Volunteers are a valuable asset for animal shelters and rescues. Without them, shelters and rescues would be unable to achieve their mission. In 2013, the IRS released a report stating that 85% of nonprofit organizations are run by volunteers and have no paid staff.  Volunteers are responsible for organizing adoption events, raising funds, and caring for the animals in their animal shelters or rescues. Last week we reviewed the importance of creating and maintaining a volunteer program. One of the prime aspects of that program is to implement a volunteer handbook.

Volunteers differ from paid employees. However, managing volunteers requires a similar skill set.  Employee handbooks are common in both small and large businesses.  Nonprofit animal shelters and rescues need to implement a similar handbook for volunteers.  Here are the two main benefits of a volunteer handbook:

  1. Sets Expectations. A handbook is a tool that defines what is expected of the volunteer during their time at the shelter. It also identifies what the volunteer should expect from the organization in return for their donated time.
  2. Protects the Animal Shelter or Rescue. Creating and identifying clear policies and procedures for your volunteer team minimizes liability. The handbook provides guidelines and rules for how negative circumstances will be handled and offers a no-surprise resolution for both parties.

A hurdle many directors face is how to create a concise and informative volunteer handbook. Here are 7 essential sections to include in your handbook:

  1. What is the story behind your animal shelter or rescue? Tell the story of how you formed. Include your goals, mission, and vision for volunteers to gain a better perspective of who they are serving.
  2. Set expectations for acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Behavior expectations include how volunteers treat one another, the animals, and the public.  Define work expectations in this section as well. Work expectations include the number of volunteer hours, responsibilities, and the appropriate way to take a day of absence.
  3. Policies and procedures for responsibilities are a tremendous help in minimizing potential dangers or disasters. Explain these procedures in detail in the handbook. This assures you each volunteer has the information prior to volunteering.  This is the section you address volunteer training requirements including times and methods of training.
  4. One of the biggest responsibilities of a shelter or rescue is to take in dogs, cats, and other animals that need care. This section reviews the policies for incoming animals and addresses the intake process including standards your shelter or rescue follows.
  5. Rescues or shelters that foster animals need a section on foster home policies and procedures. Often times, foster parents are overlooked as volunteers because they are not at the physical shelter.  They are a vital part of your volunteer team.  The risks and requirements of foster homes differ from other policies and procedures.
  6. Animal adoption is a major part of your operation.  This section identifies the standards and timeframes your animal shelter or rescue follows prior to placing an animal with their forever home.  This section also addresses the requirements of adopting families.  It is important that all volunteers are aware of the expectations so they can help properly place animals.
  7. It is common for volunteer handbooks to include a receipt that the volunteers sign. The signature verifies they read the handbook and are aware of the expectations outlined.

Create a strong volunteer program starts by implementing a volunteer handbook.  Work with your legal counsel to create a handbook that best suits your animal shelter or rescue needs.

 

Animal shelters and rescues have the weight of the helpless animal population on their shoulders.  They find ways and methods to accomplish their significant missions and visions with minimal funding and resources. Animal shelters and rescues rely heavily on the support of donors who provide needed items as well as financial donations.  The last thing they need to add to their daily worries is the risk of a cyber attack that compromises their donor’s confidential information. According to a recent study released by The Global State of Information Security, security incidents increased by 38% and theft of “hard” information rose by 56% in 2015 when compared to 2014.  With the threat of cyber attacks on the rise, it is a real concern for many nonprofit animal shelters and rescues. Implement a cyber security program to protect your donors and your animal shelter or rescue.

Here are eight items to include in your program:

