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.

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.

Accidents happen. Every day nonprofit animal shelter teams work to educate, provide, and raise money for animals in need in their communities and beyond. Directors in charge of these valuable animal rescue organizations know firsthand volunteers are the foundation of a nonprofit’s success. But accidents do happen – to volunteers, visitors, and foster parents. Many animal shelters utilize policies, procedures, and handbooks to minimize the risk of incidents and accidents. Do you have an accident investigation plan ready to implement when “life happens”?

Accidents
There are a variety of accidents animal shelters and rescues experience during normal daily operations:

  • Slip & falls
  • Animal scratches
  • Animal bites
  • Animals knocking down volunteers or visitors
  • Scrapes, bruises, and cuts

Each type of accident (sometimes referred to as incidents) requires a unique plan to proactively manage the outcome and take care of the injured parties.
Accident Investigation Plans
Accident investigation plans are too often overlooked as part of the plan to manage accidents. They offer nonprofit animal shelters and rescues a great deal of valuable information. You can identify 3 main items in an accident investigation:

  • What and how the accident occurred.
  • What critical decisions were made or missed?
  • What can you do to prevent in the future?

Taking the time to investigate every accident requires time – but it is time well spent if you prevent future injuries.
Step by Step

  1. Appoint a lead person to investigate.
    Select a neutral individual to lead and conduct the accident investigation. A neutral party has no outside personal ties to any of the parties involved in the accident and is not considered a witness to the accident.
  2. Provide a briefing.
    Provide them with an overview of the accident. What you know happened, where it occurred, who is involved, and what steps are being taken to provide care and treatment.
  3. Inspect the accident site.
    It is important the investigator start by inspecting the accident site. Look for signs of the accident, anything that might have caused the accident, anything that potentially impacted the decision-making process during the accident.
  4. Conduct interviews.
    Have the investigator interview those involved in the accident along with any witnesses. Document facts only and guide interviewees to leave personal opinions out of the discussion.
  5. Analyze findings.
    Review all facts and interview details to gain a 360-degree perspective of the accident. Look for changes and updates your animal shelter can make to prevent future occurrences.
  6. Make changes.
    Implement these changes by updating procedures, policies, and handbooks. Hold a mandatory volunteer training to assure each volunteer has a clear understanding of new expectations. Have each volunteer sign a statement acknowledging they understand the updates.
  7. Document.
    Documentation is vital in any incident, occurrence or accident. Document complete investigation findings in a final report along with updates and changes implemented. Include a list of all volunteers who participated in the training and include their signed acknowledgment form.

Conducting a comprehensive accident investigation seems daunting and time-consuming. It doesn’t have to be. Create a plan and procedure now on how you will investigate future accidents. Your animal shelter or rescue benefits from a better understanding of how and why decisions are made in critical moments. You can be proactive in making changes to minimize future occurrences and promote a safe volunteer work environment.

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.