Volunteer field recognizes former program director

Suzanne Lawson, the former executive director of program of the Anglican Church of Canada, has been recognized for excellence in the field of volunteerism.

Ms. Lawson, 60, received a lifetime achievement award from the International Association for Volunteer Administration.

Contacted at the ALS Society of Canada, where she has served as national executive director for five years, Ms. Lawson said the award demonstrates for her the “coming together of my theology and my profession.” She added, “Most people do wonderful things and never get noticed.” 

In her acceptance speech, delivered Oct. 10 at the organization’s annual gathering in Denver, Colo., Ms. Lawson reiterated her firm belief in servant leadership:

“My life in the profession of volunteer administration, in both its salaried and unsalaried versions, has been an attempt to live with the paradox of servant leadership,” she said. “Servant leadership has taken me, a compulsive leader, and frequently shaken me up to ensure that the leading makes others’ lives better, that deeply listening and actively responding to others creates a better path forward.

“And, as a student of the voluntary sector writ large, I’ve also learned that voluntary organizations can also be servant leaders. By following this central motif, they can change peoples’ lives for the better and make a corner of the world a better place.”

Nominated by two individuals in the volunteer sector (one in Toronto and another in Colorado), Ms. Lawson won the award based on her years of work with volunteers. She said it is unusual for an executive director of an organization to receive the award, which typically goes to co-ordinators of volunteer workers.

Part of the supporting documentation for her nomination was a paper she wrote for Anglican bishops in the mid-’80s on volunteer administration in churches. That paper is still widely used throughout the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

She has done training in volunteer management for organizations and churches throughout North America.

“I have taken the language of volunteer management and applied it to churches,” said Ms. Lawson. “In churches, you need to discern one’s gifts and then apply them to particular ministries.”

The Association for Volunteer Administration is the professional organization for those working in the volunteer sector; it is the group which Ms. Lawson said first brought home for her that volunteerism is a profession.

“It has been a touchstone for me to grow, to build networks,” said Ms. Lawson, one of the first Canadians to be certified in volunteer administration by the organization.

Ms. Lawson served as executive director of program of the Anglican Church of Canada from February 1992 until September 1997, when she took up her position with the ALS Society of Canada. ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

She has also worked for the Arthritis Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Ontario Heart Foundation and is a member of the advisory board for the Institute on Genetics of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and of the board of the International Alliance of ALS/MND Associations.


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