Volunteer Administrator

Joan, 34, is a volunteer administrator at a large urban teaching hospital. She works mainly with student volunteers. She has an honours BSc in cognitive science from the University of Toronto (1991), a certificate in human resources from Centennial College (1996), has taken courses towards a certificate in public relations Ryerson (1997-1998) and is planning to complete a masters in health services administration from the Canadian School of Management in 2002.

Stephanie: What made you decide to become a volunteer administrator? How did you become a volunteer administrator?
I became a volunteer administrator simply by following the opportunities that came my way and a bit of good luck. I finished my undergrad in cognitive sciences in 1991 and didn't know what to do next. I knew I wanted a job that was part paper-work and part people-work, but didn't know what that job looked like. So I did the human resources management program at Centennial College and wrote a human resources certification exam. I thought HR would provide me with some management skills, but I wasn't really committed to the career. I had worked in a hospital since I was 18 and before that, in high school, I was a student volunteer in a hospital for two years. So when a job became available in Volunteer Services at the hospital I worked in, it seemed to me like a logical fit. I am now doing a MSc in health administration and hope to finish it this summer.

Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
I guess there is the philosophical part I like about my job as well as the practical part.

Philosophically, I like knowing that I have a job that does good for the community and for individuals. I also like that I have an opportunity and the need to know about a lot of different programs at the hospital. I enjoy learning about medicine, but frankly, I am not a "blood and guts" kind of person - I know that a career in medicine or nursing would never be my thing.

On the practical side, I like planning. I spend a great deal of time planning programs and training, orienting and preparing individuals to do their job and I enjoy that.

Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
I sometimes struggle with the hours. For me, this is not a 9-to-5 job - but this is not the case for everyone in this career. I work evenings and weekends regularly, because the volunteers that I work with do as well. This sometimes means additional hours to my regular work week or, when I am lucky, having a flexible schedule. For some thinking about this career, this may be a benefit.

Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a volunteer administrator?
Once you decide to become a volunteer administrator, find a organization or industry you believe in that uses volunteers. It is hard to motivate volunteers when you don't believe in what they are doing, so ask yourself who you want to work with - do you want to work with hospital volunteers, special needs children or adults, the elderly, for an illness like diabetes or cancer?

Also, volunteer yourself. This is practical - it gives you a better idea about what it is that volunteers do. As well, I don't know anybody who would hire a volunteer administrator who has never volunteered.

Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to be a volunteer administrator? What kind of education did you get?
Volunteer administration is a new and growing field. Twenty years ago, volunteers in many organizations performed some of the tasks of this job. But in recent years the value, contribution, and profile of volunteers in organizations is changing, and the industry of volunteer administration is really professionalizing.

Today, I expect some current volunteer administrators (VAs) may not have a higher education, but I don't expect that that will be an acceptable standard in the future. In fact, I expect that very few VAs without some higher education would be hired today. There are post diploma/degree programs at colleges and universities in volunteer administration or similar fields, and I understand in the future an Ontario university may soon be offering an undergraduate degree in volunteer administration. As well, some of the provincial professional organizations for volunteer administrator have credentialing programs so if you wish to work in the profession, you should be certified.

Stephanie: What is your favourite book?
My favorite book is whatever one I am currently reading. Right now I am reading "The Blind Assassin" by Margaret Atwood. I love to read fiction and especially love books by Irish, Indian and Canadian authors.

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