How to hold Volunteers Accountable

July 31, 2013


An animal shelter depends on volunteers for almost everything. Paid staff are a luxury and, thus, thin on the ground.

However, because volunteers are not paid, it can sometimes be hard to hold them properly accountable for their work. They don’t have as much to lose if you ask them to leave. Because they aren’t being paid, they may bail on time they committed to (sometimes with a good reason, sometimes not). So, how do you keep volunteers on the ball?

First, a good volunteer coordinator is worth his or her weight in gold – enough that sometimes it’s best to make this a paid position, especially as it can easily turn into a full time job. A good coordinator will track everyone’s hours and responsibilities, make sure that genuine emergencies are appreciated and covered for, and find out who’s really doing what so that freeloaders can be dealt with.

Second, make sure your volunteers are happy with the tasks they are assigned. For example, some people volunteer for animal shelters because they prefer animals over people – those people are best off in the back cleaning cages and feeding rather than on the front desk. Rotating the unpleasant tasks so that nobody has to do too much of them can also help.

Third, make sure all of your volunteers are invested in the cause. You don’t want kids whose parents told them they have to volunteer for animal shelters (or anything else). All volunteers should believe in the work and want to be there. If you have high school or college age volunteers, you might be able to make their work into an internship that will give them college credit.

Finally, keep the shelter organized and expectations clear and reasonable. Having a white board with a list of tasks and who is supposed to do them will help shame those who don’t hold their end up and also make sure tasks are completed when a volunteer has to stay late at paid work or has a sick child. Structuring tasks also makes the work go faster. If somebody chooses to volunteer for animal shelters, they deserve clear rules and expectations – and so do the animals.


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