5 Keys to volunteer onboarding

Whether your organization has 100’s of volunteers or only a few, onboarding can feel like a daunting task. However, getting volunteers up and running can make the difference in success for your animals. In this article we will talk about the 5 keys to a successful onboarding program.

Keys to a successful onboarding program

  1. Only need-to-know info – The 2 most common issues we see with onboarding programs is not enough information and too much information provided to volunteers at the time of onboarding. It’s important to remember that many volunteers are coming on with minimal to no understanding of the industry so we have to meet them where they are. Here are some steps to creating just the right amount of content:

    1. Write down all of the daily required tasks for the role
    2. Write down the required tasks for the first day
    3. Write down people they may need to speak to and what their roles are

    Once you have these outlined, go over the list again and remove any tasks that are conditional (only happen during certain times of the year, not common, etc). These can be covered at a later time. A good rule to keep in mind is volunteer positions should never have more than 5 primary tasks.
  2. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. – While you most likely know your policies like the back of your hand, remember that new volunteers do not have the same context. Onboarding will always have a lot of information so it’s important to make sure you to present the information more than once and in more than one way. If you have an in-person or zoom onboarding, make sure to send everyone home with a packet covering most or all of the content you went over during the presentation. It may feel like duplicated effort but providing the info in multiple ways ahead of time will cut down on follow-up questions.
  3. Opportunity for questions – No matter how in-depth you go during your on-boarding, there will always be questions. And that’s okay! Questions mean you have an engaged group. Make sure there is an opportunity for questions at the time of on-boarding and after.
  4. Single point of contact – No matter how large your organization is, every volunteer should only report to a single person. This may be a volunteer coordinator or a shift supervisor. Regardless, make sure your volunteers know who to direct all questions to from the very beginning.
  5. Action items for next steps – Volunteers are the most enthusiastic when they are first getting started. To keep volunteers engaged and avoid losing volunteers after onboarding, make sure they have clear next steps. This could be to sign up for a shift or to get a certification. Make sure there is a timeline to complete the next step and always follow up.
Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Create lasting adoptions – help adopters find a good match

Our goal is never just adoptions, it’s lasting adoptions. Not all animals are a fit for all homes. In this article, we will talk about what makes a good match and how you can help adopters find their right match with any level of resources available to your organization.

What makes a good match?

Before you help an adopter find their next animal, let’s walk through the steps of determining what that really means for your organization.

  1. Determine what is considered successful for any given animal in your rescue or shelter. If you don’t already have a definitive guide for this, sit down with your team to discuss one. It’s important to remember that this is specific to each organization and each community, however, all should meet the minimum Five Freedoms:

    Freedom from hunger and thirst 
    Freedom from discomfort
    Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
    Freedom to express normal behavior
    Freedom from fear and distress
  2. After you have what you considered necessary for a successful adoption, review them and make sure they aren’t just adoption barriers. A few common adoption barriers to avoid are: fenced yard, home ownership, prior experience, no kids, etc. If you aren’t sure if something is a requirement, feel free to contact us and we can chat through it with you.
  3. Now that you have the minimum definition of success for all animals, consider what this looks like for each animal individually. Animals should only have additional requirements if there are extenuating circumstances such as: medical issues, high energy breed, history of abuse, etc. It can help to ask yourself these questions:
    • What is the training requirement for this animal to be successful?
    • What is the medical care requirement for this animal to be successful?
    • What is the exercise / enrichment requirement of this animal to be successful?
  4. Write down your definition of success and refer back to it often.

How to help adopters find a good match

We’ve all seen adopters who come in with a very specific animal in mind based off a childhood toy or a recent movie. Often times these animals require a lot of exercise and training to be successful which means not all adopters are a good fit.

Additionally, all rescues and shelters have a different level of involvement with placements. Some offer personalized 1:1 matching services, while others don’t have the staff to attend to each adopter so adopters are given much more autonomy. Let’s walk through how you can help your adopters find a good match with any level of staff participation.

Low Involvement Matching

  1. Organize your animals by types of homes they could be a good fit for. Social dogs that could be with kids should be in one area, high energy working breeds should be in another. It’s ideal to have these animals physically be organized throughout your shelter to prevent someone from passing a juvenile husky on their way to the social small breed puppies. However, if you can’t organize like this, consider using a visual differentiator. This could be color coding (though be sure to avoid colors like red or black that could indicate an animal is “bad”) or have keys on your kennel cards that indicate common scenarios like “kid friendly”, “cat friendly”, or “dog friendly”. All of this information allows adopters to make a decision that works best with their home.
  2. Make your shelter interactive. Especially if you often have a wait, provide some interactive education around your shelter. This can be as simple as a “What animal is right for you?” quiz on the wall or you could make it more involved like a QR code scavenger hunt.
  3. Hand out a guide when they come in. Outline important factors to consider when adopting and help paint a picture of what it means to adopt. Sometimes this helps point adopters in the right direction if you discuss things they may not have considered before like training requirements and exercise needs.
  4. Be available for questions. Even if you don’t have the staff to help each adopter individually, make sure you have someone available who knows enough about any individual animal to answer questions if adopters have them. Of course you won’t know the answers to all of them but do your best to accommodate inquiries.

High Involvement Matching

If you have the privilege of being more involved with placements of animals in your organization, be sure to keep these things in mind:

  1. Start with getting to know the adopter. Rather than starting off with talking about your organization and the animals you have available, ask some questions about their home, their lifestyle, and what they picture their lives will look like. Always ask these questions as open ended questions. This way you aren’t leading them towards any specific answer and you have the best opportunity of getting the most accurate description.
  2. Use the initial conversation as an education opportunity. These questions shouldn’t be a test. If someone is expecting a house trained 8 week old puppy, take this time to explain that most dogs will need to be house trained, even if coming from a foster home.
  3. Create a relationship. The matching process can be very personal, especially when you’re talking about their home and their family. Use this as an opportunity to create a lasting relationship so they will be more likely to come to you if they hit speed bumps in the future. Additionally, this creates a loyal adopter who may donate or volunteer for you in the future.

