Organizing and maintaining your animal shelter is vital to your continued success as a nonprofit organization. An organized and clean organization attracts more volunteers, donors, and adopting families. Each of these adds your continued success by increasing your mission awareness in the community you serve.

Animal Shelter

Directors and volunteers at animal shelters have a long list of responsibilities to actively carry out the day to day operations. Properly organizing and cleaning often get pushed to the backburner to tackle other high-priority tasks like recruiting volunteers, adopting families, and spreading the word about your work. Creating structure for organization and cleaning helps minimize the stress and makes the process more manageable for your volunteer team.

Best Practices

Here are six best practices to implement and guide you to reestablish order in your animal shelter.

  1. Observe your area. The first step to getting clutter and disorganization under control is to look at your shelter. Find a clipboard and pen and conduct a thorough walkthrough of your entire shelter both inside and outside. Are there areas filled with boxes and forgotten about items? What does the entrance way look like? How does your office look to visitors? Take notes about every room to create a central to-do list.
  1. Request third-party help. As an active volunteer in the shelter, things may appear normal to you that are out of place to visitors. Find a third-party to visit and conduct a walkthrough of the shelter too. Ask them to take detailed notes as they move through the building and find unappealing areas. In addition, ask them to make suggestions what will make your shelter more attractive to outsiders.
  1. Create an organization committee. Recruit members of your volunteer team to be part of an organization committee. The committee is crucial to making sure the responsibilities are planned and carried out by all volunteers. Review the information from both walkthroughs and actively brainstorm ways to make improvements. In addition the brainstorming, these individuals are responsible for researching costs or techniques, leading, implementing the new tasks and protocols. Assign each committee member a designated area of the shelter to oversee during the transition.
  1. Establish a schedule. Create a cleaning schedule that breaks down tasks into detailed time slots. Start by making a list of everything that needs to be accomplished to maintain cleanliness. Break these tasks into groups of how often they need to be completed. Establish groups for daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. Dedicate one Saturday per month to monthly tasks, and one Saturday per month to yearly and quarterly tasks. This type of structure eliminates the guess work for your volunteer team.
  1. Host spring cleaning days. Schedule two “Spring-cleaning” days per year. One is the spring and one in the fall. Dedicate the day to de-cluttering and getting rid of items you no longer need to carry out the mission of your organization. A good rule to follow is if you haven’t used in the past twelve months, toss or recycle it.
  1. Review yearly. In the beginning, it is important to review every quarter until you have a grasp on the amount of volunteer time required to make consistent organization and cleanliness possible. After that, make sure you review your continued progress every year with walkthroughs from a third-party. Actively review the feedback and implement changes that will help improve your overall operations.

Maintaining an organized and clean appearance makes help your animal shelter look more appealing to outside visitors and guests. Use these steps to establish structure and make implementation a breeze for your volunteers.

Winter is quickly approaching. It’s a time of the year that creates stress for both humans and animals. Animal shelter and rescue directors know and understand how vulnerable the animals in their care are during the cold weather months. They need to make sure all of their volunteers understand the harsh realities of winter and how it impacts the animals.

Winter safety tips

Implement these six tips to improve winter safety for your animals and shelter.

  1. Education. Schedule a volunteer training that covers winter safety tips for your shelter and animals. Educated volunteers increase the quality of care your volunteers receive. Make the training mandatory for all volunteers to attend. This gives your long-term volunteers an opportunity to increase and share their past experiences with other volunteers.
  2. Limit outside time. Fur on animals doesn’t mean they are protected from the cold temperatures. Take them outside for their daily walks and breaks, but bring them back inside to stay warm the remainder of their day.
  1. Create an emergency plan. Depending on your location, an emergency winter weather plan is valuable. Meet with your volunteer team to review what measures you need to take in the event of severe winter weather. If there is a foot of snow, how will the animal get walked, fed, and taken care of? Who is responsible for making the trip in the snow to check on them? Does it make sense to have stand-by foster parents that can care for them during a storm? Planning this in advance alleviates a great deal of stress later.
  1. Purchase a generator. A generator is extremely valuable.  It keeps the building heated and the animals warm during unexpected power outages. Prepare before a winter storm arrives by purchasing one now.
  1. Prepare for storms. Winter weather is normally predicted days in advance. Make plans when snow is predicted; especially if it can delay daily commutes. Make sure the animals have plenty of food and water along with a comfy place to keep warm.
  1. Pay attention to the animals. Check animals’ paws for signs of frostbite. Monitor them after outside time for signs of hypothermia- whining, shivering, or weakness. Consistent monitoring is the key to keeping animals healthy during the cold-weather season.

