President Carter told 200 leaders of national volunteer agencies yesterday that he would fly to the Gulf Coast today to view the extent of Hurricane Frederic's destruction.

"I have no doubt about the fact that when I get there, 90 percent of the beneficial work will be done not by the government but by volunteers," he said.

Speaking in the East Room at a reception for the Coalition of National Voluntary Organizations (CONVO), the president said volunteer work is still "the backbone" of government and its services to people.

"In trying times, volunteerism has strengthened us," he said.

Carter also noted that volunteerism has been a force for social change. "The women's suffrage and women's rights movements obviously did not happen within government, because quite often elected officials are the last ones who want to add a new level of unpredictable voters," he said. The audience burst into laughter.

On stage with him were his wife, Rosalynn, who also spoke to the group, John W. Gardner, Chairman of the organizing committee of CONVO, and Phillip Bernstein, newly elected chairman of CONVO.

"Americans have always believed that within the law all kinds of people should be allowed to take the initiative in all kinds of things," Gardner told the crowd. "We call it pluralism."