Conclusion

Matching not only gives you an opportunity to make adoptions more successful, but it also gives you the option to bring forward long stay animals which can help get them adopted and create lasting relationships with adopters in your community. If you need any help putting together a program, contact us! Happy rescuing.

Shelters and Rescues Needed! Increase Save Rate by 15% in 6 months with Limiting Factor Program Pilot

You may have read our Limiting Factors Series that outlines the shelter and rescue strategy of identifying the single most influential factor in why you were not able to save the last animal. We are piloting a national program to grow this operation style.

Who can join?

Any animal rescue or shelter that has an intake of at least 5 animals per month.

What does it look like?

  1. 30 minute phone consultation to get to know a little more about your organization
  2. Initial data analysis (if you don’t keep data on intake, euthanasia, or adoptions -that’s okay! We can work with whatever you are starting with.)
  3. Our team will put together a strategy for you to implement based on your limiting factor. We can customize to whatever feels right for your organization.
  4. Bi-weekly or monthly check-ins during implementation
  5. Program completion and result analysis

What is the goal?

We believe our Limiting Factors strategy will increase save rate by 15% in 6 months at any animal shelter or rescues. The goal is to help your organization meet this number while fine-tuning our method to help the mission

I’m in!

Happy rescuing!

Keys to a successful adoption event

Off-site adoption events can be a great way to generate interest in any animal at the event but they also get your team out in the community and are a great opportunity for marketing, fundraising, and networking. Whether you frequently have adoption events or if you’re brand new, this article will cover the top things to keep in mind for a successful event.

Event Location

The location of your adoption event is extremely important. Here are the things you will want to look for:

  1. Safe for animals and people – Avoid locations near busy roads or fast moving water. Make sure there is shade for the animals and if you have dogs, a place a volunteer can take them on a quick break if they feel overwhelmed.
  2. Some foot traffic but not crowded – Ideally, you will have a location that pedestrians can walk up and become involved (helping expand your reach) but not somewhere that is so busy the animals could be scared.
  3. A reason for people to stay – A location that has food and drink gives both adopters and the public a reason to hang out and get to know you and your mission a little better

Animals in attendance

Events can be very scary for the animals and if they are scared, not only is that harmful to them, but it can actually hurt the mission of the event. Make sure that all the animals in attendance are friendly and confident. If possible, it’s best to have a range in age and breed to reach the most people possible.

Animals should not be at the event for more than a 2-3 hours. If you want your event to go longer, you can switch out which animals are attending. Make sure this is clear in all of your marketing materials so people interested in specific animals can be there when the animal is there.

Specific Roles

There are a few roles you need to have clearly defined before the event.

  1. Door person – There should be someone managing the flow of people in and out. They can help direct people if needed and can help manage how many people are in the animal area at any given time.
  2. Animal handler – Each animal should have a single handler that can help answer questions or take them home if they get overwhelmed. If you have a foster team, their foster would be ideal for this since they know the animal best.
  3. Floaters – Ideally there should be a few people floating that is looking at the human-animal interactions to make sure everyone is safe. These events usually bring a lot of kids and not everyone knows what appropriate kid-animal interaction looks like. These floaters should feel comfortable kindly intervening if they see interactions that could be dangerous or overwhelming for an animal.
  4. Adoption coordinators – There should be at least one adoption coordinator in attendance who can process adoptions or answer any questions around the process.
  5. Foster coordinators – If you have a foster team, have some of your coordinators available to answer questions for potential future fosters or to get some face time with your current fosters.
  6. Table volunteers – These people will be responsible for collecting donations, managing any fundraising, and passing out info guests can bring home with them.
  7. Event coordinator – Finally, there should be one person in charge of the event. If the event is at a business, this person should be in charge of communication with the business owner. They should manage the rest of the team and step in to help where needed.

Adoptions

You should not change your adoption process for the event. If you require things like reference checks, home visits, etc. make sure those are completed before the event and have adopters be pre-approved. If you allow same day adoptions, make sure to go through the same process you would on any other day.

Fundraising

Adoptions are of course a significant part of adoption events, however, fundraising / marketing should be considered equally as important. These events are a great way to meet people in your community and engage them with your mission. Here are some things to keep in mind about fundraising at adoption events:

  1. Many of these people may not be in a position to adopt but still align with your mission and want to support your cause.
  2. Almost 70% of the US donates to non-profits on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to ask for donations while you have the attention of your community, they’re going to donate somewhere, it should be you.
  3. Involve more local businesses. Ask around if people are willing to donate gift cards for raffles and make the event a community event!
  4. Have several ways people can donate. A few are: cash, credit/debit cards (square), venmo, paypal, etc.

Follow up

Keep track of people who expressed interest in adopting, volunteering, fostering, or donated. Make sure you follow up within a week of the event to capitalize on their excitement. Here are some points you should touch on in your follow up:

  1. Thank you for attending
  2. Specific info on next steps
  3. Other ways they can become involved

Conclusion

Events are a great opportunity for any organization but it can feel daunting. Following this guide will get you started in the right direction but if you need help organizing an event, let us know! Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Keeping volunteers engaged

A common issue your rescue or shelter may face is volunteers engagement. It takes a lot of time to recruit and train volunteers so it can be really disappointing when you feel like you don’t have the team you need to succeed. In this article we will cover common reasons volunteers can fade off and how to prevent losing volunteers by keeping them engaged.

5 Reasons volunteers fade

There are many reasons why volunteers may not have time to dedicate to your organization. This article does not apply to people who cut down their volunteer hours for commitments in their personal life, this addresses volunteers who just no longer have interest in their role. Let’s get started!

1. Burning out

Problem: Burning out doesn’t have to be a big event. It can simply be from taking on too much in the beginning and after the initial excitement wears off, volunteers may become disinterested.

Solution: Start with a small amount of responsibility and slowly add more if the volunteer is interested in doing more. Keep track of the hours volunteers are logging, especially when they first start. If you aren’t sure how to make a well rounded role, head over to our guide here.

2. Lack of satisfaction

Problem: Not all work in rescue is glamourous. There are a lot of things that need to get done that might feel like it isn’t making an impact but are essential to a successful organization.