Educate your volunteers to give them a better understanding of winter expectations and the animals care needs. Making your shelter a safe place during the cold months improves the well-being of the animals in your care.

Volunteers are the backbone of an organization and are responsible for carrying out daily activities that maintain its mission and vision. A number of organizations struggle to recruit and retain quality volunteers and suffer from the constant turnover. In addition to these struggles, equine rescues and sanctuaries face unique requirements and considerations when searching for the right volunteers.

Equine Rescue and Sanctuaries

As an equine rescue or sanctuary, you are focused on providing a safe haven for horses, ponies, and donkeys in need. These animals have unique care needs and require volunteers that have a background in equine care or knowledge to properly take care of those needs. The number of volunteers with this type of knowledge is scarce. Don’t give up hope, there are some tips you can use to recruit better long-term volunteers for your equine rescue or sanctuary.

Volunteer Tips

Putting an ad in the local newspaper or posting to your Facebook page your need won’t attract the right type of volunteers. More than likely, you’ll end up with individuals that think working with horses’ sounds like fun. Use these tips to recruit better quality volunteers that plan to stick around.

  1. Define the responsibilities. You cannot market your organization as a place for volunteering if you don’t know what responsibilities or roles need to be filled. Take the time to analyze your existing volunteer base and schedule to identify holes that need to be filled. Make a list of all the necessary activities you need help with and keep it hand for when volunteers start to apply.
  1. Be specific. Review specific details of the volunteer responsibilities with every applicant. Some applicants will only want to groom the animals, but there are usually other responsibilities on the list as well. The more they know up front about what they are required to commit to on a daily or weekly basis helps them make a well-informed decision. It is better for you if they choose to move on to another organization before they begin orientation.
  1. Use volunteer matching websites. There are a number of volunteer matching websites you can register your equine rescue or sanctuary on. Websites like Volunteer Match, Idealist, and Points of Light match organizations in need with willing volunteers in the area. These websites offer numerous free resources to guide you in your recruiting efforts.
  1. Be honest. Don’t make the available volunteering opportunities sound glamorous if they are not. Promising a potential volunteer daily time with the horses without telling them the time is spent cleaning the stalls, is misleading. Be honest with them and focus on the rewarding benefits they will experience by spending time at your equine rescue or sanctuary.
  1. Contact local veterinarians. Reach out to your local equine veterinarian to request their help in finding quality volunteers. They have personal connections with equine owners in the area and are able to actively listen for potential volunteers.
  1. Contact other equine organizations. Look for equine organizations in your community or surrounding areas. Ask these organizations if you can visit or hold a volunteer recruitment event at their location. This is a great way to meet equine knowledgeable individuals that can add value to your existing services.

Recruit better quality volunteers to help your equine rescue or sanctuary with these tips. Require every new volunteer to attend an in-depth volunteer orientation and training with other quality volunteers. Training and orientation help improve volunteer retention and provide better care to the equines in need.

Animal shelters need daily visitors to adopt animals and continue helping the community. Across the country, animal shelters are struggling to increase the adoption rates. At the same time, families that want adopt are finding it difficult to do so. Shelter volunteers are trained to match animals with the best forever homes and often times their scrutiny makes the adopting family feel not welcome or unwanted.

Create a Welcoming Environment

Stop scaring away potential adopting families with these seven steps.

