by Daniel Xerri


Language teacher associations are quite often seen as not needing to imitate what happens in the business world. However, research comparing non-profit and for-profit organisations seems to indicate that the former stand to learn a lot from the strategies employed by the latter. For instance, a study on the use of relationship cultivation strategies by Fortune 500 corporations and non-profit organisations involved in philanthropy shows that businesses use assurance strategies – i.e., assuring people that their concerns matter – more often than non-profits (O’Neil, 2014). On average firms respond to the users of their social media channels 75% of the time, whereas non-profits respond 45% of the time (O’Neil, 2014).

What this example demonstrates is that there are areas where a non-profit organisation like a language teacher association can borrow from the strategies employed by businesses. Doing so might first require being as clear as possible about the organisation’s strategy. A clearly expressed strategy statement can impact an association’s ability to cultivate the motivation of its volunteers and create an innovative culture.

Strategy Statement

In most businesses, strategy is explicitly formulated in a statement. The reasons for which this is done support the idea that there is value in producing something of the sort for a language teacher association. A strategy statement is one means by which an organisation can communicate its strategies, it being the fourth level in the hierarchy of statements after mission, values, and vision. Whereas a mission statement summarises an organisation’s purpose, a strategy statement more concretely outlines the organisation’s goals and plans. Collis and Rukstad (2008) describe a strategy statement as an articulation of an organisation’s objective, scope, and advantage. The objective consists of the goals that the strategy is meant to achieve, while the scope consists of the domain that the organisation aims to operate in. Advantage explains how the organisation will operate differently or better than similar entities. It is suggested that a strategy statement should be clear enough to be expressed as concisely as possible. Another important feature is simplicity, this being attained by focusing on the specific audience the organisation wishes to target and by creating a persuasive value proposition for them.

Strategy statements can prove limiting for firms because rapid changes in the environments in which they operate might require periodic strategy re-evaluation in order to retain their competitive advantage. Conversely, strategy statements can be useful for non-profit organisations like language teacher associations because of a number of differences between them and businesses. Successful associations are aware that rather than starting with a product they are primarily intent on serving an underserved population (Barenblat, 2018). Therefore, their strategy is likely to be outcome driven in that they are seeking to make a difference in people’s lives (Latham, 2016). Associations are not concerned about their strategies becoming public knowledge because they are most often open to sharing information, processes, and ideas as long as this helps them to fulfil their mission (Barenblat, 2018). Whereas for-profits are geared mainly towards selling their products and services, associations use income generating activities as a means of attaining their goals and fulfilling their mission (Barenblat, 2018). Hence, they seek to make this an essential part of their strategy (Latham, 2016).

A strategy statement can help enhance a language teacher association’s performance. To see how this works in practice we can look at an example concerning educational institutions. By studying the rankings of 203 educational institutions, Rustambekov and Unni (2017) found that the highest performing institutions have a strategy statement that underscores the importance of teaching faculty. These organisations use their statements to climb up the ranks and attract more students. Formulating a clear strategy statement can help associations to attract their target audience and efficiently address their goals. Moreover, the level of affective commitment expressed in such a statement can be positively related to the association’s performance. That performance is very much dependent on the motivation of its volunteers.

Volunteer Motivation

A language teacher association’s strategy statement cannot but acknowledge the vital significance of enhancing volunteer motivation. As someone who volunteered in associations for several years, I am very much aware that my motivation shaped the work I did. The research on volunteer motivation helps to explain why some people contribute to the work of such organisations without expecting any remuneration. For instance, a study of 496 volunteers from a range of NGOs shows that despite some differences in volunteering motivation, the four main reasons why people do such work for free consist of affiliation, personal values and beliefs, career development, and egoistic motives (Butt et al., 2017). The latter have to do with the desires, wishes, and actions related to the volunteer’s ego. Corroborating the role played by personal values and beliefs in volunteer motivation, Okun et al. (2015) found that value-expressive motivation is a positive predictor of volunteering. Similarly, people’s attitudes towards the field of activity are crucial in determining whether they take up volunteering or not.