Solution: Make sure you involve volunteers in your success and point out how their work made a difference. For example, if you have a volunteer that does data entry, share some reports with them and tell them about what decisions were made because of them.

3. Gap between registering and actually volunteering

Problem: When someone signs up to volunteer, they are in the mindset that they want to help. It’s important to engage them quickly so you can capitalize on that excitement. Long waits between applying – orientation or orientation – volunteering can cause a lot of volunteers to drop off.

Solution: If someone applies to volunteer, you should aim to have them up and running within a week.

4. Not sure who to contact / confusing policies

Problem: Even if you explain your whole organizational chart to a volunteer, they can be overwhelmed and not know who to ask when they have a question. If policies are confusing, a volunteer may be discouraged and not want to continue.

Solution: Make sure each volunteer has a single contact that they can reach out to with questions. This person should also initiate check ins, especially in the beginning. Write down all your policies and outline the flow any single volunteer will go through. For example, if you have a new volunteer adoptions coordinator, make sure they have all the steps they follow clearly outline the adoption process and what responsibilities they have. Make it easy for people to continue volunteering.

5. Barriers

Problem: Just like how we try to remove adoption barriers, it’s important to keep an eye on volunteer barriers. These barriers may include: minimum time requirements, proximity to the shelter, former experience, requiring a facebook page, or age of the volunteer. Things that prevent volunteers from even applying can harm your mission and leave you short staffed.

Solution: Remove all requirements from your volunteer application and instead discuss with the volunteer what you need for them to be successful. They may realize the role isn’t right for them but they will be encouraged to help in another way.

Keeping volunteers engaged

Whether a volunteer is donating their time or if they are there for community service hours, they chose your organization for a reason. Volunteering should be a positive experience that grows your mission and expands your network.

Volunteer Appreciation. Always make sure that volunteers are appreciated by little thank you’s and larger volunteer appreciation events.

Volunteer Outreach. Keep your organization on their mind. If you need extra help, personalize your request by reaching out to people individually.

Share good news. Send out newsletters with information about the organization but also include some happy endings that your volunteers helped you create. People want to feel good about the work they do.

Conclusion

We know these solutions require a lot of additional time and effort from your staff and that can be difficult especially in these times. However, creating strong volunteer engagement can be the difference between thriving and closing your doors. If this seems overwhelming at first, try implementing one piece at a time. As always, reach out if you need help creating a strategy or if you have any questions! Happy rescuing.

Returns – The 5 most common reasons and how to prevent them

Unfortunately, returns are an inevitable part of any rescue or shelter. However, there are steps we can take to prevent returns without introducing adoption barriers. In this article, we will cover the most common reasons people state for returns, how to prevent these things from causing returns, and how to identify the top reasons in your own organization.

Most common reasons for returns

There are 100’s of reasons why an animal is surrendered or returned. We are only going to be covering the most common across the industry but if you have a specific problem, don’t hesitate to contact us and we can work through a solution with you.

It’s important to value every person who enters your shelter or contacts your rescue. If they are not a candidate for adoption, they may be a great option for a foster or volunteer.

Moving

Arguably the most common reason for a return or surrender is someone saying they are moving and cannot take their animal with them. There are a few ways to look at this:

  1. Do you live in a community with minimal pet-friendly housing? In the short term, you can provide resources to your adopters like these pet-friendly rental databases:

    https://www.mypitbullisfamily.org/housing
    https://peoplewithpets.com/
    https://pets.findhelp.com/

    In the long term, work with your community by reaching out to local representatives and property managers to come up with a solution. If you’re not sure how to start with these, we can help.
  2. Consider asking adopters if they plan to move or if they move often. Owning a home shouldn’t be a requirement because that is a huge adoption barrier, but asking the question often helps people think. If the answer to either of those questions is ‘yes’, maybe fostering is better for them right now.

Allergies

A family member realizing they have an allergy after adopting the animal can be a difficult conversation to navigate and is often very sad for the family as well. There are two ways we recommend avoiding this:

  1. Ask that the whole family is present when meeting the animal they are hoping to adopt, especially if this is the first time they are adopting this species of animal. If all members are not available, ask whether they have extended time with that animal before. If the answer is no, consider offering option #2.
  2. If you don’t have one already, a foster-to-adopt program can really help give families a taste of adopting while also giving the animal an opportunity to learn what it’s like to live in a home. If they decide not to adopt, you have gained a lot of information on how the animal behaves in a home. If they do decide to adopt, you can feel better about the permanence of the adoption.

Multi-animal household

Introducing a new animal to a home with resident animals can be difficult to navigate. Many organizations find that an animal is returned because “they didn’t get along with” the resident dog/cat. If you find this is something that is happening often, it’s important to take a look at the conversations you are have pre-adoption. Here are some questions to ask for homes with existing animals:

  1. Has your current animal met a dog/cat before?
  2. Has your current animal ever had a dog/cat in their home overnight? More than a week?
  3. Have you ever lived in a multi-animal household before? What did that look like?
  4. What is your plan to introduce your resident animals to your new animal?

As will be the case throughout this article, these shouldn’t be requirements, just guiding questions to help adopters really think about what adoption will look like for them. Just as before, if they feel nervous with some of the possible answers to these questions, maybe fostering is better for them at first.

After someone has decided to adopt an animal with existing animals in the home, make sure you provide them with resources so they are comfortable with integration. If you are not sure what these resources look like, reach out to us and we can help customize something for you.

Kids and animals

Having an animal as a child can be a wonderful experience for both the kid and the animal. However, kids do not instinctively know how to communicate with animals and often miss important indicators of stress before a potential correction from the animal. Unfortunately, animals are often returned because a puppy / kitten was playing too rough or a large dog keeps knocking the child over. Just like with managing a multi-animal household, it’s important to ask questions before adoption:

  1. What animal experience do the kids have?
  2. What is your expectation for how the kids and animals with coexist?
  3. How much involvement will the kids have?

Even more important than asking these questions, providing resources for proper kid-animal interaction can prevent many returns and, even worse, many bites. A great place to start is anything by https://www.doggiedrawings.net/.

https://www.doggiedrawings.net/

If you need more customized resources, reach out!

