Profile of a Professional: Nanako Furuyama

 Each month, Volunteer Calgary chats with a manager of volunteers with one of our non-profit member organizations to share their personal success stories and best practices  in the field of Volunteer Management.

Nanako Furuyama
Women’s Resource Centre

Nanako Furuyama joined the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC) in 2007 and she absolutely loves working in what she calls “a place of kindness”.

The mission of the WRC is to provide a safe and supportive place to advance women’s equality and build community through sharing, learning and teaching.

When the organization downsized from three full-time staff to one in 2010, Furuyama’s role expanded from administrative tasks and special events to include program coordination and volunteer management.

Volunteers are the heart and soul of the Women’s Resource Centre.  Many of its programs, such as daily peer support services, workshops, events, volunteer trainings, and some administrative support, are led by volunteers.

 “We welcomed 30 visitors per day in average, run over 15 events and workshops, 2 weekly events and daily peer support, and 15 volunteer trainings in two and half months (September – December 2011),” says Furuyama.  “We were able to do so much because of amazing volunteers.”

The centre has over 70 volunteers. How does an organization with only ONE full-time employee manage?

“Our volunteers (mostly students) appreciate a good structure, so we strive to make our program as organized and structured as possible,” says Furuyama. 

Structure is key. The WRC has policies and procedures in place to ensure the smooth operation of its volunteer program. It follows a schedule for volunteer recruitment – twice yearly for fall and winter semesters. Each position they recruit for has a clear job description. All new volunteers go through mandatory orientation.

The WRC provides opportunities for volunteers to build their skills through 3 levels of training, which allow volunteers to grow in their roles. Volunteers are asked to set development goals for their volunteering at the beginning of the semester to motivate them. 

Training materials are available online for volunteers to access whenever needed. WRC uses the Universityof Calgary’s Blackboard, a course management system, which enables them to store, organize and share important files – job description, volunteer manual, meeting notes — with volunteers online.

And, of course, what is a volunteer program without a built-in volunteer recognition program? The WRC has quite an impressive plan to keep young and busy volunteers engaged. 

Recognition starts on Day 1 during Orientation Session. Volunteers receive a volunteer handbook, a pocket mailbox with a photo, a nametag, orientation, and a volunteer retreat to welcome them to the WRC and help them to feel they are part of a community.

On a more formal note, they recognize volunteers each week in their Weekly Volunteer Update, honour an outstanding volunteer with the Sheila O’Brien Award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership each year, and give different levels of recognition (bronze, silver, gold) to volunteers based on their hours of commitment, project participation and event attendance.  

Other ways they ensure ongoing recognition is through encouraging volunteer interaction. They host events such as Volunteer Holiday Party, Volunteer Year-End Party, coaching session, and the volunteer surveys, which encourage friendships between volunteers and show that the WRC values volunteer feedback.

 “Volunteers are also encouraged to attend events and to engage in conversation in the WRC as part of their volunteer hours so that they see that these seemingly small acts are part of building community, an important part of what the WRC is about,” says Furuyama.

Furuyama sometimes finds the workload challenging now that she is practically a one-woman show at the WRC, but her volunteers inspire her to overcome them.

“I am very proud of the quality of our volunteers.  The WRC is a place of kindness, openness and respect.  All our volunteers demonstrate this every day in the WRC and have been so supportive of their fellow volunteers and our visitors.  I feel such an honour to work with them and get to know them,” says Furuyama.   

When asked what she loves about living in Calgary:

“I like Calgary because of its opportunities and people.  All people I know in Calgary have great work ethics and motivation for personal and professional development. I also like Calgary because it is close to the beautiful mountains — I love skiing!”

Volunteer Management Tips from Nanako:

Create warm, welcoming atmosphere for volunteers and visitors

  • Our Respect Guidelines is posted at the entrance to show our values.
  • Room setting contributes to make a welcoming community.  We have one huge table in the middle of the common area where people sit together and good conversation starts naturally.  New visitors will be able to make friends in the Centre by the end of their first visit.
  • Keep the Centre clean and tidy all the time.
  • Lots of green.
  • A Wall of Wisdom with encouraging messages to other visitors
  • We invite local women artists to exhibit their art works on our walls.
  • Free fair trade coffee and teas to volunteers and visitors

Get to know your volunteers

  • Volunteer mailbox with their photos helps us to remember their names.
  • I try to make time to chat with volunteers to learn what they like to do, what they are good at, and where they are at so that I can help them take on projects that are meaningful to them.

Provide good volunteer trainings for their personal and professional development

  • Our volunteers (mostly students) like our training certificate program. 

Develop succession planning

  • Our volunteers have to complete a project management sheet (including the event objective, step by step logistics, contact information of guest speakers, evaluation) when they plan an event or workshop. The information helps future volunteers when they organize similar events.
  • Volunteers have to store all the documents related to the WRC volunteer work in our shared drive.
  • We have standard operating manuals for special events or administration.

Use a good volunteer management database that works for you

  • We use the Volunteer Impact for volunteer recruitment, record management (including volunteer hours), volunteer shifts, and communication (sending emails to volunteers or specific team).  I cannot manage our volunteers without it!

Check out the Volunteer Calgary website to find out how you can volunteer with Women’s Resource Centre.


About Propellus

Propellus is a non-profit organization that has been empowering organizations since 1955. Through a dynamic range of consulting, training and member services, it helps organizations envision and realize new paths, practices and possibilities. Propellus guides, mentors and educates clients, arming them with tools and resources to help boost organizational effectiveness. Propellus strengthens organizations; in doing so, it leads the way toward building thriving communities.
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