  1. Backup your data. Create a backup of information stored on your computers and server daily. Hackers have the power to compromise your electronic information, making it inaccessible. A backup provides you with an up to date list of your donors and their contact information, simplifying the notification process (a little at least).
  2. Secure physical data. Store physical donor files and confidential information in a locked, fireproof filing cabinet. Allow access to this information on an as-needed basis.  The fewer hands that physically touch the files, the smaller chance they can be misplaced.
  3. Limit the information you collect. A great rule of thumb to implement immediately is “if you don’t need it, don’t ask for it.” The less data you collect from donors, the less information a hacker gains during a breach.
  4. Purge unneeded information. If you have years of donor information stored in a back room at your animal shelter or on discs, it may be time to purge it. Keep only information you need. Often times, older files are stored and forgotten about. Holding onto donor files and information increases your chance of suffering from a breach.
  5. Update computers and software. Update computers and software programs on a consistent basis. Companies release updates and patches to help protect their customers from data breaches.  If updates are left unattended, your risk for a breach increases.  If you are not technology savvy, hire a local IT company to help keep your system up to date and secure.
  6. Use encryption. Use a data or donor collection service that encrypts the information your donors enter. Encryption encodes the information making it only accessible by those authorized to view it.
  7. Train your volunteer staff. Volunteers are a significant help to animal shelters and rescues. They can also be a great risk.  If your volunteer team is not internet or computer intelligent, they may unknowingly download malware or spyware.  Educate them on what is an acceptable use of the organization’s computers and emails.  Make it mandatory that downloads are not acceptable and should be approved by the director.  Phishing schemes are a common hacker specialty. Train your team on these to protect your shelter or rescue.
  8. Purchase cyber liability insurance. Cyber liability insurance is beneficial if it is purchased prior to a cyber breach or theft.  Cyber liability insurance protects your nonprofit animal shelter at the time of the breach by paying defense and settlement costs. The best cyber insurance policies take care of the state required notifications, which can be a long and treacherous task.

Cyber breaches are a serious threat to nonprofits like animal shelters and rescues.  The unfortunate news is hackers are becoming more creative in their schemes, making it difficult for companies to keep information secure.  Implement a cyber security program outlined here to protect your nonprofit animal shelter or rescue.

 

Animal Shelters and rescues attend adoption events as exhibitors to help raise mission awareness and increase adoptions.  Events range from a small open house to a larger event with multiple animal shelters and rescues.  Deciding to attend an event comes with risks. Plan in advance to minimize these risks. Train your volunteer team on how their actions can help protect your animal shelter or rescue. Here are five things your animal shelter needs to know before attending a special event:

  1. Does the event align with your mission? Look at the mission or goal of the event.  Does their goal align with your mission? If the two do not align, the event is not in your best interest.  Attending an event that does not promote your mission, leaves you open to negative publicity or loss of a positive reputation.
  2. Read the contract. Most event organizers require you to comply with rules and an agreement to become an exhibitor. Make sure you read the contract or agreement to determine if you can meet these requirements. Common event guidelines include set-up and tear down times, proof of insurance, vaccine requirements for animals, and expectations for how you present yourself during the event. If you are unable to meet the requirements outlined in the agreement do not register as an exhibitor.  You risk a negative impact to your animal shelter or rescue if you attend and do not follow the guidelines.
  3. What can go wrong? Prior to attending an event, make a list of all the potential risks. Risks include animals getting loose, volunteers not showing, animals injuring attendees or volunteers.  Once you have a list of possibilities, create a proactive plan that identifies how you will minimize the potential for these.  For example, one significant risk is an animal jumping on an attendee and scratching that individual.  A plan to keep that from occurring includes making sure volunteers are assisting the attendees while talking to, petting and playing with the animals.
  4. Choose the right animals. Choosing the right animals to take is a key in minimizing the risk of injury to attendees. Your goal is to increase adoptions by attending the event.  Animals that have just recently entered your care may not be a good fit.  Choose animals that can handle social situations and interaction with strangers.  Animals that are skittish or easily scared have unpredictable behaviors and should remain at the shelter or in their foster home during events.
  5. Choose the right volunteer team. Volunteers who attend the event need to be knowledgeable of your animal shelter or rescue, your mission and how to present themselves during an event. If you choose to send new volunteers, make sure you pair them with an experienced volunteer that understands adoption event logistics and your expectations.

Adoption and special events are a powerful way to educate and involve your community with your shelter.  Follow these steps before attending an event to create a positive experience for all involved.

 

Volunteers are one of the cornerstones to running your animal shelter or rescue successfully.  You rely on them to help with day to day needs, care for the animals, organize events, spread the word about your mission, and be passionate about the great work they are doing. Did you know they are one of your biggest risks?  Volunteers are human and unpredictable in their actions.  To successfully manage their actions and minimize risk, implement an official volunteer program.  Here are the categories your program requires:

Volunteer Handbook

Volunteer handbooks contain valuable information about the animal shelter or rescue.  They provide new volunteers with:

  1. Background information
  2. Mission and Vision
  3. Application process
  4. Training expectations
  5. Behavior expectations
  6. Volunteer waiver
  7. Organization policies

Require new volunteers to review the handbook prior to completing a volunteer application.  This information sets the precedence for expectations during their time volunteering for your organization.

