AVRBC is happy to congratulate Joan Halvorsen, who is retiring after 37 years as Executive Director of Oak Bay Volunteer Services (apparently, that is not a typo). Equally amazing is that she’s been a member of AVRBC for 35 of those years! We asked Joan what it was like to see volunteer management and volunteerism evolve over three and a half decades.
How did you start out with AVRBC?
The ‘Group of Seven’ was what we called ourselves when we had the first Victoria regional meeting! There were seven of us and we thought it was a cute name. We thought we were creative as that is one of the main characteristics in this profession. The name did not last long as we grew in numbers.
How did you start on this career path?
I am a social worker and found that many of my first jobs involved volunteers, such as working with boards that were running group homes. I eventually became the Executive Director of the Oak Bay Volunteer Services. As I was the only staff person at that time, managing volunteer resources was a main part of the job. I stayed in that position for 37 years. Yes, that is not a typo!
How has the field of Volunteer Management changed over the years?
Much has remained the same in that volunteering continues to be such a huge positive force in the world. Technology has been one of the biggest changes and continues to be so. I don’t think many of us have much idea as to the future implications in this regard although we are presently experiencing an expanding awareness of this including the use/misuse of social media.
Other changes are that there is much more formal attention paid to privacy, human resources, and workplace safety and harassment. It will be interesting to see where the current climate goes in regard to respect of others. For example, there is discussion on whether it is okay to hug volunteers.
What challenges have you encountered?
Whew that is a big one to answer! Many different ones! When our work is with so many people we are bound over time to face situations that are difficult. I always relied on the belief in maintaining integrity and encouraging others to do so. I have found it is best to act from a sense of kindness and fairness.
Other challenges included work/home balance. AVRBC has always been good about reminding us to take care of ourselves. Additional challenges include enough money to do our work, enough volunteers and enough pay for us! It is my hope that Volunteer Management will come to be more recognized for the value it provides in our communities. We must advocate not only for volunteers, but also for ourselves.
What suggestions would you have for others in this career?
A very practical one is to have a manual for your job. “Oh no, not that,” I am sure some of you are thinking as you read this!
If one can operate on the premise that at any time you might not go back into work either temporarily or permanently (I like to use the example of winning a lottery rather than being struck by a bus), this will help to ensure that services will continue to run smoothly. It also takes a lot of pressure off, as there is less concern about organizing time and remembering what has to be done. If one doesn’t have a manual it can seem like a daunting task, but it becomes easy to start if whenever you do something, a quick note is made. Even just a title of the activity is a great start.
I found that to organize a manual mainly by the months worked really well, with advance notes as to when to start on something along with the due date. Anything critical, such as renewing insurance can be highlighted. References can be made to files for further details. It seems most people have pretty good job descriptions and that can form a basis.
Anyway, this is just what I found worked for myself and it did make the transition to retirement easier. I learned this from my first job as a government social worker when I took over for someone who had such excellent notes and that made that job so much easier!
How has AVRBC contributed to your career?
I can’t say enough about this. The opportunities to learn with others have been tremendous. Regional meetings, conferences and conference planning provided direct contact where one could really get to ask others about their ideas. Meeting people directly helps to forge relationships that you can rely on. Of course, there is much learning from online and webinars. I was on the Board of AVRBC, formerly WADV (Western Association of Directors of Volunteers) and chaired the Membership Committee for 6 years. I highly recommend board involvement as it helps to broaden one’s perspective and let’s face it, AVRBC could not survive without that.
Thanks to the AVRBC Board for asking me to share some of my experiences. And thanks for 35 wonderful years!
If you know any other members that are retiring and who should be featured, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.