  1. Do a walkthrough. Schedule a time to walk through your shelter and take note of how it appears to potential adopters. Look for items that may be unappealing to individuals that do not actively work with animals on a daily basis. Clutter, dirt, and things that broken make your shelter look like you don’t care. Adopters are more likely to adopt from an organization that puts effort into their appearance.
  1. “Hire” a mystery adopter. As the director or lead volunteer, it is difficult to gauge exactly how adopters are treated when they contact your shelter. Recruit a mystery adopter to visit your animal shelter and take notes on the overall adoption process. Ask them to specifically update you on how they are treated during the process, if the volunteers are friendly, is the process easy to understand, or is it overwhelming.
  1. Keep it clean. Create a daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning schedule for your volunteers to use. This maintains the overall cleanliness of the shelter while breaking cleaning down into manageable sections that all volunteers can assist with.
  1. Minimize odors. Find a way to minimize odors when guests first walk into the shelter. It is obvious to most visitors that your building will smell like animals, but urine shouldn’t be the first and only thing they smell when they enter.
  1. Use a greeter. Have a volunteer act as a visitor greeter during open hours. Greeters are responsible for acknowledging, welcoming and thanking visitors for stopping by. They can also guide them to the waiting areas or to another volunteer responsible for giving them a tour of the kennels or cat room.
  1. Respond to every message. A common problem in shelters is the lack of time for responding to phone calls, e-mails, and social media messages. Schedule a volunteer to review these messages on a daily basis. They are responsible for screening incoming messages and distributing them to right individual or responding to those they are able to. This helps eliminate the pile up on your desk and makes you shelter standout for response time.
  1. Train volunteers on customer service. Not every volunteer has an understanding of customer service. It is important that you educate and communicate with volunteers on how they are expected to interact with potential adopters. Include role playing time after you review the expectations. Help them create easy to implement scripts from these sessions that make it easy to respond in the moment.

Benefits

Investing the time in creating a welcoming environment for adopting families is beneficial to you, your volunteers, and the animals you care for.

  1. Increased adoptions. Visitors are more willing to adopt when they feel welcomed in your shelter. Adoption rates will increase with consistent implementation of these steps.
  2. Happier volunteers. Volunteers are happy when they know their hard work bettering the animals’ lives.
  3. Increased awareness. As adoptions increase and volunteers show excitement for their work, more members of the community will hear about your shelter and the services you offer. Increased adoptions and donations are a direct result of increased awareness.

Take the time today to review your animal shelter setup. How does it appear to visitors? Use these steps to make improvements and improve your adoption rates.

It is every shelter and rescue’s goal to find as many forever homes as possible for the animals in their care. That is no different during the holiday season. The holidays are a great time to focus on increasing adoptions and making sure their furry friends have a home for the New Year.

It is also a scary time to promote adoptions because not every family thinks through the commitment of adopting a new pet. Those families end up returning the animal to a shelter shortly after the holiday’s end.

Increase adoptions

Here are five ways animal shelters and rescues can increase holiday pet adoptions without risking having the animal returned shortly after.

  1. Increase publicity. Contact local newspapers and magazines to run a story about your animal welfare organization. Ask them to include a history of your shelter or rescue, pictures of animals in need of forever homes, and why it’s a great time to adopt a new family member. Increasing your audience reach during the holiday season educates your community on the benefits of adopting instead of purchasing from a pet store.
  1. Be available. Increase your hours of operation to give more families the chance to visit your shelter. You risk missing out on potential forever families by only being open limited hours during the day. Adding evening and weekend hours opens the doors for more families. Have volunteers available to meet with each family and ask questions that pinpoint whether this is an impromptu or well thought out decision.
  1. Contact those previously interested. Look through applications you received throughout the year to find families that didn’t find a match. Reach out these families to see if they still have an interest and invite them to come and meet the new animals in your care.
  1. Limit the number of animals available. Limiting the number of available animals improves your chances of more adoptions during the holidays. Too many choices are overwhelming makes it difficult for families to make a decision. Often time’s families leave without adding to their family as a result.
  1. Show them in their natural environment. Make sure potential adopters see them in a natural environment that shows their real personality. This gives them a more concise picture of the amount of care and attention the animal needs at home. It helps match the right families with a new pet perfect for their lifestyle.

The holiday season is a great time to promote pet adoptions. Use these ideas to increase awareness and match animals with the right forever homes.

Animal shelters and rescues cannot operate efficiently without volunteers and employees. Their dedication and time drive donations, adoptions, and increase the organization’s overall reach to the community. Often times, volunteers and employees get involved in making the animal welfare organization successful; they forget to take time for themselves. Directors, managers, and leaders need to know how to identify and understand the overall impact of stress or burnout.

