During the ASPCA’s 2021 virtual Right Horse Summit session, Volunteer Management to Maximize Impact, we learned how 3 organizations recruit, train, and retain volunteers to advance their organization’s mission. Discover the strategies used by New Mexico Horse Rescue at Walkin N Circles Ranch, Horses' Haven, and This Old Horse and how volunteers can make a big impact on the horses in your care. Play the recording below.
How to Recruit and Train Volunteers
Word-of-mouth, information on the website, and social media promotions were among the top ways the 3 organizations recruited new volunteers. Horses' Haven also found that many volunteers came to them through community exposure when they brought horses to local events, churches, schools, and libraries. In addition, they’ve built relationships with colleges with animal science programs or clubs and offer opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience. Once they onboard volunteers, they can participate in training days such as practicing/learning to take vitals or braiding techniques to help them learn more about equine care.
For New Mexico Horse Rescue, offering monthly orientations for volunteers has been a big motivator for new volunteers to join. The orientation provides an overview of the ranch and program. After completing the orientation, individuals can continue learning new skills through different training opportunities to advance as much as they’d like and be able to work with higher-level horses.
How to Keep Volunteers Coming Back
To build up volunteer commitment and retention, This Old Horse believes there needs to be a balance between the needs of the organization and the needs of the volunteers. For them, that means they value every level of volunteer regardless of how many hours they are able to give. As part of their strategy to build up their volunteer program, they created 4 guiding principles which help influence the experience of volunteers:
- Practice kindness to both horses and humans by using kind and gentle language to ensure all feel seen and valued.
- Welcome and greet each other with kindness, get to know each other, honor every role, and create spaces that build community.
- Create a safe space where everyone is trained, colleagues can reach out with questions, and everyone respects and follows protocols.
- Value all community contributions, internal and external, and listen to everyone.
Equally important to the guiding principles is volunteer recognition. Saying thank you, creating space and time to gather, and offering volunteer swag all go a long way towards getting volunteers involved and committed.
Horses’ Haven keeps volunteers active by creating consistency and having them work the same shift every week. By having a set schedule, volunteers know what to expect, can develop friendships, and feel part of the community. The organization also created a private Facebook group, where staff shares equine photos and updates to keep volunteers in the know.
Volunteers have the potential to be the best ambassadors for the organization they work with, as they help recruit new volunteers by sharing their positive experiences, according to This Old Horse. And all 3 organizations agree that volunteers often adopt from the organization as well.
New Mexico Horse Rescue says volunteers' most significant impact is the hands-on training they provide to ready horses for adoption. The group holds an annual in-hand volunteer training challenge where volunteers are paired with a horse based on their skill level and attend weekly training sessions with a trainer. Sessions include desensitization, trailering, in-hand obstacles, and more. The event empowers volunteers and horses alike to learn new skills and has helped horses get adopted faster, some within 90 days!
Get more ideas and insights from these 3 equine welfare organizations by watching the session recording above, then apply these tips to your volunteer management program to support your mission and help even more horses in your care.