their efforts are acknowledged and communicated
  • Their volunteer involvement can help secure future job opportunities – a reference is appreciated!
CNIB Guiding Principles for Partnering with Volunteers

"Our goal is not to 'direct' volunteers, but to 'enable' them. They are not 'our' volunteers; we are 'their' leaders."
- Susan Ellis, Volunteerism expert
  • Encourage the involvement of volunteers as an important link between our organization and the community.
  • Make the recruitment and onboarding process as smooth and enjoyable as possible.
  • Lead by example in daily interactions that show that volunteers are everyone’s responsibility.
  • Allocate a budget that allows for equipment, space, training, communication and recognition.
  • Incorporate volunteers into planning processes at all levels of the organization, from strategic planning to volunteer services planning.
  • Include working with volunteers in every employee’s job description, on performance appraisals and as a part of team meetings and one-on-one meetings.
  • Create roles that have the flexibility to accommodate the needs of busy volunteers.
  • Develop roles that work for families and corporate teams who want to donate time together.
  • Have a clearly designated individual who is responsible for the management of volunteer involvement and who is a part of the management team.
  • Include volunteers when communicating with staff.
  • Publicly and privately thank volunteers for their service to show them, staff and other partners the community impact of their efforts.
  • Ensure volunteer gets more than they give by nurturing their intrinsic and personal motivations.
"Organizations that treat volunteers well are much nicer places to work for as employees. We ought to see ourselves as organizational developers who model participatory decision-making, create a climate for innovation and dedication, and make all participants feel appreciated for their contributions. So, for example, perhaps we should plan fewer volunteer recognition luncheons and more "success celebrations" in which everyone – unpaid and paid – applaud collective achievements."
- Susan Ellis, Volunteerism expert

Volunteer Comment – Linda Bosch, Brockville

A shoulder to lean on

As someone who has experienced vision loss herself, Linda Bosch knows how important support groups can be after a loss of sight. For Linda, connecting with other people who knew what she was going through was a lifeline when she needed it most. 

“The group originally gave me a reason to get out of my house once a month when my vision loss continued to decline,” says the Brockville resident. “…It was a great opportunity to socialize and get to know others who are living with vision loss.”

Now Linda is paying it forward by volunteering as a CNIB support group leader, helping other people talk through the challenges they’re facing with their own vision loss – sharing tips, techniques, experiences and, when it’s needed, a shoulder to lean on.

“It’s given me a chance to volunteer and give back to an organization that I have benefitted from, and a program that has been so important to me,” she says.

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The Volunteer Engagement Cycle (sometimes known as the Volunteer Retention Cycle) is the roadmap for effective volunteer involvement.

When done well, volunteers are stewarded through their engagement and their experience is meaningful, rewarding and likely to result in satisfied volunteers and positive retention. When one or more stages is missed, volunteers become dissatisfied and, may look for other opportunities to donate their valuable time, skills and efforts.

The Volunteer Engagement Cycle.jpg
The Cycle (text version):
  1. Planning and Role Descriptions
  2. Recruitment
  3. Intake (Screening and Matching)
  4. Onboarding and Training
  5. Engagement and Support
  6. Recognition (Impact and Thanks)
  7. Evaluation (Which leads us back to planning)
There are four words in the center of the cycle – components that are essential at every stage: Culture, Leadership, Communication and Accessibility.

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The goals of planning are:
  • To establish the types of volunteer roles and activities required for the program's success and sustainability
  • To have the equipment and resources (including staff capacity, computer and desk space) in place to accommodate and empower the volunteers to make their contributions
  • To be able to evaluate the success of the program going forward
Step 1. Determine exactly what the objective of the volunteer's role should be in order for the program to be successful. At CNIB, this might involve supporting clients to be more independent or providing skills and knowledge towards the completion of an organizational goal or project.

Step 2. Identify the skills and tasks required to reach the goal.

Step 3. Create the volunteer role description, which outlines the tasks, skills and experience required, time commitment expected, etc. Think about how you will identify the right person for the role. The role description not only becomes the tool required to initiate the recruiting process, but will also be used in orienting and training volunteers to become successful in their roles.