Volunteer Waivers

Volunteer waivers are typically included as part of the handbook.  They are vital for animal shelters and rescues to have in place.  A strong waiver includes:

  1. Release of liability for injury and bites
  2. Acceptance that injuries are not covered under a worker’s compensation policy
  3. Acceptance of policies and procedures
  4. Emergency contact information
  5. Release to contact to provide medical help or attention if needed

Volunteer waivers are a safety precaution. Volunteers may still choose to file a lawsuit if they believe the animal shelter or rescue is responsible for an injury.  Waivers are part of your defense in court but should not be your only defense.  Work with your legal counsel to draft a waiver that best suits your animal shelter or rescue needs.

The Right Insurance

The best way to be proactive in protecting your animal shelter or rescue from financial loss as a result of a lawsuit is to purchase insurance.  There are many types of insurance you can purchase for your organization including:

  1. General Liability Insurance
  2. Professional Liability Insurance
  3. Accident & Health Insurance
  4. Director’s & Officer’s Insurance

Liability insurance protects your financial assets by paying defense and settlement costs of a covered lawsuit.   Take the time to research animal shelter insurance options today.  Purchasing insurance after a lawsuit is filed will not protect you.

Volunteer Training

Volunteer training is vital for new and existing volunteers.  Create a strong volunteer training program by answering these questions:

  1. What do you want the training to accomplish?
  2. What do your volunteers need to know?
  3. What do your volunteers already know?
  4. How do they learn best?

These answers will help you to create a valuable training program that is beneficial to both the volunteer and the organization.  Once training is completed, have your volunteers tell you what they learned and how they can implement this in their tasks.  Training is never complete and should be offered on a routine basis to volunteers.  The knowledge and education help make them valuable to your team.

 

Searching for good quality volunteers is usually a tough task that has to be taken on to keep non profit animal shelters operating.  When interviewing and recruiting new volunteers, make sure you are identifying volunteers that match your desired culture.  There are many skills to look for in new volunteers but these five will help you identify the top volunteers who may benefit your animal shelter:

1.    Energetic. Top volunteers exude energy and you can feel it just by talking to them. They are the volunteers that are excited about new projects and tasks and can inject energy into other volunteers.
2.    Passion. Top volunteers are passionate about the cause you serve. Finding volunteers that are passionate about animal welfare, adoption, and well-being is key to recruiting volunteers that will best suit your animal shelter.
3.    Take Direction. Volunteers that excel and do the best for your mission, will be able to take direction when needed from management and experienced volunteers.
4.    Leaders. Excellent volunteers will have the ability to lead others to help your overall mission.  This may be leading other volunteers in training or members of your community to help in donating, adopting, or sheltering for your animal shelter.
5.    They Do What They Say They Will. There is no better volunteer than one that commits and sticks to that commitment. They are the volunteers that show their loyalty and commitment to the cause through their actions and do not bail with last minute excuses.

If you can recruit volunteers with these five qualities, your volunteer team will increase its abilities to educate the community and work to fulfill your animal shelter’s mission and vision. Retention of solid and top volunteers will increase at the same time because their success is reconfirmed with how well the shelter is performing and the number of animals being helped in the community.

As a nonprofit animal shelter or rescue, you often times rely on volunteers to utilize their personal vehicles for transporting animals or running errands.  What many organizations do not realize is that they can still be named in a lawsuit if that volunteer is involved in a vehicle incident while doing volunteer work for the animal shelter or rescue. Since this is the case, it is important for the shelter or rescue to have proper procedures and protocols in place for volunteers using their personal vehicles.

What is The Volunteer’s Driving Record?

To understand and paint a picture of the type of driver your volunteer is, it is best get a motor vehicle record (mvr) on the driver. MVR’s will show you if they have had any past wrecks or speeding tickets and will help you identify high risk drivers.

Policy & Procedures

Proper policies and procedures will identify the do’s and don’ts of driving for the animal shelter or rescue as well include a place for the volunteer to sign that they agree to these policies and procedures.

Do’s of Driving for the Animal Shelter

1.    Always wear a seatbelt.
2.    Always follow traffic laws.
3.    Obey all traffic signs and lights.

Don’ts of Driving for the Animal Shelter

1.    Never drive recklessly.
2.    Never use a cell phone while operating the vehicle.
3.    Never transport individuals not associated with the shelter at the same time.

Is There Insurance for That?

It is true that organizations can still be named in a lawsuit if the volunteer is an accident while running shelter errands. Why? If the volunteers is transporting an animal and hits another vehicle, causing injury to the other parties, they can come back and find the organization to be at fault for those injuries. The good news is that you can add non-owned and hired auto liability insurance to your policies.  This coverage provides protection in excess of the volunteer’s personal coverage and helps protect the finances and assets of the organization.

