Animal shelters and rescues cannot operate efficiently without volunteers and employees. Their dedication and time drive donations, adoptions, and increase the organization’s overall reach to the community. Often times, volunteers and employees get involved in making the animal welfare organization successful; they forget to take time for themselves. Directors, managers, and leaders need to know how to identify and understand the overall impact of stress or burnout.

Impacts
Volunteer and employee stress negatively impacts their well-being and your animal shelter or rescue in a number of ways.

  1. Volunteers with no passion. The best animal shelters and rescues have passionate volunteers and employees who believe in the mission and vision of the organization. Highly stressed volunteers and employees lose their spark and passion which leaves them with little desire to be present.
  2. Lack of engagement. Stressed individuals stop offering to help or participating in team brainstorming sessions. Their mind is too full to be actively engaged in helping others or your organization.
  3. Animals feel it. Animals can feel stress. Over time, that stress impacts their personality and behavior patterns. Some animals stop eating or act aggressively to other animals and human beings as a result.
  4. Supporters see it. Potential adopting families visit your shelter or rescue full of excitement to find their new family member. Their excitement can quickly dwindle if they interact with a stressed volunteer or employee that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Identify
Avoid these negative impacts by knowing what warning signs to look for and actively helping your volunteers and employees.

  1. They withdraw or stop communicating.
  2. Positive attitudes turn negative.
  3. Low productivity.
  4. Increased absence due illness or headaches.
  5. Increased turnover.

Help them

  1. Continuous training. Offer consistent training and education to help them understand new techniques and responsibilities. Your effort to keep them knowledgeable shows you are invested in their overall success.
  2. Start a conversation. If an individual appears to be acting different, talk to them. Ask them if something is bothering them or if they are unhappy with their responsibilities. Sometimes volunteers or employees are stressed due to things outside of your control – but sometimes it has to do with their work. Listen and create a plan that helps reduce their stress and takes them back to the positive personality they were before.
  3. Show appreciation. Show gratitude for their efforts on a consistent basis. Volunteers and employees feel stress when they don’t think they are doing a great job or their efforts aren’t appreciated.
  4. Change their workload. If they are feeling overwhelmed by their workload, offer to change it either temporarily or permanently. Life changes every day and some volunteers may not be able to commit to the same number of hours as they once were.
  5. Offer a leave of absence. If the volunteer or employee’s stress stems from an outside source, they might need some time off to handle and manage the situation. Be understanding and give them the time they need. They are more likely to come back fully charged when they know you care.

Pay attention to your volunteer and employee actions and take action when they change. Volunteers and employees are vital to your long-term success. Show them you care about their well-being and help them manage their stress. Your animal shelter or rescue will experience positive results when you do.

Leading or volunteering for an animal shelter or rescue is a rewarding experience. Animal welfare organizations rely on strong leadership, volunteers, donations, and adopting families to be successful. When one of these importance pieces doesn’t exist they struggle to meet goals and deliver their mission and vision. Many animal welfare organizations work diligently to place animals in their forever homes. Adoptions are strongest when shelters and rescues educate and communicate with the adopting families on a continuous basis – even after the adoption occurs.

Ways to Communicate
The most successful animal welfare organizations utilize these seven communication methods and techniques in their adoption process.

Before
Capturing the attention of potential adopters is vital in your adoption success.

  • Announce new arrivals. Sometimes families visit your organization and don’t find the perfect fit for their family. Keep these families engaged after they leave by notifying them of new animals ready to adopt.
  • Utilize social media. Share pictures and stories about the animals in your care on social media. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are powerful tools shelters and rescues can use to reach a large audience.

During
Communication during the animal adoption process keeps adopters informed on what step they are at and what comes next.

  • Have a conversation. Don’t rely solely on the adoption application for everything you need to know about an individual who wants to adopt. Talk to them, ask questions, and get to know them. You will have a better understanding of why they want to adopt, what their daily life is like, and what their goals are as a pet parent. This information makes it easier to find a perfect match.
  • Provide updates. Keep them updated on the process by notifying them of any changes or setbacks.

After
Some animal shelters and rescues think the adoption process is complete once the animal is transferred – this is another important time for increased communication.

  • Follow up at seven days. Take time to call adopting families after the animal is in their care for a week. Start by thanking them for adopting. Ask them how the animal is transitioning. Do they have any concerns or questions? Take time to fully answer these questions and they will feel valued and supported by your organization.
  • Touch base at 30 days. Call or e-mail 30 days after the adoption takes place. This check-in is to make sure they don’t have any new concerns with the decision to adopt. It gives them a chance to share positive stories about their new family member.
  • Reach out after a year. Call or e-mail again a year after adoption. This is a great chance to make sure the match is still a good fit for both the family and the cat, dog, or other animal. It gives you a great opportunity to see if they are interested in growing their family with another animal adoption.

Implementation
Successful implementation of these communication methods starts with your volunteers who work directly with the adopting families. Schedule a training session for your volunteers to attend. Review these methods and the benefits (increased number of successful adoptions) your animal shelter or rescue will experience.

Have volunteers actively role play different scenarios and conversations that arise. Provide them with a list of red flag comments to listen for and a positive response. High adoption rates are only positive when they are successful long-term adoptions. Implementing these methods decreases the number of failed adoptions and animals returning to your care at a later date.