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.

 

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.

 

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.

Snow Emergency Preparedness

September 14, 2015

When winter temperatures plummet, it is important for animal rescue organizations to have solid plans in place.  Disaster preparedness for animals is just as important as the preparations that are made for humans. In fact, these plans feature many of the same elements. Taking the time to make ready for unexpected events in advance of their occurrence can save lives, prevent illness and ensure continued comfort.  It can also help animal welfare organizations avoid a host of wholly preventable, financial problems.

Access To Water

Water is always a critical element for survival and thus, when it comes to disaster preparedness for animals, it is important to have adequate water supplies for each animal and person who will be present in the facility throughout any major storm.  The general recommendation is to have between one and two gallons per person, per day along with one gallon per animal, per day.  As an alternative to investing in costly, bottled water supplies, animal rescuers can sterilize empty, reusable water bottles with modest amounts of bleach and sufficient rinsing.  These can then be filled with clean, potable water and stored.  Water that has been stored in reusable containers for disaster events should be changed out once every six months.

Shelter In Place Supplies

A snowstorm can make it necessary for all team members to shelter in place.  For volunteers and all other facility personnel, it is important to have a comprehensive first aid kit, adequate blankets, high-protein, high energy foods, back-up supplies of any personal medications and sufficient water.  Animals will need a supply of kitty litter, bags for storing other solid animal waste for preservation of the shelter in place environment, dry food stores, blankets for additional warmth as necessary and back-up supplies of all veterinarian-issued medicines.  It is also important to have a first-aid kit that is specific to the needs of the animals that are housed.

Coverage For Protecting The Facility And All That It Contains

One of the most important elements of your plan for snow emergency preparedness is sufficient coverage for the shelter facility and all of the items that it contains.  In addition to presenting a number of challenging, shelter in place events, seasons of heavy snowfall can also wreak havoc on physical building structures and their contents.  With comprehensive commercial property insurance, animal welfare organizations can limit the financial impact that severe weather has on their facilities.

The very first thing that you have to take into consideration when you are formulating a press release is your audience.  For large corporations, the format is going to be quite different than for smaller groups.  The big companies are generally well known, so it doesn’t take much to grab the public’s eye, and for the most part it isn’t necessary for them to have to give the public an overview of the things that they do.

For smaller organizations, it can sometimes be necessary to get some information about the things that you do out to the public within the body of the piece, and not just focus on the specific topic of what the press release is based on.  You have to make sure that people know what it is they are donating their time or money to, because there is such a plethora of smaller organizations, that it can become very overwhelming for the common person to really have a solid idea of what the goals of each one are.

Once you get past that back story, what your organization does on a daily basis, and you move into the press release itself, you want to approach it almost like an advertisement.  It is always going to fall back onto how large and how well known the organization is when you are deciding how to address the target audience, but the absolute best advice is, the smaller the organization, the more personal you want the release to be.  You want to feel like you are selling yourself to the audience, because you are.

When you are reaching out to people about the fundraisers, or pet adoption events that you are hosting, you have to make them feel like they are a part of it before they even arrive.  For most pet parents and possible adopters, animal rescue is more than just a charity, it’s something that strikes them closest to home.  When a person not only believes in the cause, but knows that it is something that has effected them personally, their response to your organization will be much greater.  Your press release should not only educate, it should also welcome the reader in as a friend and an ally to the cause.

Fall Fundraiser Ideas

September 7, 2015

Fundraising for your organization doesn’t have to be a boring proposition.  Now that the vacations are over and the kids are settling back into school routines, you have an opportunity to encourage some seasonal fun while raising much-needed funds.  Here are a few ideas:

Hold a Harvest Festival
Invite local businesses to participate, bringing in samples, giveaways, and games.  A dog-kisses booth for donations and showcasing the friendliest animals available for adoption can bring in a steady stream of dollars.  Crown a non-human Harvest King and Queen, and offer photos with the winners for a donation.

Howl-o-Ween Costume Contests
Pictures of animals in costumes tend to go viral easily.  Hold a Halloween costume contest for furry companions, and have participants send in a photo to be judged.  Put them up on Facebook or another social media or free photo site, and allow users/viewers to “vote” with a “like”.  Participants will share these photos, bringing more traffic and awareness to your organization, where you can link them to a donation page to support your mission.

Dog Wash
Many schools are requiring a public service component now, and you can capitalize on this trend by recruiting school students and organizations for free help.  Put them to work in a dog wash event, for example, setting it up like a car wash, with signs and visibility from a road.  (Make sure the animals are safely secured while washing, of course!)  Take lots of pictures to use online later, for those who couldn’t make the event.  Sudsy dogs grab attention.

Fun Run
If your region has “fun runs”, which many do, talk to those in charge about holding a parallel event:  a fun run with your pet.  It doesn’t have to be as long or grueling as its human equivalent.  Even a one-mile pet jaunt with sponsorship, both individual and overall, can raise money and promote exercise and fitness for humans and animal companions.  Again, taking lots of pictures for an after-the-event donation page is a good idea.

Autumn Art Auction
Open up submissions to local artists for animal-themed art donations, set in fall colors.  Invite both animal lovers and art patrons, and auction the pieces.  Alternatively, ask for digital files and create an ebook of the works as a seasonal fundraiser.

With a little creativity, your organization can have a donation-rich fall season…and a little fun while you’re at it.

There are many things you can do for marketing your organization and the animals and community you serve as an animal rescue and shelter. First and foremost, you need to have ads that catch the viewer’s eye and hold their attention. It’s not hard to do, but there are a few key points that are often successful.

Show pictures of the animals at their best.  Using good lighting, along with a smiling face, goes a long way with presenting them in a positive light. Give a good description of the animal, along with what type of home they would do best in, such as “Needs to be the only dog in the house,” or “Loves dogs/cats and children,” etc.

Post videos of animals interacting with people and other pets. Give each animal a short bio. Keep it simple and short to get your message across.

Tell people what they can do to help.  Keep it positive and upbeat.  Let them know you are available to help them and will work with them after adopting a pet.

Let the public know of the work you do in the community as an animal rescue and shelter.  Hold events and invite people to come by and say hello. Make contacting you easy by providing all your contact information: phone numbers, email, website and all your social media accounts. Be sure to respond quickly to all inquiries and assist in whatever way you can to answer people’s questions and help them with their concerns. Have flyers and business cards available to give out at your events.

Tell people how amazing you are. Let them know how much you care and most importantly, acknowledge and thank everyone who helps.  Always keep it positive and upbeat. Share all your successes. Follow-up and promote successful adoptions.

Show pictures of your volunteers and have them tell their stories of why they volunteer and what it has done for them. Tell your readers why they should volunteer and why they should help you. Invite them to contact you to find out more. Let them know that all help is appreciated and you welcome it.

Your work and message are important. People want to know about you and want to help. Don’t be shy about who you are and what you do. Push the message of it’s all about helping the animals. That’s the key to successful marketing.