Step 4. Map out the support the program lead will need to give to the volunteer to ensure their successful implementation of and satisfaction with the role. Determine if the program lead needs training in order to steward the volunteer successfully, and organize the management training if needed.

Step 5. Determine what must be put in place in order to evaluate the program and the role. Keep in mind our need to ensure the role is achieving its goal while the volunteer is gaining from the experience. Think ahead to the evaluation report you want to be able to make, and set up a system to ensure that information is captured. Consider a questionnaire for volunteers and their managers to fill out on their first day and repeat the questionnaire at key milestones. If the program's goal is to provide a service to clients, create a survey to measure their satisfaction periodically.

Guiding principles
  • A critical component in the planning stages is to have the support of organizational leadership – boards and management – regarding the critical contribution of volunteers to the mission.
  • Create roles that align with current organizational priorities – meet real needs.
  • Create roles that appeal to volunteers.
  • Involve volunteers in the planning process.
  • Ensure the value of the position is communicated in the description so volunteers will know if the position will meet their need to make a difference.
  • Ensure appropriate resources are budgeted for volunteer involvement, including space and equipment for volunteers.
  • Ensure staff are trained to engage and support volunteers effectively.

Every volunteer wants to contribute and to be engaged in a meaningful role. Since CNIB actively recruits volunteers with vision loss, we know that most roles can be easily adapted for people who are blind or partially sighted. Whether the volunteer is sighted or not, we work directly with each volunteer to determine if any kind of accommodation is necessary, what that might consist of, and how the role can be structured in order to ensure success.

For more tips please visit Engaging Volunteers with Vision Loss.

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The goals of recruitment are:
  • To find the right person, with the right attributes and skills for the role and the program
  • To engage the number of people the program requires
When we are recruiting, we are "selling" CNIB's cause, as well as the role that needs to be filled. We need to gain the attention of people who are considering all of their options to give the gift of time to the community. The recruitment materials need to communicate "what's in it for me" in a compelling way to break through all the clutter and connect with people.

There are many ways to approach recruitment. When a large number of volunteers is needed, a general recruitment call can be placed that uses tools and methods such as posters, brochures, volunteer centres/posting sites and media. However, for many volunteer positions we need to target recruitment for specific skills or characteristics, such as tandem bike riding or organizational leadership experience.

We must also remember that recruitment often comes about organically, without formal calls or campaigns. Many volunteers go to our website out of curiosity about volunteering options and may or may not submit an online application. Some call us, seemingly out of the blue. In either case, our objective is to welcome their interest, communicate our cause and move to the intake phase as smoothly and pleasantly as possible for the candidate. Keep in mind, you may just have been contacted by your next and newest partner!
  1. Create an annual recruitment plan.
  2. Identify needs.
  3. Identify targeted markets, media and messaging.
    1. What is appealing about the role, i.e., what would motivate someone to apply for it?
    2. What demographics should be targeted to have the required motivations, interests, diversity, skills and availability for this role?
    3. Which media does this market/demographic go to for information (what media do they trust?).
    4. Craft a powerful message that will appeal to that market/demographic and is the right voice/tone for the medium.
  4. Build in stewardship. Responding to a call for volunteers may be the first time a person has any interaction with CNIB. This will be their first impression about whether or not we live by our values. Interested candidates need to be stewarded through the intake process, which is how both the candidate and the organization determine whether there’s a good fit.
  5. Evaluate and improve your recruitment process.
A targeted recruitment plan will secure the commitment of volunteers to specific needs and outcomes. A volunteer that is happy and successful will complete their commitment and potentially many more.

Guiding Principles
  • Recruitment is everyone's responsibility, in that we can all support it by including an element of volunteer recruitment in every interaction with the community. Consider everyone you meet as a potential volunteer (or employee).
  • Once a volunteer candidate has applied, demonstrate respect and professionalism by maintaining regular contact so they know they have not been forgotten or ignored. Having a selection of pre-prepared responses available for potential volunteers makes the process of electronic reply quick and easy. Including next steps for potential volunteers on out-of-office notifications makes the answer available even when you are not.
  • Move along the process as expediently as possible. Remember, the volunteer has shown the interest to take the first step. It is up to us to respond quickly with action as well as words.

