Cyber crime is on the rise with more than 1,000 companies reporting breaches in 2016, a 40% increase from the prior year. As hackers successfully target big-named companies, they are also starting to look at small businesses and nonprofits. Why? These smaller organizations typically have little security in place, making it easy for them to “step in,” take what they want, and move on without being noticed. Nonprofit animal shelters and rescues are not safe from these criminals.

As a nonprofit animal shelter or rescue, you need funds and resources to carry out your mission. The best source of revenue you have is receiving donations from supporters. Sometimes that money is hand-delivered, but in most cases, donors provide you with credit card information to make a donation. Electronic financial transactions make you an ideal target for cyber criminals. There are steps you can take to protect your donor’s information and your animal shelter or rescue.

Steps to Keep Donor Information Safe

  1. Use encryption.

Securing donor information starts with how you receive it. Whether you use third-party software on your website or take the information by phone, you need to secure it. Encryption scrambles the information while it’s being processed so an outsider cannot intercept it. Check with your software to make sure encryption is enabled.

  1. Create a password policy.

Many nonprofit animal shelters and rescues store their donor’s information on site. A hacker can break into your server, e-mail, or computers with little effort. You can create a password policy that establishes a set number and type of characters needed. Fourteen characters are recommended by the experts.

  1. Install data security features.

Firewalls and antivirus software help prevent hackers from accessing sensitive donor information. In addition to installing these features, you also need to update them regularly. Put a volunteer with a strong IT background in charge of this task so it doesn’t get overlooked.

  1. Backup data.

Backup your data daily if possible. While this doesn’t prevent hackers from accessing it, it does help you if there is a breach. Some hackers hold information for ransom or block you from being able to access your data. By having a current backup file, you have a complete list of the individuals who need to be notified their information was compromised.

  1. Educate volunteers.

Today’s hackers stop at nothing to gain access to data – often disguising themselves as popup ads or vendors you use. Educating volunteers on phishing schemes, malware, and other unsafe internet activities keeps your information safe from unwanted downloads.

Cyber Liability Insurance

Each of the steps will help keep your donor information safe but doesn’t guarantee a cyber breach won’t occur. Cyber liability insurance protects nonprofit animal shelters and rescues in the event of a cyber attack or data breach by paying costs associated with the crime. Costs include the following:

  • Notifying compromised individuals.
  • Investigation.
  • Legal counsel.
  • Business interruption.
  • Public relations.
  • Defense.
  • Settlement.
  • Bank costs for reissuing credit cards.
  • Regulatory fines and penalties.

Cyber crime isn’t going to disappear overnight, so it’s critical your animal shelter or rescue takes steps to minimize potential breaches and keep your financial resources safe in the event of a breach.

How can you be a great animal shelter volunteer?  Follow these five steps and you will become one.

1) You must be dedicated to the health and welfare of the animals you take care of in the shelter by giving them your love and kindness, showing them you care by taking care of them when they are sick and feeling left out, being their friend when they have lost their friend.

2) Make sure that they are fed and watered as per the instruction for the animal.  If an animal requires a special diet make sure that they only get the food that is recommended for that animal.

3) Take the time to play and walk with the animals.  Some animals require more vigorous work outs to keep them happy, others only require some petting and attention.  Take the time to know the animals you work with.

4) Once you know the animals read what other volunteers have said about the animals in their write-ups.  Keep track of what you notice about the animals and add your own information about each and every one.  Some of the items you can keep track of are:

  • How well they respond to voice command while playing
  • How well they walk around people and other animals
  • How well they play with other animals
  • Weather or not they adapt to having animals of other species around them (cat and dogs)
  • Weather or not they are approachable by other people

5) You must always be there at your appointed time because the animals depend upon you to be there.  An exceptional volunteer will also make time in their holidays to make sure that the animals are well taken care of.

So if you are thinking of becoming an animal shelter volunteer then the five items above will give you a clear idea of what is needed.  This is really what any animal needs weather or not it is at a shelter, in the home, or a stray.  They all need love and attention.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

A volunteer handbook is a key foundational risk management strategy. It will help to protect your volunteers, clients, and agency by providing guidelines for conduct, procedures, and policies. The handbook serves three major purposes: relaying crucial organizational information, establishing clear expectations, and emphasizing the importance of volunteers. By providing this information with your volunteers upfront, you welcome them to your agency and ensure that they understand their role and responsibilities.

Begin your handbook with a welcome letter. This is an opportunity to create an open environment and explain the essential role that your volunteers fulfill. Keep the letter brief and avoid using technical terminology, acronyms, or jargon. It is best to have the letter written by the Executive Director or a board member to relay how very important the volunteers are to your organization.

Once you have welcomed your volunteers, create a section in your handbook to relay important organizational information. Utilize this segment to briefly explain the background and history of the organization and your plans for the future. Include your vision and mission statements so that your volunteers understand the core values of the agency. This will help your volunteers to take ownership of your mission and goals. It is also necessary to explain your expectations for your volunteers and what they can expect from their involvement with the organization. This is a great space to provide a list of the rights and responsibilities of a volunteer so that they are clear on what their involvement with your organization will entail.

No handbook would be complete without a section for policies and procedures. It can include everything from legal concerns to best practices. However, make certain that only those regulations and processes that have been approved and implemented by your organization are included. This area may contain different things for different agencies, but it is essential to utilize this section to explain things like eligibility requirements, background checks, confidentiality policy, codes of conduct, and any other policy that your organization has in place. Additional areas that you may want to cover in this section include safety and emergency procedures, media relation procedures, grievance or dispute procedures, attendance, dress code, conflicts of interest, photo release, and social media policies. A complete policy and procedures section allows your organization to lay out the expectations for your volunteers, as well as, manage your risk by having your volunteers sign an acknowledgement of receipt of these policies.

Volunteer handbooks relay all the information that your helpers will need to be successful. So if you have additional information such as a glossary of terms, commonly used acronyms, contact information, maps, calendar of events, and answers to frequently asked question consider adding these as well. Make the handbook your own by including whatever information is important to your organization and your volunteers. As long as you have covered the information that was mentioned above, you will have a functional guide for how to successfully volunteer in your organization.