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.

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.

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.

The most important service an animal shelter or rescue provides their local communities is matching animals with the perfect forever home and family. Sometimes adopting families are not readily available. And sometimes the animals need to be reintroduced to loving home and family. Both of these require time – time to find the perfect family and time for the animal to readjust to a safe and comfortable life. Animal shelters and rescues rely on foster homes to provide the animal in need with the care and environment they need.

It is important for the animal shelter or rescue to recruit caring and loving foster parents capable of providing this care. Where do you start? How do you know they will make amazing foster parents? Use this checklist to select the best foster parents.

What to do

  • Require a foster home application.
  • Conduct an in-person or over the phone interview.
  • Visit the home.
  • Require a foster agreement.
  • Conduct a background check.
  • Conduct a foster parent orientation and training.

Questions to ask

  • How long can they commit to fostering?
  • How many hours do they spend away from their home daily?
  • Where do they live?
  • What does their property consist of? Is there a yard? Is there a fence?
  • What do they think proper care consists of?
  • Are the financially able to provide for the animal?
  • How will they handle any potential trips out of town?
  • Who lives in their home? What are their ages?
  • Do they have any additional animals?
  • Do they have knowledge of proper animal care?
  • Do they have experience caring for animals?
  • Are they willing to allow potential adopters visit their home?
  • Why do they want to be a foster parent?
  • How will they handle the animal leaving after growing attached?

These are vital questions to gain a better understanding of the potential environment for the animals. You want to match the animal with a home that best suits their needs.
Recruiting great foster parents increases your long-term retention and gives more opportunity to help animals in need.

Introducing a new dog or cat into your animal shelter is a vital yet stressful step in the path to successful adoption. Vital, because it’s the only way to gain a better understanding of the animal’s personality, traits, and behaviors. Stressful, because animals’ behavior is unpredictable – especially when their past leads them to be fearful of people and other animals. If you have volunteers new to the animal welfare world or volunteers who struggle in the initial phases of new animal socialization, now is the time to create an animal socialization plan. An animal socialization plan is a guide for volunteers to better understand animal behaviors. It doesn’t address every possible occurrence – it does provide steps volunteers can take during crucial moments.
The Steps

  1. Initial Introduction. Choose experienced volunteers who don’t get nervous in stressful moments for the animal introductions. Cats and dogs have different temperaments and unique methods for successful introductions.

    Cats
    Introduce cats to other cats in an open area with a few hiding spots set up. Make sure the cat you introduce the new cat to is well-behaved. Give the cat time to explore and feel comfortable in the room. Bring the other cat in after the cat is comfortable. Interact and play with this cat to increase your new furry friend’s trust. Cats cannot be rushed to meet and be friends – it takes time and commitment.

    Dogs
    Initial dog-to-dog introductions require both dogs to be on a leash that allows freedom of movement. They need to feel like they can explore at their own pace. Keep dogs 10 feet apart and give them a chance to sniff one another without touching.

    If any of the animals show signs of aggression, remove the animals from the meetings for the day.

  2. Assess body language. Body language speaks volumes when analyzing dogs and cats in different situations. Pay attention to their body language to gain an understanding of how they are handling and reacting to the situation. Aggressive or uncomfortable body language to look for includes:
    •    Hissing or growling
    •    Raised hair
    •    Stiff body
    •    Bare teeth
    •    Get low (getting ready to attack)
    Lunging at one another
    In these moments, separate the animals and try again the following day.
  3.  Group introductions. After the dogs or cats successfully interact with others in a one-on-one situation, move them to group introductions.

    Cats
    Add more cats to the first room. Watch to see how the cat reacts. Do they run and hide? Play? Attack? As long as all of the animals are behaving well, watch them for varied lengths of time. Increase the lengths of time daily until they can be trusted 100% of the time with the other cats.

    Dogs
    Take dogs into group settings on a leash. Give the dog time to sniff around and then drop the leash, letting them roam freely. Pay attention to their initial reactions and responses to the other dogs. Repeat this daily at increased lengths of time until they can be left on their own.