Not enough time

This can be tricky because it can mean a few different things. An adopter may really actually not have enough time to dedicate to their animal, most often this happens with dogs. Maybe they didn’t realize how much went into the care of a dog, maybe they got a new job. We can ask some questions during the adoption process Often times, this means not enough time exercise or train to the specific needs of a that particular dog. Here are some questions you can ask pre-adoption:

  1. What does your normal schedule look like?
  2. How do you picture your new animal fitting into your life?
  3. How much time are you reasonably able to spend on training and exercise every day?
  4. What activities do you picture doing with your new animal?

Depending on the answers to these questions, you can help provide some education on the time needed to care for the animals they are interested in. If they feel prepared, make sure to set them up for success by connecting them with a trainer or dog walker. If they think maybe it would be too much, fostering could be an option for them.

Why are your adopters returning?

While these are some of the most common reasons for returns across the industry, the reasons that impact your organization could be different. You may have an idea of your most common return reasons, but it’s always better to know for sure. When a return comes in, make sure to ask questions about what went wrong. Some questions that can be helpful are:

  1. What was your experience with animals prior to this adoption?
  2. Did you know about our post-adoption resources?
  3. Did you feel supported post-adoption? If not, how could we have done better?
  4. Can you describe the home you think this animal would do best in?
  5. How were your expectations different from what it was actually like having the animal in your home?

Head over to our article on Collecting Data for help on getting started. If you need help creating a return questionnaire, let us know!

Conclusion

As you may have noticed, a main theme throughout this article is understanding more about the individual adopter. This is because it’s always most effective to explain a concept in terms of the adopter’s actual life. Instead of presenting vague information on how a puppy needs to pee every 2 hours, tell your adopters that since they work 9-5, they will need help 3 times a day while they are at work to make sure the puppy learns to pee outside. This can really help adopters understand the responsibility of adoption. Read here for more ways to set your adopters up for success.

Another theme throughout this article was offering the option of fostering. We were all first time adopters at some point and we all had to learn things on the fly. Fostering is an amazing opportunity to learn with a safety net and also provides a positive experience for a new adopter, preventing a negative experience of returning. It benefits the organization, the animals, and the adopter. Head over to our Foster Resources for more info on foster teams.

Returns are hard. They can be extremely frustrating for a rescue and can be traumatic for an animal. It can be very demoralizing for a team but understanding why returns are happening is the first step to preventing them. Returns are not always a failure, you often gain valuable information to successfully place an animal in their home. Use returns as a way to improve your adoption experience and keep pushing forward. Happy rescuing!

Create and maintain rescue partner relationships

Many rescues and shelters have more animals than they can find homes for in their community. The solution is often to find a partner rescue in a part of the country that has a higher demand. In this article we will go over how to create relationships with partner rescues and how to maintain those relationships to save more animals in your community.

Creating a good rescue partnership

There are a few key parts to finding a good partner and being a good partner. Let’s walk through them:

  1. Clear expectations – Before you send your first animal, be clear about what you want and need from the other partner. Here is what you should determine before getting started:

    Receiving partner:
    – How much are you paying per animal?
    – Who coordinates transport?
    – When do you need to confirm the transport list by?
    – When and how do you determine which animals you are able to take?
    – What do you need to know about an animal before agreeing to take them (age, behavior, vaccine history, etc.)

    Sending partner:
    – How much are you charging per animal?
    – When do you need to know what animals they will be taking?
    – What are your responsibilities before the animal gets on the truck?
    – What is your availability after the transport has taken place?
  2. Transparency – Always communicate with your partners. If you see something concerning with an animal, reach out to the receiving partner. Transparency will create a stronger relationship in the long run.
  3. We’re all on the same team – Try to understand the other side. If a receiving partner reaches out last minute and says they can’t take an animal because their foster backed out and they have nowhere for the animal to go, it can be very frustrating. Similarly, if a sending partner reaches out that a litter of puppies is missing some hair and didn’t pass their health inspection to travel, it can be difficult to have to scramble to accommodate. Remember that these things are going to happen, and you should try to stay out of an emergency mindset. Keeping in mind that we all have the same goal can keep your relationship positive.

Maintaining a good partnership

Now that you have a partnership, let’s walk through how to maintain the relationship:

  1. Reserve contact to 1 or 2 people – Part of working with a partner in any capacity, is getting to know them personally. Because of this, it’s best to have one or two people on both the sending and receiving ends be the contact person for the rescue. If you’re talking to a different person every time there’s an issue, it can be hard to form a personal relationship.
  2. Listen to requests – Both the receiving and sending partners deal with different challenges, but if a receiving partner says they can’t find fosters because the pictures are blurry, do your best to try to accommodate.
  3. Keep communication open – Talk frequently and keep the line of communication open. After a while, you will learn what is urgent for any individual partner and what can be included in a general update.

Conclusion

Moving animals from areas of overpopulation to areas they can be adopted is a major part of what we do. Check out our Email Templates for a sample introduction email to begin a partnership. If you need more personalized advice, contact us!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Overflowing shelters – solutions you can implement today

It’s a scary time for animal care workers. Shelters and rescues all over the country are overflowing with animals. Even shelters that had or have rescue partners in other areas, those partners can’t get animals adopted either so it can feel like there is nowhere to go. Euthanasia rates are on the rise for the first time in 5 years according to the Best Friends Animal Society annual report. It’s overwhelming. In this article, we are going to cover some small steps you can begin to overcome the high rate of animals in your care. You may have adopted some of these strategies already so feel free to jump around this article as needed.

Foster Programs

  1. Create a foster program – Fosters not only provide an opportunity for an animal to decompress outside of the shelter, but they also grow your network and help to get the animal out in front of the community. For a full guide, head over to our article on How to Build a Foster Program.
  2. Grow your foster program – If you have an existing foster program, provide incentives for new fosters. Head over to our article on Recruiting Fosters to find new ways to grow your foster team.
  3. Allow foster-to-adopts – While this isn’t always an option that rescues and shelters want to pursue for many reasons, it may give adopters the boost they need to take the leap. It also gives the animal a chance to be in a home setting which gives you more information to help with a future adoption.
  4. Empower fosters to market – Your fosters can be a huge resource when it comes to marketing your animals. Read our article on ways to Boost Marketing Through Fosters to learn more.

