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.

 

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.