Given the importance of volunteers for any language teacher association, it is vital to understand how to reward them and ensure their satisfaction. Phillips and Phillips (2010) have found that even though volunteers have different kinds of functional preferences (i.e., reasons for volunteering), their reward preferences are largely similar if not universal. The top reward preferences for volunteers include meeting the people they serve and being thanked by them and the organisation (Phillips & Phillips, 2010). A study based on data supplied by 285 volunteers indicates that collective efficacy – i.e., a group’s shared belief in its capacity to influence courses of action to achieve common goals – and perceived organisational support improve volunteer satisfaction; however, collective efficacy is not as effective as self-efficacy in enhancing effort and performance (Cady et al., 2018). Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in the personal capacity to enact behaviours that result in the attainment of specific goals. This finding seems especially significant given that volunteer motivation enhances self-efficacy and social problem-solving abilities, as well as leading to better mental health (Lau et al., 2019). Heightened motivation is also what leads volunteers to contribute to an association’s innovativeness.

Innovative Culture

While innovation is typically considered the preserve of startups and other dynamic organisations, language teacher associations might want to incorporate the cultivation of an innovative culture within their strategy statement because it is a sure way of boosting performance. Some associations lack an innovative culture because bureaucracy stifles most initiatives that volunteers come up with. This is partly due to the shortsightedness of an organisation’s leaders, who are meant to play a key role in constructing and sustaining an innovative culture. One of the main problems associated with the building of an innovative culture is that traditionally leaders have prioritised resources, processes, and success, because these are much more easily measurable; however, this has come at the expense of such people-oriented determinants of innovative culture as values, behaviour, and climate. This is related to research showing that leaders’ lack of understanding of the key elements that contribute to innovativeness in an organisation constitutes the main barrier to the creation of an innovative culture (Matinaro & Liu, 2017).

Various studies highlight a number of significant insights into innovative culture that it would be useful for the leaders of a language teacher association to possess. Firstly, when an organisation has a culture that is oriented towards performance and individual incentives, this has a substantial effect on its innovative culture and activity (Lægreid et al., 2011). Secondly, an organisation’s underlying cultural values can play a crucial role in determining its ability to innovate. In fact, while novelty-oriented cultural values – i.e., ones based on the development of new services and addressing new audiences – nurture an organisation’s innovative capabilities, efficiency-oriented cultural values do not have a positive effect (Hock et al., 2016). Thirdly, innovative culture is a mediating variable in how absorptive capacity influences organisational innovation (Ali & Park, 2016). Absorptive capacity refers to those routines and processes by which an organisation acquires, transforms, and exploits knowledge to produce dynamic capability, i.e., its ability to purposefully adapt its resources in response to changing environments (Zahra & George, 2002). Lastly, the development and use of a collaborative and feedback-driven system can enable an organisation to generate adaptive capacity and nurture proactive change (Fulker et al., 2016). The former refers to an organisation’s capacity to adjust its features and actions to exploit new opportunities and cope with emerging challenges.


By formulating a strategy statement that puts a premium on the cultivation of volunteer motivation and the creation of an innovative culture, language teacher associations can improve their performance, expand their target audience, and enhance engagement, as well as implement their mission and vision. Given that many associations around the world are presently struggling to convince teachers of their continuing relevance, a re-evaluation of what is prioritised in their strategy might be long overdue.


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Latham, A. (May 15, 2016) 8 Signs of a Great Nonprofit Strategy. Forbes. Available from:

Lau, Y., Fang, L., Cheng, L. J. & Kwong, H. K. D. (2019) Volunteer Motivation, Social Problem Solving, Self-Efficacy, and Mental Health: A Structural Equation Model Approach. Educational Psychology 39(1): 112-132.

Matinaro, V. & Liu, Y. (2017) Towards Increased Innovativeness and Sustainability Through Organizational Culture: A Case Study of a Finnish Construction Business. Journal of Cleaner Production 142(4): 3184-3193.

Okun, M. A., O’Rourke, H. P., Keller, B., Johnson, K. A. & Enders, C. (2015) Value-Expressive Volunteer Motivation and Volunteering by Older Adults: Relationships with Religiosity and Spirituality. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B 70(6): 860-870.

O’Neil, J. (2014) An Examination of Fortune 500 Companies’ and Philanthropy 200 Nonprofit Organizations’ Relationship Cultivation Strategies on Facebook. Public Relations Journal 8(1): 1-18.

Phillips, L. & Phillips, M. (2010) Functional Preferences and Reward Effectiveness in Volunteer Motivation. Journal of Business and Retail Management Research 4(2): 65-76.

Rustambekov, E. & Unni, V. K. (2017) The Effectiveness of Strategy in Non-Profit Organizations: An Exploratory Study of Academic Institutions. Journal of Business Strategies 34(1): 15-32.

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Author Biography

Dr Daniel Xerri is a Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics and TESOL at the University of Malta. He chairs the ELT Council and holds an MBA from the University of Essex.