Vancouver Community College shows nonprofit groups how to make the most out of volunteers

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      The executive director of the Alberta-based Volunteer Management Institute, Milena Santoro, recognizes the phenomenally positive impact that volunteers can have on nonprofit organizations.

      According to a 2004 report by Imagine Canada, about 45 percent of the B.C. population volunteers time to charitable and nonprofit groups. On average, each volunteer gave 199 hours of their time.

      But Santoro also knows that managing and training volunteers takes a great deal of time and expertise.

      “It’s knowing how to deal with people,” Santoro told the Straight by phone. “You want to make it a balanced experience where the individual feels they’re coming to the nonprofit to provide their skills and expertise.”

      She pointed out that volunteers who feel valued can become donors and ambassadors for an organization. At the same time, an organization doesn’t want to wind up in trouble because of the actions of volunteers.

      “So volunteers play a huge role in the success of a lot of nonprofits,” she said. “And the economic impact that they have to society is outstanding.”

      To help people understand the complexities of volunteer management, Santoro has designed a certification program.

      Through a partnership with Vancouver Community College, she offers various one-day courses on everything from nonprofit-board development to ethics and fiscal management for volunteer managers to marketing for nonprofits. Other courses include event planning for volunteer managers, volunteer recognition and retention, and grant-writing.

      “People usually think volunteerism is giving your time for free,” Santoro said. “The reality is volunteers cost money. There’s a cost of doing business for everything—you have to make sure you take care of those volunteers by feeding them, giving them water, giving them drinks, or recognizing them in a way that they want to be recognized.”

      That can include formal and informal means. Just saying “thank you” works for some, but others sometimes look for something more tangible.

      “Every time you complete the course itself, you get a certificate of participation,” Santoro said. “If you take the whole program, which is 12 modules, and then you complete a capstone project wrapping up all the learning in one project, you get a certificate of completion in volunteer management.”

      She pointed out that managing or administrating volunteers offers career possibilities in the nonprofit sector. An entire chapter in one of the modules covers human rights. Another focuses on recruiting volunteers.

      “At the end of the day, we’re dealing with human resources,” Santoro noted. “And a lot of this is exactly why I wanted to educate and provide the current and relevant information. Just because they’re a volunteer doesn’t mean you treat them any differently. In fact, you treat them even more special.”