Interview with Volunteer Canada's New Board Chair

Jane Hennig has extensive expertise in volunteer management and board governance. She is the Executive Director of the Volunteer Action Centre Waterloo Region and a long time volunteer whose personal and professional commitment to community engagement and community building is inspiring. Recently elected as Volunteer Canada’s incoming Board Chair, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Jane to learn more about what motivates her, what she envisions for the future of Volunteer Canada and more.

Jane: Let me begin by stating what an honour it is to be associated with Volunteer Canada.  I joined the board in 2014 and now am very happy to be serving as chair for the board of directors, a great team, which works very closely with the staff to ensure we are a strong organization and advocate for volunteering in Canada.

VC: How and why did you initially become involved with Volunteer Canada?

Jane: In the past 20 years I have held a Volunteer Canada membership as an individual and with organizations for which I have worked. I have participated in training, read the research papers produced by staff and used this knowledge in many ways to support my work in community.  My first connection came with my long time commitment to volunteering and an interest in knowing what was happening beyond my community.  When I became the Executive Director of a volunteer centre, the national network of organizations and institutions that Volunteer Canada works with and the central access point for knowledge mobilization at Volunteer Canada encouraged me to get more involved.

VC: What makes Volunteer Canada’s mission meaningful to you?

Jane: Our mission ‘to provide leadership and expertise on volunteerism to increase participation, quality and diversity of volunteer experiences’ really becomes stronger when put into the context of our vision of ‘involved Canadians building strong and connected communities to create a vibrant Canada.’ There is so much evidence that supports the increased feelings of connectedness that individuals experience towards their communities when they volunteer.  The strength of Volunteer Canada’s mission and vision is that they clearly link volunteering to strong and connected communities and ultimately a strong Canada.  People are generally comfortable saying that volunteering is an important part of our culture. At Volunteer Canada it is our responsibility to demonstrate this and make sure that Canadian volunteering is recognized for its important impact on our nation.

VC: What motivates you?

Jane: What motivates me personally is also what motivates me to work so closely with Volunteer Canada. Everyday I see the contributions of volunteers and the impact that they have on our community.  I also see community leaders that value volunteers without really exploring what that value is or how integral volunteers are in our culture.  Volunteer contributions are creating change by providing service for, and leadership in, addressing critical social, economic, cultural and environmental issues. Clearly demonstrating the value of volunteerism in my community and across Canada has become more than a profession, it has become my vocation.

VC: When thinking about Volunteer Canada, what does success look like?

Jane: Together with staff, the board is working to update and reinvigorate our strategic plan.  We will be targeting some priority issues that demonstrate the impact of volunteering in terms of both issue prevention and resolution. Equity, sustainability, innovation and mobilizations will be much more than buzz words for Volunteer Canada as our new strategic plan is finalized. When every community in Canada has the supports and resources needed to sustain its core services through engaged and committed volunteers, Volunteer Canada will have reached its potential. 

VC: What are your priorities as incoming Board Chair?

Jane: I would like to acknowledge Frank Seguin for the leadership he has provided Volunteer Canada in his tenure as chair. He has led the board to a positive space with a clear understanding of our role as national leaders for volunteerism.  I will attempt to follow and grow the leadership of Volunteer Canada. As I take on the role as chair, we, the board and staff of Volunteer Canada, are beginning the process for a new strategic plan and will be excited to roll this out in the coming months. We are working on several national projects to support volunteerism across Canada.  We continue to provide campaigns for volunteer recognition. As a board we continue to build on our relationships with other volunteer centres and provincial volunteer bureaus and associations to strengthen volunteerism and raise awareness of the contribution of volunteers. It is an exciting time at Volunteer Canada.

VC: What key strengths do you bring to the Board?

Jane: When I tell people that I am passionate about board work, they tend to look at me sideways and call me a nerd.  Yep, I am happy with that.  I am a big picture person who gets excited about finding new strategies to achieve new directions.  I have never been someone comfortable with the status quo.  So, nerd it is. If I can help an organization move forward and try new strategies, then I feel I have accomplished something important.

VC: Can you describe one of your most meaningful volunteer experiences? 

Jane: If you don’t mind, I would like to share two experiences that really demonstrate the personal impact of volunteering in my life. By far the volunteer experience that was the most influential in my personal development was my first experience on a board.  It was in an organization where there were multiple people running for board positions and there was an election in the truest sense. It was in the late 70’s and I was the only woman on that board and by far the youngest at less than half the age of the average member. It was not always easy, there was some patronizing happening, but there were also some very influential business men at the table that showed me respect and mentored me long past my tenure on that board.  That experience shaped my leadership skills and boosted my confidence.  I learned that I have a great deal to offer to community.

The second example is an experience in a new community.  I had moved to a new province and new town where I knew no one. It was during a recession so finding work was significantly challenging.  I was volunteering for a variety of organizations and building a network of new friends when I got a call. There was a volunteer manager position opening in the next month, but it would only be posted internally.  There was an entry level position at the same organization, but it was very physical and not very well paying or really anything I had imagined I could do. It was however a way into the organization and provided me a chance to apply for the volunteer managers role.  I was hired part-time in the entry level role, which I kept for a period even after I was hired as the volunteer manager out of appreciation and, quite honestly, because I found it enjoyable. I had been introduced to the profession of volunteer management as a volunteer and now was able to translate something I loved into a career. I am now the Executive Director of a volunteer centre and the chair of the board for Volunteer Canada.

VC: What appeals to you about board service as a volunteer activity?

Jane: I envy people that are drivers behind program delivery. I wish I were better at visiting with those in need or had the creative abilities to implement crafts or theatre.  I value people who can go into a crowded room and make small talk.  I am not that person.

In board work I have found a slice of community activity that excites me, and I am good at.  Board work is not as intimidating as many people think. It is however, not for everyone. Knowing your strengths; understanding when to stick to your position and when to compromise; being a facilitator rather than a doer; researching and understanding the needs of your organization, community and sector in order to make sound decisions; these are important attributes when you serve on a board. Working alongside people from very different backgrounds with different skill sets lends strength to an organization but is not always comfortable.  Being on the board of an organization that’s raison d’être is something I believe is truly important. I can see that the outcome of my contribution is helping to drive and fulfill its mission.