Marketing

  1. Good pictures – Make sure the pictures of all adoptable animals are online and up to date. They should be clear and happy. Try to avoid pictures in dirty kennels or pictures where the animal looks particularly nervous. If you can, try contacting local photographers to donate photos of your longest stay residents.
  2. Bios – The majority of bios should be positive. Rarely should you need to explain that a dog marks, that can be discussed after a potential adopter becomes interested. Highlight the unique parts of the animal’s personality and avoid comparing them to other animals. If the animal is in a foster home, a quote from the foster family is a huge plus.
  3. Get out in the community – Host an adoption event, publicly show your capacity, contact local news, put up adoption flyers, ask businesses to host promotions. Anything to get your organization in front of people.
  4. Long stay animals – As adoption rates drop, more animals can be classified as “long-stay”. Check out our article on Getting Long Stay Animals Adopted.

More permanent solutions

While these are all great places to start when working through the current capacity crisis, it’s important to consider implementing more permanent programs. To get started working on your long term goals, head over to our Limiting Factors Series or learn how to Create and Maintain Partner Rescue Relationships.

If you are interested in customized solutions for your rescue or shelter, contact us!

Happy rescuing.

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

You are not your market – the importance of community polling

Rescues and shelters are often overwhelmed and it can feel confusing about why animals keep ending up in your care. It is important to remember that you are not your market, that is to say our organizations rarely accurately represent our communities which makes it difficult to truly know the community needs and therefor, difficult to provide true and lasting solutions. The only way to really know your community is to ask! In this article we will cover what data you should be getting from your community, what to do with that data, and how to keep the communication open.

Important data to know about your community

First, consider the biggest problems your rescue or shelter faces. If you are unsure, head over to our Limiting Factor Series to figure out where to start. Some common issues are:

  • Over population
  • Lack of funding
  • Lack of volunteers / staff

All of these issues have a deeper ‘why’ that we can uncover by asking the right people the right questions. Let’s get started with some base information to establish. For each data point, the more data, the better!

  1. Population / population with companion animals (types of animals, multi-animal households, households with animals and kids, etc)
  2. Income
  3. Employment
  4. Housing breakdown (owned vs renting)
  5. How people attain their companion animals (rescues, registered breeders, backyard breeders, unwanted litters, etc)
  6. Microchip rates
  7. Spay / neuter rates
  8. Regular vet care rates
  9. Familiarity with programs offered by your organization

Here is a sample poll: https://forms.gle/K4sAJ7hjzYE29hcP7

How to collect data

When collecting data, it’s important to try to avoid bias as much as possible. If you have a digital form, consider also providing physical copies for people who may not be able to access a computer or know how to submit online. DO NOT only poll your audience. Find ways to reach out to other members of your community. A few ideas:

  • Leave hard copies of your form at libraries, town halls, post offices, etc.
  • Provide incentives – raffle of a prize, one form submission is one raffle entry
  • Ask schools if they could have students administer the poll for a project
  • Ask your network to ask their friends and family

Input all the answers to a single spreadsheet. Make sure to compare things like income with public data provided by your town or county to help you know if you have an accurate sampling. If you need help with creating a template spreadsheet, let us know! For more info, check out our guide on Getting Started Collecting Data.

What to do with the data

Once the data has been collected, you may be surprised at the results. Or, maybe not. Either way, it will provide some insight into the challenges your organization faces. Some example outcomes:

  • Low microchip rate may mean higher rate of unclaimed lost animals
  • Low spay / neuter rate may indicate a higher rate or abandoned animals
  • High income but low fundraising may indicate a lack of awareness of fundraisers

If you need help understanding your data, contact us.

Once you have an understanding of the short comings in your community you can begin to address them. This is how you would address the examples above:

  • Host free microchip clinics
  • Host free or low cost spay / neuter programs
  • Switch up your marketing for fundraisers

Be sure to keep track of the progress of these changes and to poll your community often.

How to keep communication open

The biggest factor in keeping your communication open with your community is to get out there! Get involved in events, reach out to local businesses, schools, and ask your network to share your events. The more you listen to the needs of your community, the more involved they will become with your mission and the more lives you will save. Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

4 Keys to Goal Setting

Among the many benefits of having well designed goals, the most important is that it helps you actually accomplish them. In this article we will go over why you should make goals, what makes a goal achievable, and how to set goals for your team and organization.

Why you need goals

In animal welfare, we often confuse purpose for goals. Our purpose is always to save lives, but goals are how we accomplish that. Goals keep us focused and more efficient. They help bring the team together, inspire new initiatives, and create a feeling of accomplishment. Well made goals will always help you save more animals.

What makes a good goal?

  1. Achievable – Always make sure that your goal is accomplishable. Having “pie in the sky” goals is not only ineffective for your team, but it hurts moral when they can’t be achieved. This is not to say you shouldn’t have challenging goals. If you aren’t sure if a goal is reasonable, have tiered goals. Start with a ‘level 1’ goal that is well within your reach and go all the way up to a ‘level 5’.
  2. Timely – Put a time limit on your goal. Make sure this is enough time for the team to create a plan, organize, and measure results. You don’t want the goal to be so far that your team doesn’t feel like they need to jump into action right away. You can use a tiered approach for this as well. Start with achieving the goal in 1 month, then 3 months, then 6 months.
  3. Clearly Defined – Everyone should know the following:
    • What achievement looks like. The goal should be measurable. For example, a measurable goal is to increase the foster program by 20%. A non-measurable goal is to grow the foster program.
    • Why the goal exists. The goal should serve a larger purpose.
    • How each individual can contribute to reaching the goal.
    • Who is responsible for any part of the goal.

4. Key Results – These are smaller steps your will take to accomplish your goal. They should also be measurable, achievable, and clearly defined.

