Profile of a Professional: Sarah Firman

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.

Sarah Firman 

Acting Coordinator, Volunteer Programs
Ronald McDonald House® Southern Alberta

Beginning her career in Child Protective Services left Sarah Firman wanting to work in a sector where she could enjoy the best of people and be inspired by those who are, even in the face of adversity, capable of showing the beauty of the human experience.  She wanted to work in a place where she could make a difference.sarah firman

“At Ronald McDonald House, you get to be involved with a set of people, specifically volunteers, who demonstrate such positivity that it is infectious,” Firman said. “It has been an organization that has been near and dear to me for over 25 years.”

Firman has been involved with Ronald McDonald House in some capacity since 1985, volunteering with her family at the Saskatoon House. She has been working at Ronald McDonald House® Southern Alberta since May 2011, starting in the Assistant Coordinator role and moving into the Acting Coordinator role in March 2012.

Ronald McDonald House® Southern Alberta provides a home away from home and support for sick children and their families.  Their programs would not be possible without volunteer support.

“We are able to provide the families a high level or service and programming while they are at the House, thanks to the commitment of our volunteers, “said Firman.

Firman works with  over 100 in-house volunteers who help run the house and deliver programs through meal preparation, housekeeping, recreation, and administration. She also managers over 900 volunteers who help with Signature Events for fundraising and over 100 groups who volunteer for the Home for Dinner Program.

“Volunteers add in significant ways to the level of comfort families feel when they check into the House.  They provide a friendly and warm face at the front door, they are in the kitchen baking and preparing meals, they are assisting with recreation activities and helping in countless other ways,” she said.

According to Firman, in a city like Calgary, volunteers have many great options of where to give their time. As a manager of volunteers, she said it is crucial to ask yourself, “What’s going to make them stay with your organization?   What kind of experience do they have to have to be retained over a long period of time and feel that they are contributing their time to a valuable cause?” 

“These are the questions I am continually asking myself,” said Firman. “Time is someone’s most valuable asset, we have to be respectful and good stewards of someone’s time.  This means ensuring that not only are they recognized and valued, that they know the work they are doing while they’re here is needed and important,” she added.

Firman shares some tips based on her experiences for other managers of volunteers:

Be specific. We recruit volunteers on a position-specific basis.  This means that we have valuable and meaningful work for volunteers to do from the moment they come into the House and they can immediately witness the impact that they have on families here.

Build relationships.Volunteer retention has everything to do with relationships.  We aim to create a culture where volunteers feel connected and engaged, with other volunteers, staff and families.

Have structure. We have policy and procedure manuals for all volunteer positions with position descriptions attached to each specific position.  Each new volunteer receives a general House orientation as well as position-specific training.  New volunteers often “shadow” experienced volunteers until they have an established comfort level and skill set in that position.  We provide ongoing training on an annual basis for all House volunteers as well.  Each volunteer is interviewed, screened, reference checked and oriented prior to their first shift.

Appreciate.  We hold an annual appreciation event for volunteers, which is a combination social event and awards night.  Past families of the House are invited to the event to speak to the volunteers and talk about the amazing impact volunteers had on them during their stay.  Hearing these families speak is really the most impactful way to recognize volunteers.  Volunteers hear first hand from the people they are serving, how all of the things they do, big and small, make a huge difference in supporting families through their child’s critical illness.

Be bold. Don’t be afraid to try new things within your organization.  Things change, needs change.  Create a strategic plan of where your organization has been, is now, and where you’d like to see it go in terms of volunteer involvement and engagement.  Have a vision for the big picture and don’t let what’s been done in the past limit what you choose to create in the future.

 Connect. Make connections with others in the community and use all of the support and guidance provided by Volunteer Calgary!

Firman’s dedication to the organization and its cause is truly remarkable and it reflects on the quality of her work. To her, it is more than simply a day’s work.

“I love witnessing firsthand the best in people – people who are consistently going above and beyond to provide comfort and support to families in crisis,” she said. “I’m often blown away by people’s capacity to be generous in whatever area they can give their time, money and/or skills.”

Check out the Volunteer Calgary website to find out how you volunteer with RMHSA.


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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