Top Tips for Volunteer Success in an Animal Shelter or Rescue
Want your volunteers to embrace their work with commitment and enthusiasm? Here’s how to establish a win-win relationship with these critical and often unsung heroes that will have them inspired, empowered, and engaged. From transparency to accessibility to recognition and training, volunteers need straightforward information from recruitment through onboarding and (hopefully) years into their commitment to your animal shelter or rescue.
To ensure volunteer success, use these tips to create a motivating environment to retain your most crucial and valuable assets: your volunteers.
Be Accessible and Inclusive
Focus your messaging on how volunteers can best serve your organization to help prospective volunteers make an informed decision: is your program right for them? Consider these essential elements for proactive messaging and volunteer recruitment:
Provide need-to-know information before application submission (volunteer tasks, animals’ needs, etc.)
Why consider your program
How do community members get involved
Minimum standards to participate (age, availability, proximity, etc.)
Skills (highlight which are nice to have and which are required)
Time commitment and schedule (highlight flexible schedule opportunities)
Diverse volunteer roles and tasks, including those outside the shelter, like outreach, lost pet support, or foster.
Where and when are opportunities available?
Though there will always be top volunteer needs operationally, attracting animal lovers of all interests and skill sets is helpful. Encouraging and empowering volunteers to be creative, whether their thing is social media, data, or baking, can increase your community engagement and lead to even more volunteer and donor support.
Another critical step in volunteer engagement is their onboarding. Streamlining the onboarding process helps reduce both short-term and long-term frustration for volunteers and staff and increases inspiration and motivation for new volunteers:
Be flexible: Consider “fast-tracking” volunteers with known skills.
Consider providing a pre-recorded training to describe the program before the prospective volunteers commit to reduce staff time and applicant frustration.
Involve volunteers to train fellow volunteers – this empowers the mentors and inspires the mentees!
Be Transparent and Set Expectations
Be transparent with your volunteers so they have a deeper understanding of your organization’s opportunities and struggles. This will increase trust and empowerment.
What are the needs of your animal population?
What challenges might volunteers face (i.e., humane euthanasia decisions and compassion fatigue)?
Are there opportunities to meet with or shadow different staff roles to learn new ways to help?
Engage volunteers to help where the needs are greatest.
Motivate volunteers to support vital operational work (e.g., laundry, kennel cleaning) by asking them to do the “dirty work before the furry work.” Highlight the importance of this work for proper integrated care and overall animal health.
Share specific opportunities:
What is available?
What is required to get started?
Who can help train them or “buddy up” for role shadowing?
How will they be supported?
Train and Empower
Training means retaining. Follow these training tips to ensure your volunteers are prepared for duty, maximize their potential, and stick around for the long term.
Provide clear and concise training (written, oral, video, and signage).
Partner them with staff or experienced volunteers.
Encourage – and provide access to – ongoing animal welfare education.
Offer progressive training opportunities for growth.
Provide development pathways to advancement and track accomplishments.
Cultivate peer support programs (mentors).
Commit to understanding your volunteers’ experience and feedback.
Provide proactive communications that include changes, new opportunities, and success stories.
These essential elements will ultimately contribute to volunteers’ motivation and overall success— at the shelter and in the community as your advocates. By recognizing your volunteers’ dedication towards animal welfare, you will increase their investment in your organization, and vice versa.