There are many factors to be considered when starting your own rescue. In fact the process can be long and pretty intense.  Here is a quick guide to help you lay out a plan and get the process moving.

1.    Determine a Mission & Vision Statement- developing a mission and vision statement will help you determine what types of equines you will accept, where they may come from, and how you will rehabilitate and adopt out.
2.    Do you have adequate land/space? Starting an Equine Rescue will require land and space. Do you own this land already? Do you need to purchase? Is it zoned appropriately?
3.    Apply for Organization Name. This filing can be completed on your department of state website.
4.    Apply for a 501c 3 Status. Filing for your nonprofit status can be completed online at irs.gov.
5.    Apply for an FEIN. This can also be completed online at irs.gov.
6.    Create a Business Plan. This plan should identify that path you plan to take to get your nonprofit developed, funded, and how you plan maintain that long term.

While this is not every step to starting your own Equine rescue, it should help with the launching of the idea and help to guide you on what questions need answered initially.

Animal welfare organizations do a great deal of good for their local communities and the animals they help.  Directors of the organizations have a lot on their schedules with volunteer recruitment, volunteer training, fundraising, and the day to day operations that they often forget to look at their insurance protection plans to verify there is adequate coverage. There are many different types of insurance coverage that are beneficial and necessary in running businesses, but what about non profit organizations, like animal shelters or rescues? Some types of insurance include directors & officers liability, general liability, accident and health, and special event insurance.

General liability insurance is one of the most common types of insurance carried by nonprofit animal shelters.  General liability insurance may provide protection for shelters and rescues in some of the following scenarios:

1.    A visitor to your shelter falls on uneven pavement and injures themselves which results in medical bills.  The medical bills would be paid for by your liability insurance.

2.    A family interested in adopting a dog or cat this is located at a foster home, visits the home and their child falls down the steps injuring themselves.  Coverage under the foster home’s homeowner policy is typically excluded because the visitor was there on business.  A general liability policy would provide coverage for the bills associated with it.

3.    Your organization sets up at local events promoting adoption of your animals. While you are there, one of the dogs jumps up and knocks an individual over causing injury.  A general liability policy would provide coverage for the medical bills as well as defense costs and settlement costs in the event a lawsuit is filed.

By choosing to not carry general liability insurance, your animal shelter is at risk for being sued for any one of the above type events. If you have no insurance in these instances, the shelter or rescue could be forced to close its doors and all of the hard work you and your volunteers have invested will be gone.

There are many different types of insurance that would benefit an animal shelter or rescue. It is most important that the individual shopping for insurance is honest with the insurance agent about all the daily happenings, services, and events being provided and attended by the organization.  Your agent will be able to help guide you in determining what your best insurance options are for complete coverage.

Nonprofit animal shelters and rescues rely on donations to “keep their doors open” and the majority of these donations stem from fundraisers and special events.  Each season brings its own benefits for fundraising options and spring time is one of the strongest times to conduct fundraisers because the summer humidity has not quite arrived and the lull in donations after overspending on the Holidays is gone.  It can be difficult to pinpoint the best fundraising ideas for your animal shelter or rescue.  The key is to make sure you are thinking outside of the box, you are delivering value in what you are offering while at the same time you are still achieving your mission.
Here are the top 8 spring time fundraising ideas we brainstormed:
1. Organize a yard sale.  One persons junk is another person’s treasure and yard sales are a great way to offer something of value to your community.  There are two ways to organize a yard sale: If you have a parking lot, you can rent spaces to vendors to set up and sell their goods or you can ask community members to drop off unwanted items to sell.  The money raised from the sales in the latter would go directly to your shelter or rescue.  (Any unsold items can then be donated to your local Good Will or Community Aid store.)
2. Organize a Community Fair or Open House. This is perfect for those animal welfare organizations that own/rent a building or property.  Invite the community in to see what services you provide to the animals you rescue by providing tours and meet and greets with the animals available for adoption. Having food vendors and games for the children is a nice touch to promote community involvement and raise funds.
3. Organize a Car Wash.  Set up at your shelter or in a local store’s parking lot and wash cars for a donation.  You can set the donation amount or ask that customers donate what they are able.
4. Host a Flower Sale. Partner with a local plant farm or greenery to sell flowers to your community.  Many greeneries offer a discount for bulk purchases and you can sell them at market price to raise money for your animal shelter or rescue.
5. Host a 5K Walk/Run.  5k runs are a great way to raise funds and promote healthy living in your community.  Most 5k registration fees range from $25 to $50 and can be arranged on scenic routes in your town.  Contact your Local Township or borough to see what paperwork or permits are necessary.
6. Homemade Wreathes or Garden Rocks. Do you have crafty volunteers?  Making homemade crafts like wreathes and garden rocks are typically inexpensive to buy supplies for and easy to sell. In early spring, you are likely to find community members looking for outside decorations to beautify their houses and flower beds.
7. Sell Easter egg Hunts.  It may sound like an off the wall idea but too often baby chicks and bunnies are purchased as Easter gifts and then animal shelters and rescues tend to see an increase in these animals shortly after the Holiday is over.  Promote animal welfare awareness by offering your community a different option.  To sell Easter egg hunts, you will need some volunteers who are free Easter Eve or early Easter morning and can hide 20 filled eggs at cost (set or donation) at houses in your community.
8. Organize A Garden Tour.  Do you have a local community that loves to garden? Garden tours are becoming more popular and require minimal work.  You can start by contacting those in your community that have beautiful gardens and see if they would be willing to allow visitors on a certain day and time frame.  Once you have gardens set, you can start to advertise to the community and charge a registration fee.  This type of fundraiser is best if the gardens are within walking distance of one another.
Spring time fundraising gives your animal shelter or rescue an opportunity to work closely with your local community.  Think outside of the box this year and organize fundraisers that give you an opportunity to reach more members of your community and educate them on the importance of your animal shelter or rescue.