Impacts
Volunteer and employee stress negatively impacts their well-being and your animal shelter or rescue in a number of ways.

  1. Volunteers with no passion. The best animal shelters and rescues have passionate volunteers and employees who believe in the mission and vision of the organization. Highly stressed volunteers and employees lose their spark and passion which leaves them with little desire to be present.
  2. Lack of engagement. Stressed individuals stop offering to help or participating in team brainstorming sessions. Their mind is too full to be actively engaged in helping others or your organization.
  3. Animals feel it. Animals can feel stress. Over time, that stress impacts their personality and behavior patterns. Some animals stop eating or act aggressively to other animals and human beings as a result.
  4. Supporters see it. Potential adopting families visit your shelter or rescue full of excitement to find their new family member. Their excitement can quickly dwindle if they interact with a stressed volunteer or employee that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Identify
Avoid these negative impacts by knowing what warning signs to look for and actively helping your volunteers and employees.

  1. They withdraw or stop communicating.
  2. Positive attitudes turn negative.
  3. Low productivity.
  4. Increased absence due illness or headaches.
  5. Increased turnover.

Help them

  1. Continuous training. Offer consistent training and education to help them understand new techniques and responsibilities. Your effort to keep them knowledgeable shows you are invested in their overall success.
  2. Start a conversation. If an individual appears to be acting different, talk to them. Ask them if something is bothering them or if they are unhappy with their responsibilities. Sometimes volunteers or employees are stressed due to things outside of your control – but sometimes it has to do with their work. Listen and create a plan that helps reduce their stress and takes them back to the positive personality they were before.
  3. Show appreciation. Show gratitude for their efforts on a consistent basis. Volunteers and employees feel stress when they don’t think they are doing a great job or their efforts aren’t appreciated.
  4. Change their workload. If they are feeling overwhelmed by their workload, offer to change it either temporarily or permanently. Life changes every day and some volunteers may not be able to commit to the same number of hours as they once were.
  5. Offer a leave of absence. If the volunteer or employee’s stress stems from an outside source, they might need some time off to handle and manage the situation. Be understanding and give them the time they need. They are more likely to come back fully charged when they know you care.

Pay attention to your volunteer and employee actions and take action when they change. Volunteers and employees are vital to your long-term success. Show them you care about their well-being and help them manage their stress. Your animal shelter or rescue will experience positive results when you do.

Animals – dogs, cats, rabbits, and horses – are taken in by animal shelters and rescues every day. Often times they come from unfortunate situations. Sometimes they come from amazing homes and families but uncontrollable circumstances arise forcing the family to give the animal up. No matter what their history consists of – they are sure to find comfort and safety in the shelter or rescue. Animal shelters and rescues work hard to find forever homes for these animals. One of the keys to raising awareness and interest in the animals available for adoption is successful marketing.

Marketing
Animal shelters and rescues utilize several marketing strategies to increase organization awareness and capture the attention of potential adopters. Common methods used by successful animal shelters and rescues include:

  • Adoption events
  • Online advertisements
  • Social media posts
  • Fundraisers
  • Open house events
  • Website page highlighting the animals

Getting potential adopters in the door (or on your website) is the first step in any of these techniques. How do you spark their interest? How do you make them fall in love and want to adopt one of your animals? The secret is writing a profile or bio about the animal they can’t ignore.

A bio they can’t refuse
You might not consider yourself a creative writer, but you need to. Utilize these five techniques to write create animal bios that work.

  1. Pull at their heart strings. Grabbing their attention starts with their hearts. In the first few sentences focus on those feelings. When you look at the animal – what do you see in their eyes or facial expression? Excitement, desire for a home, seriousness? Talk about that in your opening remarks. Use this example to guide you: “Roxy is looking for an energetic, fun-loving active family.” Or “Max needs a calm and peaceful home to spend his days relaxing.”
  2. Be honest. Honesty is vital. Make sure your description truly meets the needs of the animal and attracts the right family by telling them the truth.
  3. List the facts (even the negative ones). List facts about the animal – weight, color, and breed. Provide a history including where they came from, likes, needs, and dislikes.
  4. Include a call to action. Tell the potential adopter what steps to take next. Contact your animal shelter, talk to a volunteer, or fill out a volunteer application. They need to know what their next step is and are more likely to take action in the moment.
  5. Include a photo. Always include a photo of the animal – especially if you are listing the bio on the Internet. Pictures provide readers with a “face” and increase their desire to want to meet the animal in person.  Online posts with pictures are more likely to be read and shared by followers. The more individuals that see available animals – the better chance they have of being adopted.