Making a statement that the role is “suitable for people with diverse abilities” is as important as stating “other languages are an asset” in making your recruitment welcoming.

For more tips, please visit Engaging Volunteers with Vision Loss.

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The Intake phase is our opportunity to get to know each other. Both sides are assessing the other, trying to discover if the necessary ingredients are there for a successful partnership. Have we communicated the cause and the role clearly? Are we demonstrating that we live according to our values so the candidate gets a clear picture of the working environment? Is the candidate suited to the requirements of the role? If not, is there another role that might be better? Have we made the next steps clear?

Even if the candidate decides not to join us, the impression we leave with them is the one they will take with them to the community and share.

While a process must be followed and documented, it is important to move it along as quickly as possible and to be respectful of the candidate's point of view. We need to be responsive and accountable. And we want to avoid losing candidates who are discouraged by what can look like needless bureaucracy.

That said, we must conduct the process professionally. Screening documents should be kept on file, and you should keep in mind that the information you have recorded may at some point need to be shared externally for legal reasons.
  • Questions asked either on a centrally created Application Form or Interview Form must be non-discriminatory, objective and must not violate Human Rights Legislation (check with your local province, as well as with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).
  • The Interview provides the opportunity to get to know the person one-on-one and to learn about skills, interests and suitability. It is also an opportunity to share openly our cause and our values and to learn about the candidate's personal goals around giving.
  • We regularly hold Information Sessions for potential volunteers in our offices and in the community. They allow potential volunteers to learn more about the cause (what is vision loss, what people with vision loss experience/need, how to be a sighted guide, etc.), meet some people who use our services (as well as people who share their values and also want to volunteer) and hear about the various volunteer roles available. We share our passion and potential volunteers get educated and excited.
  • Personal and professional reference checks are relevant when a volunteer’s background or performance is important to the role, or if the volunteer will be taking on a position of trust. It may be shocking to a volunteer that we want to check their references. The least we can do is explain why it is necessary and handle it as quickly as possible.
  • In some cases, a Police Record Check is required, for example if the person is going to be handling money. Vulnerable Sector Checks are necessary for volunteers who have close contact with a vulnerable person, such as a client. In addition, there are specific requirements and policies for volunteers who have access to corporate technology and who drive as part of their duties.
Guiding Principles
  • Ensure staff receive training on volunteer screening.
  • Candidates deserve quick, informative responses.
  • Set up your out-of-office messages to include information for new volunteers, such as the date of the next orientation or a link to an online application.
  • Keep on hand a number of standard email replies, in warm, plain language (no business or CNIB jargon, please) that can be sent out quickly upon receiving applications and completing key screening milestones.

Many forms (electronic and paper) are still inaccessible to people who use a speech or magnification tool for reading. Do you have an alternative to a print or online application?

For more tips, please visit Engaging Volunteers with Vision Loss. Keep in mind your choice of a meeting room for Information Sessions to ensure the location is fully accessible.

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Training volunteers how to carry out their roles may happen before they actually have their first day (as in the case of a new CNIB Ambassador), or it may take place on their first day. Regardless of when, it is an essential part of their "onboarding", as well as their ability to enjoy their experience. All staff who participate in training volunteers are given training themselves to ensure their effectiveness.

With the volunteer's first shift, our partnership really gets underway. Some volunteers will have already received training (as is the case with CNIB Ambassadors), but most receive the training they need to carry out their responsibilities on their first day. CNIB makes it a priority to ensure our staff are comfortable with and skilled in training new volunteers.

Remember your first day in a new work/volunteer position. Think about how you felt and why. You were probably both excited and nervous. You may have felt overwhelmed as you tried to learn so much new information, including everyone's names. Hopefully you weren't bored! And you probably still remember the people who reached out to greet you with a smile and a warm welcome.