  4. Human interaction. Throughout the entire introduction process, keep track of how the animals respond to human interaction, new volunteers, male versus female volunteers. Make note of any potential human socialization dangers.

Your ultimate goal is to adopt the animals to their forever homes. The best way to accomplish that is to properly introduce and socialize all animals with other animals, volunteers, and your shelter setting.

Foster parents are a vital part of your volunteer organization. They provide a safe haven and care for animals in need. Most animal shelters or animal rescues utilize volunteer handbooks. These handbooks identify how the volunteer program works and typically include a section dedicated to foster parent volunteers.
Foster parents have a unique set of responsibilities. Address these responsibilities in a manual created specifically for your foster parents. Make sure you include these 5 key components.

  1. Welcome Letter. Include a letter welcoming the new foster home to your animal rescue group. Include statistics illustrating how many animals you help, the number of foster homes in your network, and why they are important.
  2. Frequently Asked Questions. Address FAQ’s in the front of the manual. These address common concerns for foster parents immediately. Where do the foster animals come from? Can I foster a dog with a full-time job or with no fence? How long does each animal need care? How do I adopt my foster dog? These are just a few samples – include the questions you hear most often.
  3. Requirements. Address requirements up front. What steps do fosters need to take to “dog proof” their home? What supplies do they need to purchase? What activities are not acceptable for the animals?
  4. Expectations. What activities do you expect the foster to perform daily, weekly, and monthly? Walking/exercises, training, socializing, grooming expectations, and adoption family appointments need to be outlined in this section.
  5. Policies and Procedures. Animals are unpredictable. Address what steps fosters need to take in certain situations. Who do they contact if the animal bites them, bites somebody else, shows signs of aggression, or gets sick or injured? Outline when veterinary services need contacted and how the foster parent can help at home.

Creating a strong network of foster homes is the key to successful adoptions. Manage expectations and requirements upfront with a foster manual.

Animals in shelters typically come from a background of abuse and neglect. Sometimes these animals have little or no social skills with other animals or humans. Similar to humans, social skills with humans or other animals are vital.

What is socialization?

Socialization teaches dogs to interact with humans and other animals in a friendly manner. Those responsible for socializing dogs use different tactics and methods. Placing dogs in foster homes and forever homes requires they have certain socialization skills. The skills required depend on the makeup of those homes. Do the homes have children, other dogs, or other pets? How does the dog respond to children, males, females, and other animals?

Often times, animal shelters know little about the dogs in their care. Especially when the dogs are found abandoned. In these situations, how do you know what type of environment they will thrive in? The best shelters perform aggression testing to determine what social skills are in place and which need to be worked on.

Proper socialization decreases the dog’s stress and the chance of lashing out. Shelter dogs need to be introduced to socializing differently than a 3-week old puppy. Follow these steps for socializing your shelter dogs:

  1. Choose the right volunteer. Choose volunteers who are calm by nature. Anxiousness is easily detected by the dogs. If the volunteer is anxious or quick to yank on the leash, the dogs get scared.
  2. Introduce them to other shelter dogs. During the initial meetings keep both dogs on a loose leash. This gives the dogs chance to move freely to check out the surrounding environment. Keep the dogs about 8 feet apart to avoid a face to face meeting which many dogs don’t enjoy.
  3. Pay attention. Take notice of how the dogs react to one another. Look for signs of discomfort – stiff body, bared teeth, or growling. Maintain distance between the dogs in these situations or stop for the day if they don’t calm down.
  4. Introduce them to a group setting. After the dogs do well in the one on one introduction, they can be introduced to a group setting. Have the volunteer take the dog into a group environment on a leash. Drop the leash inside – give them chance to explore while still having a method to manage them. Take them off the leash after 20-30 minutes of good behavior. Continue to watch them for another 20- 30 minutes to make sure they remain calm.
  5. Slowly move them full-time to the group setting. Move new dogs into the group setting in stages. Let them stay for a few hours adding time every day until you work up to a full day with the other dogs.

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.