Boost your marketing efforts with better animal bios and profiles. Make it impossible for potential adopters to say no by utilizing these five tips.

Working with animals on a daily basis requires special individuals with big hearts and a strong will. Animal shelters and rescues rely on these individuals to run smoothly and make decisions in the best interest of the animals in need. Animal rescue organizations vary in type and size. Some have a physical location and others are 100% foster-based. Some participate actively in adoption events while others rely on social media to promote adoptions. No matter the operational differences – they all require specialized liability insurance.
Foster-based Organizations
Animal rescues that are foster-based rely on volunteer foster parents to house and care for their animals. One of the most common questions we hear is,
“Does my animal rescue really need liability insurance if we don’t have a physical location?”
The answer is simple: “Absolutely!”
Why?
Many assume general liability insurance only protects organizations from slip and fall accidents at their location. While this is true – there are other protections included in liability insurance policies for nonprofit animal rescues. Here are 5 main reasons your foster-based animal rescue needs liability insurance:

  • Animal Bites.
    Liability insurance protects against damage or injury to individuals not associated with your rescue (volunteers or employees). One of the biggest risks you face is a member of the public getting bit by a dog, cat, or horse in your care. These individuals may file a lawsuit claiming your organization was negligent which led to the bite. Lawsuits involving minors can be extremely costly to an organization. Liability insurance pays to defend you and settlement costs when necessary.
  • Adoption Events.
    Many foster-based rescues rely on adoption events to introduce animals to the public and increase chances of adoption. If you attend adoption events, your organization faces many risks because you can’t control everything all the time. Animals can jump and knock individuals over, scratch, and attendees might fall and injure themselves at your booth/table. Liability Insurance pays to defend your organization and any settlement costs resulting from the lawsuit. The best liability insurance policies extend to include coverage at these events while others may charge an additional fee for each event you attend.
  • Foster Home Visits.
    Foster parents open their hearts and homes to animals in need of care. The actions of the animals are not covered under their personal homeowner’s insurance policy. To protect your organization from incidents occurring in a foster home, you need to purchase liability insurance. Liability insurance protects you in the event a potential adopter visits the home, injures themselves and files a lawsuit for damages.
  • Medical Expense.
    Each of the incidents above shares a common factor- the chance for an individual not related to your organization to become injured. Whether they choose to file a lawsuit or not – there are still medical bills that need to be paid. Liability insurance pays medical expense in these instances.
  • Adoptions Gone Wrong.
    You go to great efforts to place animals with amazing forever homes. Aggression testing, socialization, and adoption applications are necessary parts of this process. Even with these steps, adoptions sometimes go wrong. A dog may bite or show aggression in their new home causing a lawsuit to be filed against your animal rescue. The right liability insurance covers instances like these and pays to defend you and any settlement costs incurred.

These coverages are unique to animal rescues and shelters and require an insurance policy tailored to your specific needs. Contact your insurance agent today to confirm these necessary coverages are present on your policy. If you have additional questions or need more information, contact the team at Animal Welfare Organization Insurance program at 800-673-2558.

Leading or volunteering for an animal shelter or rescue is a rewarding experience. Animal welfare organizations rely on strong leadership, volunteers, donations, and adopting families to be successful. When one of these importance pieces doesn’t exist they struggle to meet goals and deliver their mission and vision. Many animal welfare organizations work diligently to place animals in their forever homes. Adoptions are strongest when shelters and rescues educate and communicate with the adopting families on a continuous basis – even after the adoption occurs.

Ways to Communicate
The most successful animal welfare organizations utilize these seven communication methods and techniques in their adoption process.

Before
Capturing the attention of potential adopters is vital in your adoption success.