The spring season brings us green grass, blooming flowers, chirping birds and warmer weather.  In our homes, we usually get obsessed with “spring cleaning” by opening windows to release all the dust and dirt that built up, ridding out closets and drawers, and washing everything in its entirety.  This is perfect time to organize a group of volunteers to spring clean your animal shelter as well.  When planning a spring cleaning day, be sure to educate volunteers on the do’s and don’ts of cleaning as well as provide them with safe to use cleaners.
Dos and Don’ts of Spring Cleaning
1. Don’t do it all in one day.  Trying to conquer all of the cleaning in one day will lead to stress and aggravation among volunteers and with any animals in your care. Instead create a 4 week plan that identifies the goals of the cleaning project. (i.e. shred unneeded paperwork, clean kennels, wash bedding, dust vents)
2. Always finish what you start.  There is nothing worse than stopping a project in the middle of its completion.  If you do not initially complete the project, you are less likely to return to it later. Make sure you schedule more time than you think it will take and always see it through until the end.
3. Remember the little things. Often times small projects or areas are overlooked but can carry the most dirt and dust.  Be sure to remember things like vents and base boards when creating your cleaning plan.
4. Clean from top to bottom.  If your project includes washing a room in its entirety, start with the ceiling corners, then the walls, countertops, baseboards and floor.  This assures that you do not missing any areas and is the most efficient method of cleaning.
5. Don’t expose animals to harsh chemicals.  If you need to clean the areas where the animals spend their time, be sure to use animal friendly products. Look for all natural cleaners when shopping at the store. Some household products you can use in your cleaning include alcohol, baking soda, borax, and white vinegar.
6. Don’t clean windows on a sunny day. We tend to think that cleaning windows on sunny days is best but that is not the case. The sun speeds up the drying process of the cleaner and causes streaks.
7. Don’t overuse cleaning products! Using too much cleaner on a surface can cause a sticky residue to be left behind. Make sure you use the called for amount on the back of the bottle to avoid having to redo your work later.
8. Do get rid of clutter.  If there are boxes and piles of unused items sitting in the corners of your animal shelter, now is the best time to go through them and get rid of what is not needed.  Cluttered spaces tend to be less appealing to potential adopters, visitors and volunteers.
9. Remember your computer.  It is not just the physical building that needs cleaned out.  Be sure to schedule a time to clean your computer as well by getting rid of unneeded files and documents on your desktop.  Reorganize so items are easy to find and navigate to.
10. Don’t forget the shred.  You collect a great deal of confidential data throughout the year.  If you keep paper files currently, sit down and decide how long you want to keep those files.  Set a time frame and then shred everything that does not fit within that time.  This helps to prevent identity theft as well as security breaches in your animal shelter.

Cleaning is a necessary part of running an animal shelter and spring cleaning gives you and your volunteers the opportunity to do a deep cleaning of the shelter.  Be sure to create a plan and recruit volunteers to tackle the tasks at hand.  Your animal shelter will look more organized and clean and you will feel lighter with less mess to be stressed about.

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