TAVA Member Spotlight


Name: Lori O'Neill

Organization: Distress Centres of Toronto

RoleVolunteer Coordinator 

Working in the Volunteer Engagement Sector for: 12 years

Been a part of TAVA for: 4 years, going on 5!


"Be open to change. Question those new ideas, procedures, policies, etc., but don't resist them just because they're new. As I learned in a TAVA workshop, most change is uncomfortable at first, yet so much can be gained by giving yourself time to adjust."

As someone working in Volunteer Engagement, how does TAVA help you?

I'm very fortunate to work at an agency that is so volunteer-driven (we have about 500 volunteers and a dozen staff members) and where I feel so supported, yet I still find it valuable to share the ups and downs of volunteer management with people from other organizations. Knowing that these folks face some of the same challenges and appreciate some of the same things is very validating! I learn valuable things from TAVA, which I sometimes use in my career or my own volunteer work. Even one "nugget" from a workshop can be worth the time it takes to attend.

In the past year, what was your most memorable professional project and why?

In 2017, my agency partnered with a few distress centres across the country to launch a 24/7 national suicide prevention service with toll-free phone access. It requires volunteers to use new technology and handle calls in a different way, which some find challenging on a practical or emotional level. Because I believe so strongly in the importance of this new service, I've found it especially rewarding to help them gain confidence and develop these skills.

Would you please explain the professional success you're most proud of and how you implemented it?


I supervise about 100 volunteers at any given time, so it probably won't surprise anyone to hear there are always at least a few going through a difficult time. Some are quick to say they need to quit, yet when I offer the opportunity to just reduce their commitment or take a leave for a month or so, most opt to try this. While some resign soon after, the vast majority stay for many months or even years, with many increasing their commitment over time. They often say how much they appreciated my understanding, patience, and kindness, and how they felt cared about during this challenging period. When I stay in touch, actively listen, provide words of support, and offer flexibility in a return to their roles, I foster an environment that makes them want to continue volunteering. Having them stay and develop in their roles is so rewarding!

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge to working in Volunteer Engagement?

I wonder if there's valid research on this question...I was tempted to look it up (!), but since the question is about my opinion, I'll share my biggest challenge. Most of my volunteers have very busy lives, and while it's understandable job, school, and family responsibilities take priority over volunteer work, their schedules allow little flexibility. In general, everyone from students in their 20's to grandparents in their 60's lead busier and more complex lives than a generation or two ago. In my 24/7 work agency, it'd be wonderful to have volunteers with more flexible schedules!

What advice would you give to someone looking to take the next step in their Volunteer Engagement career?

Here are a few things that I consider especially important to success and satisfaction in this field:

1. Join an organization like TAVA to learn, share your knowledge and skills with others, and feel supported.

2. Share key learnings with colleagues at your organization to aid in their professional development and increase the likelihood that what you've learned will positively impact your workplace, rather than be overlooked or forgotten.

3. Be open to change. Question those new ideas, procedures, policies, etc., but don't resist them just because they're new. As I learned in a TAVA workshop, most change is uncomfortable at first, yet so much can be gained by giving yourself time to adjust, as well as by tweaking things during this time (as opposed to taking an all-or-nothing approach regarding the old vs. the new way).

4. Encourage daily self-care among your volunteers and colleagues. Watch for signs of burnout and compassion fatigue among them. Do the same for yourself so that you're better positioned to thrive and love this wonderful work!

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

Volunteer work and attending charitable fundraising events! Time with family and friends is vital to me, so when I can combine that with volunteer work or attending a fundraiser, I'm at my happiest!


Published: October 2018
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