You can make a volunteer's first day experience easier with a bit of advance planning. When volunteers feel welcome and a part of the team, they want to come back, they are calmer so they listen better and they learn more quickly.

Guiding Principles
  • Organize ahead of time what the volunteer needs to be able to work. This might be a workstation, login or DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) player/tech kit.
  • If they have committed to an ongoing role, send out an email introducing the volunteer to staff and other volunteers.
  • Introduce them to others and provide them with a list of staff and volunteers, so they feel like a valued part of the team.
  • Ask your manager and other senior staff to introduce themselves.
  • Prepare a useful task for the volunteer so they feel they’ve contributed, right from the start.
  • Check in with volunteer frequently to ensure they are receiving all the information they need and that they feel free to ask questions.
  • Talk to them about their training to make sure it has made sense and to share thoughts and observations.
  • Have a chat at the end of the shift to give them positive feedback and make sure they are clear about what the next steps will be.
For a checklist to help you remember how to make the volunteer's first day go well, please see First Shift Checklist later in this manual.


Here are just a few tips for making that first day comfortable for a new volunteer with partial sight.
  • If a volunteer needs assistance to learn routes inside your office, ask them to come in ahead of time. Talk to your local Rehab team for someone to help with this.
  • Walk the route a couple of times with the volunteer and include going from their desk to yours to make sure they know how to find you if they need you.
  • Set up a buddy system by matching a volunteer with vision loss with an established volunteer to relieve a lot of the stress of a new environment. (This is advisable whether the new person has vision loss or not.)
  • For more tips, please visit Engaging Volunteers with Vision Loss.
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The new volunteer has received/completed:
  • Welcome
  • Tour of workstation
  • Tour of Facility including breakroom, washrooms, volunteer refreshments, coat closet
  • Introduction to people who sit near to me in the office
  • Introduction to my mentor/supervisor
  • Any outstanding paperwork (package attached)
  • Login and introduction to email and e-learning modules
  • Time arranged for first job shadowing opportunity (if applicable)
  • Introduction to key tasks (position description or task list attached)
  • Volunteer Handbook
  • Emergency Procedures Information
  • Downtime to get settled into workspace
  • End of first shift Q&A opportunity with mentor/supervisor
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The volunteer has completed the first day or two and knows what to do next week. Your partnership is off to a good start. With the bulk of the introductory work done, you can concentrate on deepening your relationship with each other. This includes checking in informally and inviting the volunteer to ask questions and give feedback. This simple and casual type of communication, where you give as well as receive, has the power to make volunteers feel part of the team.

This stewardship is essential to the volunteer's success and is the key to being able to retain the volunteer's gift of time in the future. 
  • Communicate – emails/calls to assign work, check on progress and ask if there are concerns.
  • Include volunteers on organizational emails and invitations to staff meetings/fundraising events/trainings.
  • Identify ongoing volunteer learning and training opportunities. Volunteers will be grateful you thought of them by sending them learning opportunities and it does not need to be directly related – it could be something of global or local interest that affects your community in general. Your effort will be appreciated.
  • Provide volunteers with an opportunity to contribute ideas, suggestions or input into the assignments they are participating in. This level of engagement provides an opportunity to build their confidence and for CNIB to learn from their insights.
  • Deal with any issues promptly, starting by listening without judgement, and finding assistance when necessary. For more details, see Conflict Resolution Tips later in this manual.
Remember, at end of the day you still own the task. With a little communication, you can make sure the job gets done and that the volunteers will continue.

Guiding Principles
  • Give feedback on a job well done
  • Work with volunteers to identify areas for improvement
  • Book regular 15-minute meetings for every two weeks
  • Book time in your calendar every week to ensure you remember to send out emails to update instructions, outline next steps, etc.
  • Mark on your calendar six-month and one-year anniversaries (and birthdays possibly) as occasions to send an email, or better yet a handwritten card.
  • It is always important to be clear. Remember body language and tone of voice when providing supervision; it is even more important if the person you are talking with cannot read your facial expression.
  • For more tips, please visit Engaging Volunteers with Vision Loss.
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Studies indicate that most volunteers want to be thanked and shown how they have made a difference. Since their motivation is usually related to community building, they want to know the impact their gift of time has had on the people we serve and in the community.

