To recognize International Women’s Day today I interviewed Dianne de Champlain, Volunteer Program Coordinator at Victoria Women’s Transition House Society. Dianne was kind enough to explain more about her role, her work with volunteers, and why she’s passionate about doing what she does supporting this important, local, women-serving organization.

Tell me about your organization. What purpose does it serve and who does it support?

Victoria Women’s Transition House Society, working collaboratively, provides shelter, support, counselling and education to women of all ages, with or without children, so that they can live free from the effects of abuse in intimate relationships. The Society strives to prevent and eliminate abuse through education, advocacy and partnerships.

What are your main responsibilities in your role?

As Volunteer Program Coordinator I am responsible for recruiting, training, recognition, reporting, and overall management of our program. We have a diverse range of volunteers helping out at the shelter (childcare, cooking, organizing, assisting the house manager), crisis line, special services (picking up donations, helping with our hamper program, or offering special services such as teaching yoga or chair massage or conducting a workshop), and we have recently added a speakers team.

What drew you to the field of volunteer management?

It was a way to practice leadership skills with a very special group of people. People who choose to volunteer inspire me – they are vibrant, eager to learn, and want to contribute. Also, at heart I’m an educator, and developing and delivering training allows me to teach without having to mark papers! Also the diversity of tasks and opportunity to develop new programs keeps my interest.

What’s one of the most important things you have to keep in mind when working with volunteers?

You want volunteers to enjoy their experience and feel a sense of belonging. They want to know their contribution is valuable and valued. The relationships that they develop with the supervisory staff is crucial to retention. We have volunteers who have stayed several years because they feel valued and a part of something.

I also think of their safety – because of the nature of shelter work, they may witness something upsetting to them, and they need to feel there are people they can talk to and debrief.

How do you know a particular individual is suited to volunteer in your organization, with your client group?

We have been fortunate in attracting volunteers who want to make a difference in women’s lives and when I interview and train I listen to what their interests and needs are, and tell them about the range of ways they can get involved. They usually select the task that appeals to them. We also offer a range of possibilities – and we just developed a speakers team for long term volunteers to learn new skills.

I know you know a lot about mentoring. How do you think mentoring plays into working with volunteers?

We have many volunteers who come in for very specific training, such as the crisis line. Mentoring augments the training. During the training, they are mentored by experienced staff and volunteers as they do practice calls. They will get feedback on how they managed a call. Once they are ready to go on the lines, they are mentored by our trainer as they take actual calls. Once they can work independently, they continue to be mentored by staff – more on consultative base, but they also make notes about the calls and these are reviewed by their mentor. The relationships that are established are very important in retaining volunteers and ensuring an effective program.

In our speakers team, after training, volunteers are mentored by staff and they present together. Eventually volunteers will be able to do the training in small teams.

What’s one thing that you do very well, working with volunteers?

I am most proud of the training we provide. We use a variety of techniques to engage our volunteers so they develop understanding of the issue of abuse. We utilize video, discussion, small group activities, simulations, readings, role plays, case studies, guest speakers. We developed an interactive manual that has readings and personal activities to engage.

What’s one thing you’d like to do better?

I’d like to delegate more of my own work to volunteers – it could be a way for them to learn administrative and leadership skills. I recently had a practicum student help me and couldn’t believe how much more we were able to accomplish. There is some front end training time, but once they catch on, they can run with it. They also come up with new approaches or add their personal touch which enhances the program. This allowed me to focus my time on developing a new project.

If your organization had all the money in the world, would you still engage volunteers? If so, why?

Yes. Volunteers are our ambassadors. What they learn about abuse they take with them into their lives and future careers. We have young women who have become counselors, doctors, lawyers, government workers, teachers, artists, parents, community social service workers, etc. They have a deeper understanding of the role of abuse and its impact that will inform their practice. They also learn about healthy relationships, equality and child care – this is knowledge they can apply to their personal lives.

Where is your greatest need for volunteers?

We have a number of tasks which involve driving and pick up of donations that always seem a challenge to fill.

Do you see yourself as a volunteer management professional?

I am struggling with this question a bit. I take my work seriously and conduct myself professionally, and have produced quality training and developed a number of programs for volunteers. But I am not as sure it is recognized by others as a profession – think getting public recognition of it is a work in progress.

Why do you get up every morning and do this work?

I look forward to work every day – meeting new volunteers is always energizing and connecting with our ongoing volunteers is always fun – our staff love our volunteers!

I’m a life-long learner and there is always something new to learn – volunteer management involves so many facets. As well, I enjoy finding new ways to present our training – every time I go to a workshop, I’m always thinking about how I can adapt it for our training.

Dianne, you amaze me! Thank you for doing such wonderful work leading volunteers and supporting such a meaningful cause.