Working in Nonprofits
People in Nonprofits
Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Organization: HIV Edmonton
Position: Volunteer Coordinator
Length of Service: 1 year
Ted Kerr was born in Edmonton in 1979 and has lived in the Alberta capital his entire life. In 2001, after completing several courses at the local community college, he wanted to see more of the world and travelled to Europe, spending six months in England and another six in Spain, pursuing a number of interests, including writing and photography.
When he came back to Edmonton, he worked a number of jobs before deciding to focus on his writing and photography. During this time he also started volunteering at a few nonprofits, including HIV Edmonton, an organization that provides education, support, harm reduction and advocacy for individuals infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Ted volunteered at HIV Edmonton for several years. "I was drawn to the cause for a number of reasons," he explains. "Living in a western community, I had a strong desire to be more connected to global issues, and HIV/AIDS is a global disease that has a major impact on the community level." When the opportunity to join the staff team as a volunteer coordinator arose, Ted saw it as a natural way for him to strengthen his commitment to the organization's cause. "For the first six months I was running on adrenaline, it was a rush to be working at HIV Edmonton in an increased capacity" he recounts. "Now I'm past the honeymoon phase and the learning curve has kicked in."
Ted coordinates the participation of nearly 100 active volunteers in all aspects of HIV Edmonton's operations, including special events, community development and the traditional administrative functions that while less glamourous, are no less critical. His approach to volunteer management allows him to find something meaningful for everyone to do. "It's my philosophy is to never reject a volunteer. I'll find a place for them in the organization. Everyone who walks through our doors has a drive to be a part of the HIV/AIDS community. My job is to help them find a meaningful way to participate."
Like many nonprofit organizations, the staff complement at HIV Edmonton is small and lack of funding is a perennial issue. While a source of frustration for some, Ted sees this as an opportunity to step into a number of roles, to learn from his peers and to apply his creativity to find solutions. "My job title may be 'Volunteer Coordinator,' but often I'll work on a communications or community development project. The lines between staff roles are blurred and that's one of the reasons that I like nonprofits. You're able to learn new things and try different roles within the organization, and that's something you can't always do in the private sector."
The economic boom in Alberta had led a fair number of Ted's peers in the nonprofit sector to consider leaving organizations for higher paying jobs with better benefits in the private sector, however Ted doesn't see himself leaving. "I've always felt more comfortable in the nonprofit sector. I feel blessed that I am able to earn a living while making a difference," he says. "When you work in a nonprofit, you're always in touch with reality and there's no time to be complacent. It keeps you on your toes."
Then there's the gender issue. Men make up only 25% of the workforce in the nonprofit sector, with the majority of them working in sports and recreation. "The gender politics in the nonprofit world are a little different," admits Ted. "There's a stigma that it's women's work. We need to get over that."
With many nonprofit leaders set to retire in the coming years, Ted sees a bright future for himself and for young people in the sector who are looking to better align their careers with their civic and social values. "There are many people in the sector who are thinking of retiring after championing the cause for ten, twenty or more years. Who's going to take their place to ensure that the work gets done?" he asks. He's quick to respond: "I'll gladly bear the torch."
For more information about HIV Edmonton, visit www.hivedmonton.com.