The Recognition Standard from the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement states: “The organization recognizes the contributions of volunteers using ongoing formal and informal methods, applicable to the volunteer role. The value and impact of volunteer contributions are understood and acknowledged and communicated to the volunteer.”

Feedback from CNIB volunteers in both the 2012 and 2014 CNIB National Volunteer Satisfaction Surveys, identified the following recognition activities among the most appreciated:
  • Being thanked by staff
  • Being thanked by a client
  • Personal correspondence
  • Invitations to recognition events
  • Opportunities for personal or professional development
  • Complimentary refreshments/meals
  • Being asked to contribute to program planning
Recognition activities are best when:
  • You have a variety of recognition offerings available, both formal and informal, which will have an appeal to a variety of volunteers.
  • You provide volunteers with regular, ongoing feedback specific to the impact of their efforts and how their roles made a difference.
For more information, please see Volunteer Recognition Program Manual.

Guiding Principles
  • If a person is important to you, then you will know their name – keep track of and use their name.
  • Give sincere thanks, both verbally and in writing (could be an email or a handwritten note, but a card of thanks or a birthday card is always appreciated).
  • Increase the impact of your thanks by giving feedback on the activities the volunteer has been doing/supporting, including why it is important to you and to the mission and the cause you share.
  • Ask your manager or senior leadership to thank volunteers personally through personal correspondence at a level appropriate to their contribution, whether that is based on hours of service, level of service, impact of service or internal award nominations.
  • Invite volunteers to join staff meetings and training opportunities.
  • Share the personal stories of volunteers, with their permission, with the communications team so they can receive wider recognition across CNIB and in the community. Social recognition can be highly motivating and also provides a powerful recruitment tool for new volunteers to come forward.
  • Provide invitations and information about events in the individual's format of choice – large print, electronic, braille, audio.
  • Leave time in your recognition plans for having materials transcribed to format of choice.
  • For more tips, please visit Engaging Volunteers with Vision Loss.
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There are several levels of evaluation. We can and should examine:
  • The individual's suitability for a role
  • The appropriateness of a role description
  • The adequacy of the training we have provided
  • The effectiveness of the recognition and feedback we've given
  • The impact of the program on the people we serve
Evaluation allows us to learn what works and what doesn’t work. It guides us in knowing what deserves praise and recognition, versus what needs improved training and additional thought and encouragement. We also evaluate so we can tell others about our story and our shared successes. The more we can demonstrate we "moved the needle", the stronger our cases for support of our programs will be.
  • Funders and donors can see the value of their donations.
  • Staff and volunteers can feel the impact of their efforts.
Nothing is more motivating than learning you have made a measurable difference in someone’s life and being told that your contribution was appreciated and recognized. It is empowering to know you have done something good – something that mattered. It can also be "addictive". Studies show that people who help others, and whose help is recognized and valued in the community, keep on helping. That makes evaluation an extremely important tool for not-for-profit organizations that rely on volunteers.

We can assess the success of how well we work with volunteers by surveying them about their expectations before partnering and determining their satisfaction after the fact. Assuming we do well, we can share those evaluations as testimonials to attract new volunteers.

In our evaluations, we can examine whether our recruitment efforts were well targeted – did we attract the number of qualified people we wanted? We can determine if the position descriptions we created reflected the needs of the program and if the orientation and training we provided adequately equipped volunteers for their roles. We can ask if volunteers feel sufficiently informed about their impact and whether or not they feel recognized and valued. We can ask them what they liked about their experience and what they wish we would do differently. We can review if they participated in program planning and if they want more of a planning role going forward. We can learn whether or not we met demand for the program – a long waiting list can signal high interest and flag the need for more volunteers.