  • Announce new arrivals. Sometimes families visit your organization and don’t find the perfect fit for their family. Keep these families engaged after they leave by notifying them of new animals ready to adopt.
  • Utilize social media. Share pictures and stories about the animals in your care on social media. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are powerful tools shelters and rescues can use to reach a large audience.

During
Communication during the animal adoption process keeps adopters informed on what step they are at and what comes next.

  • Have a conversation. Don’t rely solely on the adoption application for everything you need to know about an individual who wants to adopt. Talk to them, ask questions, and get to know them. You will have a better understanding of why they want to adopt, what their daily life is like, and what their goals are as a pet parent. This information makes it easier to find a perfect match.
  • Provide updates. Keep them updated on the process by notifying them of any changes or setbacks.

After
Some animal shelters and rescues think the adoption process is complete once the animal is transferred – this is another important time for increased communication.

  • Follow up at seven days. Take time to call adopting families after the animal is in their care for a week. Start by thanking them for adopting. Ask them how the animal is transitioning. Do they have any concerns or questions? Take time to fully answer these questions and they will feel valued and supported by your organization.
  • Touch base at 30 days. Call or e-mail 30 days after the adoption takes place. This check-in is to make sure they don’t have any new concerns with the decision to adopt. It gives them a chance to share positive stories about their new family member.
  • Reach out after a year. Call or e-mail again a year after adoption. This is a great chance to make sure the match is still a good fit for both the family and the cat, dog, or other animal. It gives you a great opportunity to see if they are interested in growing their family with another animal adoption.

Implementation
Successful implementation of these communication methods starts with your volunteers who work directly with the adopting families. Schedule a training session for your volunteers to attend. Review these methods and the benefits (increased number of successful adoptions) your animal shelter or rescue will experience.

Have volunteers actively role play different scenarios and conversations that arise. Provide them with a list of red flag comments to listen for and a positive response. High adoption rates are only positive when they are successful long-term adoptions. Implementing these methods decreases the number of failed adoptions and animals returning to your care at a later date.

Running a successful animal welfare organization is a high-demanding job. One critical component of making sure things run smoothly in an animal welfare organization is risk management. Risk management tools are often pushed aside to oversee other vital components of animal welfare like animal intake, volunteer training, compliance, animal adoptions, foster homes, and fundraising efforts. Risk management plans are important because they help organizations identify potential risks, minimize those risks, and set expectations for responding appropriately when risks do occur.

Good News
The most effective risk management plans focus on making risk management a part of your organization’s culture. With a strong on-boarding process and proper implementation, creating a risk management plan doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Follow these eight steps to simplifying the process and make risk management a priority in your animal welfare organization.

Steps to Take

  1. Utilize your volunteers. Volunteers donate their time to your animal welfare organization because they WANT to help the organization fulfill its mission. Don’t try to hold on to tasks that you can delegate to others. Recruit volunteers to serve on a risk management committee that takes on the last six steps of this plan.
  2. Brainstorm potential risks. Your volunteer committee is responsible for brainstorming every potential risk you face on a daily basis – animal bites, visitor slip and falls, volunteer injuries, etc.
  3. Match existing tools. Once they have a complete list, they need to review your existing risk management tools to see if you are addressing certain risks already. Common tools utilized by animal welfare organizations include volunteer application, adoption waivers, foster home guidelines, etc.
  4. Identify a need for new. The most important part of the committees’ responsibilities is to identify a need for new or updated tools. Are the existing tools, policies, and procedures strong enough? Is your organization missing an important item?
  5. Create new tools. Once they identify a need, they need to find acceptable risk management tools to fill the gaps. It is important they understand these new policies and procedures in their entirety and they provide you with a report on their recommendations.
  6. Educate your volunteer team. Schedule training for the committee to educate volunteers on the new policies and procedures. Review the tool, the benefits, and the expectations of the volunteers. Test the volunteer’s knowledge afterward to make sure they fully understand the changes.
  7. Audit the effectiveness. Have the committee schedule a future date to audit the new policy and procedures’ effectiveness. Did your organization experience a decrease in incidents? Do you need to make new updates? Continue to review all risk management tools on a yearly basis.

Visit our website for sample animal welfare risk management tools.