Setting goals for your organization

The first step is identifying the part of your rescue or shelter that needs the most immediate help or change. If you haven’t yet, head over to our Limiting Factor Series to determine the area you need to focus on. For an example, we will consider our limiting factor is space. Once you’re ready, walk through these steps:

  1. Define the problemWe don’t have any qualified fosters to take in reactive dogs.
  2. Determine your goalCreate a foster program with 5 fosters who can take reactive dogs in 3 months.
    Key results:
    Identify 10 interested and qualified candidates for the program in the first month
    Create a program with a trainer in 1 month

    Is this a good goal?

    Achievable – We’ll imagine that our example rescue has an existing foster program and an existing relationship with a trainer so creating a program in 3 months, does seem achievable. But, if we wanted to tier this goal, we could say Create a foster program with 2 fosters in 3 months and 5 fosters in 6 months.

    Timely – We have stated that the goal will be accomplished in 3 months.

    Clearly Defined – We know that success is 5 fosters so we can grow the foster program to accommodate reactive dogs.

    Key Results – We have 2 key results. They are achievable, clearly defined, and timely. They will also help keep us on track for reaching our goal.
  3. Discuss the goal with your team – Everyone should be on the same page and know how they can individually help to accomplish the goal. Always be open to modifying your goal as it is discussed, but once you being working towards the goal, it should not change.
  4. Get started! Create a clear start and end date for when you will be working towards this goal. Many people like to have goals by quarter, choose whatever works best for your team. At the end of the timeline you have given yourself, reflect on your goal. Did you accomplish it? How did things go? How could you adjust for the future? Remember to celebrate the wins and use the losses to improve your organization.

For your own blank template, head over to our graphics page.

Conclusion

Goals are essential to our organization performing at its peak capacity. Your team will be able to accomplish more and feel better about it when you have clearly defined goals. It takes practice so it’s okay to learn as you go. If you need help creating a goal or if you aren’t sure it meets some of the guidelines for a good goal – reach out! We are happy to discuss.

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Long Stay Dogs – How to get them adopted and prevent long stays

Despite all your efforts, sometimes there are dogs that seem stuck in your program. In this article we will go over how to identify reasons for long stay dogs, ways to help get those dogs adopted, and how to prevent long stays in the future.

Long stay trends

The first step to identifying trends in your long stay dogs is to define what a ‘long stay’ is. We define long stay as any dog who has been in your care 50% longer than average. That means that if your average stay is 2 weeks, a long stay dog is defined at 3 weeks or more. Once you’ve determined a dog is long stay, it’s time to start figuring out why.

Take a look at your data (if you need help getting started keeping data, head over to our guide) and determine trends. Some quick data points to look at:

  • Age of dog
  • Breed of dog
  • Weight of dog
  • Color of dog
  • Special needs (behavior or medical) of dog
  • Time of year
  • Intake type

You will likely see patterns similar to national averages that tell us black dogs, larger dogs, and older dogs all have a harder time getting adopted. We’ll talk about ways to overcome those barriers in the next section. However, if you see any patterns that aren’t as common, consider why these may be occurring. For example, if you have a trend that shows corgis are having a hard time getting adopted, ask yourself – do we place these dogs in a certain part of the shelter that may not get as much traffic? Do we have certain fosters that struggle with taking quality photos?

Not every dog will have a clear reason for not being adopted so it’s important to pay more attention to the data rather than the individual dog to make positive change in this case.

Overcoming long stay patterns

There are 3 underlying areas to address overcoming long stay patterns:

1. Internal bias

Sometimes people have bias towards categories of dogs without even knowing it. Here are a few examples:

Pitbulls – Misconceptions with dogs like our beloved pitties can often prevent qualified adopters from wanting to bring these dogs home. Since the misconception is that pits are “aggressive”, showing their real personalities will help overcome this bias:

  • Show pitties with other dogs and people. If they are especially good, kittens and puppies are best to show their gentle side!
  • Share success stories on your social media about pits who have made great family dogs
  • Share news stories of pits across the country doing things like saving lives
  • On kennel cards, describe their “favorite things”. This helps give personality to the individual dog. Bonus points if it’s something like “cuddling with his teddy”

Black dogs –Another dog people are often bias towards, made worse by the difficulty to get good pictures of black dogs. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Lots of light! Natural light is best. Try to take some pictures outside during “golden hour”
  • Have props – show them playing with a toy or a person, have a flower crown to add a little color, put a bow on their collar
  • Videos > pictures. Videos work well for any dog’s adoptability but it especially helps animate black dogs and show their personality

Here is an example of a good picture of a black dog

adult short coated black dog

2. Inconvenience / unprepared

Not all adopters feel confident in their ability to care for or train certain types of dogs. These are a few examples:

Adult / senior dogs People love puppies and often overlook the adults. There are so many wonderful benefits of adopting an adult dog that you can use in a creative way to bring attention to your older pups:

  • You already know their personality and energy level – no guessing needed!
  • Skip the puppy teething stage, your couch will thank you
  • Adults are easier to house train
  • Skip the teenage stage

For seniors specifically, consider trying to place the dogs in foster. We know how easy it is to fall in love with a senior dog, foster-to-adopts can be very successful. Frosted Faces rescue recently discussed their incentive program to getting senior dogs in foster care by providing a $200 stipend per month. This program has been very successful.

Large dogs – These dogs are often seen as intimidating for adopters, they are nervous about how they could handle them on the leash and can easily be overwhelmed with the training and exercise requirements. Here are a couple ways to get adopters over that hump:

  • Partner with a trainer to provide a free training session with adoption. This has several positive impacts – the trainer receives business, you know the dog will have support which greatly increases the chances the adoption will be successful, and the adopter receives training support right away. Everyone wins!
  • Partner with a doggy daycare that will provide a free week or discounted rates when you adopt an adult. This helps with the exercise component.

3. Policy

Breed and weight restrictions in apartments, and even some towns, immediately shrinks the pool of potential adopters for certain dogs. The best way for you to help in this area is for your organization to be an advocate for change. Reach out to your local representatives, work with groups like Best Friends, and educate your community to help enact positive policy change.

Preventing long stay dogs

Once a dog has become a long stay dog, people start to ask “why has he been here so long? Is something wrong with him?” and it can get harder and harder to find a home for them. The best way to prevent long stays is to be proactive.