We must not forget that volunteers can be evaluated on a personal level – much like staff. It is possible to do everything right in terms of training, providing feedback, etc., but not everyone is a "fit" with the organization. By conducting a form of performance reviews with volunteers, we can identify the people who aren't suited to a role (maybe they would do better in a different role, or maybe they are not suitable for CNIB). Likewise, we can discover the potential in people who have more to offer.

Learning from those we serve: Evaluation can also help us learn how the people we serve feel about our programs, volunteers and staff. Every positive comment on a survey provides us with support for what we've done; every negative comment is a gift, pointing us to the way to be better in the future. There are many ways to measure the impact of a program.

Building a core competency: As CNIB goes into its second century, we will be concentrating our efforts on making the engagement of volunteers a core competency across the organization. Staff and volunteers will receive training in how to engage volunteers. This competency will be built into job descriptions and performance reviews to ensure our people are evaluated on these important skills and suitably rewarded. This is all a key component to building and growing a culture of volunteerism.

Evaluation Process
  1. Write down your original goal. Go back to the volunteer's role description and refer to the purpose and goals outlined there.
  2. Use evaluations that are already available inside or outside your organization.
  3. Measure before to identify a baseline and again after to be able to show the change your program created.
  4. Rating scales are an easy and quick way to obtain numbered answers. Also include open-ended questions with areas for comment that can add to your understanding of the numbers.
  5. Use even numbered scales to assist the respondents in choosing an answer on the positive or negative side of the scale, and allow a “not sure” choice.
  6. Collect testimonials to add a story to the numbers. These personal stories will showcase the volunteers' passion for the cause and highlight to funders, stakeholders and future volunteers that your cause deserves their time and attention. Make sure you share their stories, with their permission, with the communications team.
Guiding Principles
  • Ensure evaluation tools are readily available and allocate resources to complete volunteer program evaluations.
  • Make sure you build in opportunities for volunteers and the people we serve to participate in evaluation. This allows them to contribute to shaping future programming and increases their personal stake in the program’s success.
  • Don’t forget to share the final reports with volunteers so they feel informed and respected.
  • Evaluation materials should be accessible to everyone for true and anonymous feedback. If this is not possible, offer other methods to complete evaluations, such as an interview process where they are asked questions and their answers are recorded.
  • For more tips, please visit Engaging Volunteers with Vision Loss.
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While we may wish that every volunteer came with more skills and knowledge than needed, that will not always be the case. In fact, given that learning or developing skills, gaining experience, and exploring different types of work are all motivations for volunteering, it’s important to be aware that many volunteers will require coaching in order to be successful.

And their success is your success, so coaching is an essential skill. Coaches should always:
  • Be supportive and build confidence; tell the volunteer you know they can succeed.
  • Be respectful; while praise can be given in public, constructive feedback should be given in private.
  • Be specific; give the volunteer specific steps to execute the tasks. Write them down and ensure the volunteer has a clear understanding.
  • Be constructive; feedback that is less than positive should be given in a way that lets the volunteer know you support their skill development.
  • Be aware; consider all factors affecting the person's success, for example, their knowledge, skills, motivation, and environment.
  • Be open-minded; if you always do what you always did… change up your suggestions and approach – consider how you might change to facilitate learning.
When You Have a Conflict With a Volunteer
  • Although we often only see the negative, conflict is beneficial to growth and change.  And whether positive or negative, conflict is also inevitable.   
Conflict is often due to a miscommunication between you and your volunteer, or misunderstanding about the expectations for the task. (However, if the issue is more than you feel comfortable facilitating, or if you believe the issue will require disciplinary action, consult with a manager.)

