Volunteers Set Up for Success

Columbia Valley SAR Strengthens Operations to Match Specialized Rescue Measures.

3 minute read

Columbia Valley Search and Rescue Strengthens Operations to Match Specialized Rescue Measures

While mountain biking the Johnson Trail in 2020, a child plunged off the edge of Toby Creek Canyon. Although she tumbled 150 feet down the steep and gravelly canyon wall, Columbia Valley Search and Rescue (CVSAR) was able to deploy a complex rope system and lift her to safety. CVSAR gets calls to the canyon at least once a year, while also responding to land, lake and stream emergencies all over the Columbia Valley.

The registered charity and non-profit organization averages 30 to 40 volunteers who work diligently beside other first responders (primarily the RCMP and BC Ambulance Service) to offer specialized rope, mountain, avalanche and swift water rescue services. Watching her son Andrew Brennan participate in rescues with CVSAR for nearly a decade inspired Nancy Loraas to offer her facilitation and organizational skills to a strategic planning volunteer position.

Attending regular Board meetings soon landed her in the Treasurer role as one of seven Board members. That’s when the Board reached out to the Trust’s Non-profit Advisors Program to get support with reviewing and improving the business and financial side of their operations so other volunteers could focus on groundwork. “We started to think, ‘What about the next wave of volunteers?’ At some point, there will be a changeover of volunteers and Board members, so we began to look at creating clear guidelines to set the organization up for success,” explains Loraas.

With support from the Non-profit Advisors Program, CVSAR was able to hire a consultant to help the organization develop rigorous internal financial systems, which are bringing clarity and accountability to the immense amount of crucial behind-the-scenes work. A complete review of its financial systems led to the development of a scalable, turn-key solution that meets current and future financial needs.

“Our budgets are complex and the Non-profit Advisors Program helped us to develop financial systems that will lead our organization securely into the future,” says CVSAR President Scott Chaffey. Now, a comprehensive treasurer’s report is presented at monthly Board meetings. Inside, the dashboard provides a snapshot overview that includes important information like balances, payables and priorities, and budget versus actual expenditures. The Board is also currently finalizing financial policies and procedures that will guide current and future operations and streamline reporting obligations to CVSAR’s funders.

Although CVSAR is based out of Windermere, trained members respond to calls from as far north as the Brisco area and as far south as Canal Flats, and from the Purcell Mountains on the west to the Rocky Mountains along the Alberta border on the east, a total of approximately 10,000 square kilometres. The area is mountainous, with steep walls of poor-quality rock unsuitable for technical climbing, and the numerous valleys are deep and home to fastflowing creeks and rivers, some with class 5 rapids.

The terrain, paired with a healthy appetite for outdoor recreation, means CVSAR services are high in demand. “It might sound like we just jump in a helicopter and go save people, but there’s an awful lot that goes on in the background,” explains Loraas. “Search and rescue is full of people who are passionate about serving their community. Many people who join are already very experienced outdoors people, but there are positions available for any volunteer—I’m proof of that.”

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