TAVA Member Spotlight


Name: Ambrose Fan

Organization: Shelter Movers of Toronto

RoleVolunteer Services Administrator

Involved with Volunteer Engagement initiatives for: about 5 years

Joined TAVA in: October 2018


"Volunteering isn’t just something nice people do in their spare time. This is a workforce. Volunteers may be unpaid, but they are ‘real’ workers for a simple reason: their work is real. And their needs and rights are real."

As someone who is newer to the Volunteer Engagement sector, how does TAVA help you?

It gives me access to workshops and opportunities to network. The first workshop I attended was about safer spaces and meaningful inclusion for 2SLGBTQ+ volunteers. I took away some great tips, and was really impressed with the expertise of the TAVA membership.

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO EXPLORE/ ENTER VOLUNTEER ENGAGEMENT AS A PROFESSION?

From a practical standpoint, volunteers are foundational to the non-profit sector, and they need our support. I’m also interested in how this sector stands apart from a larger, unjust system, yet functions as part of it at the same time.

iN YOUR OPINION, WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO WORKING IN VOLUNTEER ENGAGEMENT?

I think that perceptions of volunteer work haven’t kept up with how it’s changed, and that can be a challenge because I have to budget time to do the work of bringing people up to date--and sometimes breaking down problematic ideas about volunteering--before I can do my ‘actual work.’

Right now there’s an active conversation in this province about fair workplaces and the changing nature of work, yet we haven’t been able to locate volunteer work in that conversation. Why is that? Volunteering isn’t just something nice people do in their spare time. This is a workforce. Volunteers may be unpaid, but they are ‘real’ workers for a simple reason: their work is real. And their needs and rights are real, so we’re talking about the same issues.

I think that our society has a bad habit of leaving certain kinds of work to non-profits instead of addressing issues in an integrated way. And we don’t always value things that seem to come for 'free' (like volunteers.) So it can be frustrating to have to push back against that, on top of doing my day-to-day tasks. Can I do that kind of work today, and how far can I wisely take it? I think about that all the time.

And really, to advocate for volunteers is to advocate for our sector. If your supporters understand why your volunteer program costs money, then they know why non-profits can’t operate with no admin costs. Imagine that: a public that doesn't equate the cost of doing our work with 'waste.' A public that can question things like the '10% rule.' How will we get there if we keep bragging about our super-low admin costs, thanks to our amazing volunteers who do it all for ‘free?’

IF YOU COULD TRAVEL BACK IN TIME TO FIVE YEARS AGO, WHAT VOLUNTEER ENGAGEMENT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOURSELF?

1) Find a workplace where you will be supported. If your needs as a professional aren’t being met, that’s a problem that requires a solution, not a badge of honour. Think of yourself as a worker, not a superhero or a saint.

2) Understand who your volunteers are, what motivates them, and ask if you can satisfy those motivations. It’s not good enough to say ‘We’re a non-profit, so we don’t do that.’ That limits the impact your organization can make, it kills your volunteer retention, and it’s just not fair. Most volunteers are not millionaires doing board work. This is a diverse workforce that includes a lot of marginalized people. If non-profits simply sustain the same structures of oppression that keep people disempowered, who else is going to lead the way? We are not exempt from issues of work and fairness. We’re deeply implicated.


When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?

I tend to a small collection of indoor orange trees even though they would be happier in Florida. It’s a complicated relationship!

Published: October 2018
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