Personalized Training Helps Empower, Retain Volunteers
Ark-Valley Humane Society in Buena Vista, CO, has a personalized training program that equips volunteers with everything they need to be successful in their roles at the shelter – and with a 75% retention rate, Ark-Valley is clearly doing it right.
Here's how Ark-Valley develops savvy volunteers with staying power:
Every two weeks, senior volunteers or staff members conduct an hour-long orientation for new volunteers. Holding frequent orientations lets the shelter keep each meeting small, with only four to six potential volunteers, so there's more personal contact.
Volunteers get a tour of the shelter and information about different volunteer roles such as dog walking, cat enrichment, kennel assistance, administrative support or grounds work. Potential volunteers who haven't already done so can fill out a volunteer application, familiarize themselves with the volunteer handbook and fill out time sheets, which are used in order to keep track of and acknowledge their hard work.
Before leaving, volunteers are given name badges and asked to sign up for one-on-on sessions with staff. Senior volunteer Phyllis Kittel says signing up at that point increases the likelihood that volunteers commit to the program and saves scheduling time down the road.
2: One-on-One Training
All roles get specialized instruction; however, volunteers who wish to walk dogs or provide cat enrichment are also taught how to read dog and cat body language and learn protocol for interacting with each species.
These sessions take up to 90 minutes for dogs and 20 to 30 minutes for cats. Volunteers must pass a proficiency exam before they are allowed to interact with the animals on their own.
Given the amount of time dedicated to individual volunteer training, all 12 Ark-Valley staff members must be committed. Ruby Osberg, Volunteer Coordinator, says that without volunteers "staff wouldn't be able to run the shelter the way they want it to be run" since the staff is too small to provide all the enrichment needed.
Osberg believes taking the time to train volunteers on the front end saves time in the long run and avoids possible pitfalls by keeping the volunteers and animals safe – and contributes to the high volunteer retention rate.
Kittel adds that it's important for senior volunteers to step in and help with one-on-one trainings when the staff's workload is particularly heavy.
"Ideally, one person should oversee all the volunteers – and if the staff doesn't have time to do that, a senior volunteer can fill that role, too," she says.