Strategies for all long stay dogs – All of the above strategies can be applied for any of your long stay dogs. Here are a few more that are not as specific to any underlying reason:

  • Front and center – House your longer stay pups in kennels closer to the front door so they are more visible. Have them listed on your website at the top of the list.
  • Post and post and post – If you aren’t posting every day about a single dog, you aren’t posting too much. The way algorithms work for popular social media sites mean not all of your followers will see every post. Increase views on a long stay dog by posting them often. Update the posts with new pictures each time. Ask your network to share!
  • Professional photos – Partner with a local photographer to have professional photos taken.
  • Describe the home you envision them in – This helps people really picture their lives with this dog.
  • Kennel cards – Help your adopters really get to know a dog with exciting and positive kennel cards.

Conclusion

It can be demoralizing when a great dog has been in your program for a long time. Remember to stay positive and focused on strategies to move forward. There are many many creative strategies and innovative rescues and shelters have come up with. If you have one you’d like to share, comment below so others can learn from your success! Happy rescuing.

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Expand your volunteer network with special project volunteers

Sometimes it’s hard to consider our shelter or rescue through the eyes of our community. People often have misconceptions of what volunteering could look like. Have you ever heard “I would volunteer but it would just make me too sad” or “My schedule changes too frequently, I can’t commit to a set shift”? Just like how we strive to remove adoption barriers, we should also strive to remove volunteer barriers. Bringing more volunteers on board not only expands your team, but expands your reach to the network of the new volunteer.

In this article, why finding unique roles is important, how to identify tasks that could be accomplished with these roles, and how to fill them.

The importance of special projects

You may be wondering why you would want a role that only one person completes when you already spend so much time training volunteers in group onboarding sessions. Well, here it is:

  1. Attract a new sort of volunteers. There are a lot of reasons why people feel like they can’t volunteer with a shelter or rescue. So, instead of trying to convince them, meet them where they are at. Here are some examples of reasons people have to not volunteer and how to find a role that works for them:
    “It’s too sad to see the animals”. Create remote volunteer roles
    “My schedule is too unpredictable”. Create roles that require only a couple hours a week that can be done on a flexible basis
    “I don’t have any animal experience”. Create a training program
  2. Take tasks off the plate of staff. There are so many things to get done in a day by staff, consider transitioning some of the repetitive work to a volunteer. This could be something like creating marketing templates or analyzing monthly adoption data. This will free up your staff to work on more specialized projects.
  3. Their network becomes your network. When you bring on a volunteer, you aren’t just bringing on a single person, you are expanding your organization to their whole network. They will talk about it in conversation, maybe recommend you to their friends, or share your posts on social media. Each new volunteer could mean far more reach for your rescue or shelter.
  4. Involving more people in your mission, expands your message. It’s one thing to like animals, it’s a whole other thing to experience animals through a rescue or shelter. The more people you bring on, the more people will live your message and encourage others to save lives.

What tasks make good special project?

There are a few aspects of tasks that make good roles for a remote or less involved volunteer. Here they are:

  • The task can be completed independently – After a quick overview, there won’t need to be a lot of back and forth with other volunteers and staff. Of course, always allow access to staff for questions or thoughts.
  • The task doesn’t have a strict schedule – It’s okay to have a deadline, but the time spent actually completing the task should be flexible.
  • The task serves a purpose. Always remember to be working towards your larger goal as a department or organization.
What makes a good specialized task? 1. Can be completed independently 2. Flexible 3. Serves a purpose.

Picture of a cat

Here are some examples of tasks you may find beneficial to recruit volunteers for:

  • Photoshop – This is a tool you need to be skilled at to do well. Maybe you want to photoshop out the poop in the background or add a flower on a collar.
  • Social media templates – If you have someone savvy and creative, consider asking them to build templates that can be used to post animals or for fosters to use for marketing.
  • Enrichment activities – There are so many creative ways that we can provide enrichment for the animals in our care. Allow someone to come up with a weekly plan for enrichment, with different activities each day. This is an especially great task for someone with young kids – enrichment for the animals, a craft for the kids!
  • Community outreach – Task a volunteer with reaching out to one business a week to see if they would be willing to display available animals or put out a donation jar. When it comes from someone the business knows personally, it means more.

Filling these roles

There are a few ways that you can find people to fill these roles:

  1. Identify current or former volunteers. If you know of a volunteer who left the organization because they didn’t have time, reach out to them. If you know of a current volunteer who is excellent at photography, talk to them about photoshop.
  2. Reach out to adopters. Send a blast email asking for “special volunteers” for “unique roles”. You know they already believe in your mission and most of the time, adopters are excited for the opportunity to give back.
  3. Ask your volunteers to network. Maybe your current volunteer staff doesn’t include and social media experts, I bet they know someone who is. Encourage current volunteers to reach out to friends and family if they know anyone who might be a good fit.
  4. Ask the public. You likely have people who follow you social media accounts but haven’t gotten up the courage to engage. This could be their opportunity! Make social media posts asking for help for specific tasks.

Conclusion

While it may seem like a lot of work to recruit or these tasks, just to save a couple hours of work a week, it’s important to remember the network aspect. Engaging your community only helps to strengthen your mission.

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Data tracking – How to get started

You may see organizations like Best Friends Animal Society, Maddie’s Fund, or Faunalytics using data to inform their decisions. This practice is the most effective way to save lives. However, getting started can be intimidating. Even if you already track some data, you may want to be tracking more. In this article we will cover what data is the most essential to begin tracking, how to track it, and what to do with it. There are entire books, courses, and professions on data collection so this is only a very high level overview but as always, if you have any specific questions, feel free to contact us!

Where to begin

Whether you have some data or you have never tracked anything, we’re going to start from the same point.