When there’s a problem, you should:
  • Schedule a time to meet with the volunteer. Make sure you have some privacy and you have each other’s full attention.
  • Be direct and stay on topic. State the facts that contribute to your concern.
  • Listen. To understand the issue, ask questions. Ask them for their opinion on the issue. Ask them what support and changes they need to be successful.
  • Validate feelings. Remember constructive feedback can be hard to hear, but the end goal for both of you is to resolve the issue and be successful.
  • Provide the volunteer with a manageable number of specific ways to improve the situation. These may include further training or improved coaching from you.
  • Agree on next steps and follow up with a written summary for both of you.
  • Allow your volunteer some time to adjust and learn, and follow up to monitor improvements.
  • If the conflict isn’t resolved, the next step is to consult a manager. Sometimes it’s just not the right fit, in which case the volunteer may be reassigned.
When a Volunteer has a Conflict With Someone Else
  • Encourage the volunteer to discuss their concern with the other person.
  • If your facilitation is required, follow the same steps as above: set up a meeting with both parties, ask questions and listen to both sides to understand the issue. Hear feedback and suggestions from both sides before establishing (and documenting) goals and actions for both people to resolve the situation.
  • Strive for impartiality. It should not seem like you and your volunteer are taking sides against the other person.
  • Check-in with your volunteer frequently to ensure the plan is working and that the conflict has not resurfaced.
Regardless of the situation, when dealing with conflict, remain calm, be sensitive to social and cultural differences, remain professional, and respect the person's dignity, confidentiality and privacy.

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CNIB's mission is to ensure all Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunity to fully participate in life.

CNIB's values are:
  • Passion
  • Empowerment
  • Respect
  • Innovation
  • Professionalism
  • Dedication
We work every day to improve the lives of people with vision loss by providing programs and services to ensure the people we serve are equipped to manage their lives as they would like. We also educate and advocate to break down barriers and create an inclusive society in which people with vision loss can thrive. There are far too many barriers in the way of people with vision loss and an unlimited number of issues to be addressed.

Consider the following:
  • Half a million Canadians live with significant vision loss
    • 52 per cent of CNIB’s clients are over the age of 80
    • Percentage of Canadians 65 or older to double in the next 25 years
  • 5.5 million Canadians have one of the four major age-related eye diseases – age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts
  • Higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes also places more Canadians at risk of developing vision loss in the future
  • Almost one third of Canadians with vision loss under 25 years
  • Only 65 per cent of students with vision loss graduate from high school, compared to 81 per cent of the sighted population
  • Only one third of working age people with vision loss are employed
  • 50 per cent of people with vision loss have annual incomes of $20,000 or less
Living with vision loss presents considerable risks. Compared to the sighted population, people with vision loss have:
  • Up to five times as much difficulty with daily living
  • Three times as much clinical depression
  • Twice as much social dependence
  • Twice the risk of falls and premature death
  • Four times the risk of serious hip fractures
People with vision loss are admitted to nursing homes three years earlier on average.

Sixty-two per cent of older adults with vision loss report they seldom leave their homes for recreation or leisure.

Children and youth who are blind or partially sighted are significantly less fit and physically active than their sighted counterparts in the population.

Why our Foundation's Programs Matter

CNIB has three pillars in Ontario.
  1. Post-Vision Loss Rehab Therapy, almost entirely funded by the provincial government.
  2. The Foundation, 96.6 per cent funded through charitable donations.
  3. Deafblind Services, funded by the provincial government, to serve this specific population.
Primarily funded by the provincial Ministry of Health, our Rehab pillar provides people who are blind or partially sighted with the tools and skills they need to live independently.

The CNIB Foundation's programs have been designed to complement and enhance our rehab services, picking up where rehab leaves off. These charitable programs are deeply needed. People with vision loss have significant practical and psycho-social needs beyond the needs addressed by our rehab programs that are covered by the provincial healthcare system.

Social and Emotional Needs

To effectively meet the needs of people who are blind or partially sighted, you have to consider the whole person, including the person’s social and emotional needs. It is these social and emotional needs that the Foundation meets. Unless these needs are addressed, it may be impossible to address other, more physical needs. While a person is grieving their loss of sight and is angry or depressed, he or she may not be able to concentrate on learning a new way of living. Although the need for technical assistance or support may be similar among a group of clients, social and emotional needs are individual and personal.

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*Download a WORD copy of this manual:

3.1a JS Printable Manual, Culture of Volunteerism.docxCreating a Culture of Volunteerism - Manual.docx