  1. Consider your goal. What are your current goals? How will this data inform decisions that will help you make progress to those goals? Like with everything we do, make sure we are always keeping our overall goals for the department and organization in mind. For the purpose of this article, we will work through an example of increasing adoption rate.
  2. Determine what data you need. To use your time as efficiently as possible, think about what data you need for the goals you determine. These data points should be directly correlated to your goal. For our example of increasing adoption rate we should begin by tracking the following data points for each adoption:
    • Animal breed, age, size, behavior needs, medical needs, length of stay
    • Adopter age, location, home type (family, single, couple, etc.), animals at home, adoption history (first time adopter or other)
    • How adopter found this animal (online, event, coming to shelter, matched with, etc.)

      There are of course, many other things we could track, but this is a good place to start. Remember not to overwhelm yourself if you have never kept track of these stats.
  3. Create a template for collection. Once you know what data you are going to be tracking, create a place to store this data. The important things to keep in mind is that this data should be readable, easy to navigate, easy to add to, standardized. When adding data, remove opinions and keep data points consistent. For data points like “behavior” it may be easiest to set up a ranking system with a key rather than listing behaviors in words. Depending on the shelter software you are currently using, you may be able to add this template right in your software. If not, you can create a simple Google Sheet or Microsoft Excel document. Here is an example: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1MIN4ec6EqC-aaMJsg-U9_J_IJ_C-tc169vwm9lmuLNs/edit?usp=sharing
  4. Make it part of your process. This is the most important step. Data isn’t helpful if you’re not consistently tracking it. Determine who is going to be responsible for this data. The whole team? One person? Whatever works best with your structure. If you aren’t sure, our recommendation is to give the task to a single person to begin with, you almost always get better results this way.

I have data – now what do I do with it?

Again, we will mention that data analytics is an entire industry and there are many online courses you can take if you want to dive into it. For the purposes of this article, we are going to discuss the very basics of using data to inform decisions.

Continuing with our example of increasing adoption rate, let’s use this as our example of one month of data. We are going to consider one month of data as sufficient data to begin using the results but this varies for every organization. If you are wondering what is sufficient data for your organization, contact us.

After you have sufficient data, walk through these steps:

  1. Determine average and mode. Average will tell you the central value in math and mode will tell you the central value in statistics. Mode helps in situations with extreme values that could impact an average so both of these can be beneficial when making decisions for your organization.
  2. Are there any surprises? At first glance, is there any data that stands out to you? Maybe your average adopter age is older than you realized. Make note of these points because they are likely the areas that you will use to make changes.
  3. Use this set as a baseline. Since this is the first time tracking this data, you have nothing to compare it to. These results are your baseline to measure your progress towards your goals.
  4. Implement strategies and measure a new set of data. After another month, collect the same data and see if there are any changes. Keep in mind that there are a lot of factors out of your control that can impact adoption numbers (time of year, economy, global pandemic, etc) but the longer you track data, the more you will be able to normalize your data to measure the true impact your changes are making.
  5. Rinse and repeat. Make sure you are recording this data consistently and thoroughly.

Conclusion

If this seems overwhelming, just start small. Any amount of data is better than no data. If this doesn’t seem like enough, let us know! We can help build a more customized tracking solution for your team.

Using data to drive your decisions and communicate with your community only serves to grow your mission. Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

What to send home with adopters

While we can try to prepare adopters during the application process, there are always going to be some hiccups, especially with first time adopters. Providing physical guides can help decrease questions for your staff and prevent issues with the animal. In this article we will talk about the 4 categories of topics you should provide for adopters and give you some examples of what those can look like.

4 Categories for materials

You may have preferences for wording or design but you should always make sure you are checking these boxes:

Normal behaviors – This includes decompression, age and breed appropriate behavior, and situational behavior. For example, it is normal for a dog to bark when they first arrive home or have potty accidents even if they were potty trained in a foster home. Cover the most common scenarios to help ease the minds of your adopters when issues arise.

Training resources – If you have any relationships with trainers, include their contact info along with the reason hiring a trainer can be essential to success. If you do not have a relationship with any trainers, visit our email templates to get started.

Provide some inserts about common training scenarios – potty training, litter training, leash training, etc. This can help adopters get started on the right foot.

Emergency contacts We hope adopters won’t have to use these but it can be life saving to include the number or magnet of a local emergency hospital, the Pet Poison Hotline, and your local missing animals group.

House keeping – Include information on any things adopters will need to complete once they get home. This may include registering a microchip, registering the dog with the town, joining your adopter community, etc.

All of this should be supplementary to information that you cover with your adopters. Head over to our article on How to Set Adopters up for Success for more tips.

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

5 Ways to prevent burnout

Now more than ever, rescues and shelters are bursting at the seams, volunteers and staff are working twice as hard, and adoption rates have plummeted. This is a recipe for burnout. In this article, we will go over how to recognize burnout and how to prevent it.

What does burnout look like?

The way burnout presents itself is completely individual and everyone may experience it differently, but here are some common things to be on the lookout for in yourself or your team:

  • Decrease in drive
  • Lack of interest
  • Poor performance – Showing up late, missing things, not following through
  • Overall negative outlook on the organization or the mission

Even if you don’t feel like this describes you or anyone on your team, it’s important to make active efforts to prevent burnout.

How to prevent or work through burnout

  1. Set achievable goals for the team. These goals shouldn’t be slam dunks, but they should also be reasonable. Make sure to set clear objectives and timeline. Furthermore, each team (adoption, foster, intake, etc), should understand their role in accomplishing the larger goal of the organization. So, the process should look like this:

    – Create a clear goal with a set timeline
    – Communicate the goal across teams
    – Set expectations for what role each team plays in accomplishing the larger goal
  2. Create reasonable roles. If someone is taking on too much, they are sure to burnout. To dive into this, checkout our guide to defining roles.
  3. Take meaningful rest. We are all passionate about the work we do so it’s very easy for the line between work hours and personal hours to blur. But, when you are always on the clock, you leave no time for meaningful rest. This doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping (though regular sleep always helps) but also means leaving time for friends, family, and hobbies. This is very hard to do if you are not used to it but the easiest way to start is by setting hard boundaries on your availability.
  4. Set boundaries. First, set times that you are available for general questions. Then, set times you are available for emergencies and define what an emergency actually is. If you use tools like Slack, you are able to mute notifications during certain times.
  5. Celebrate your wins. If your team reaches a goal – celebrate! If you get a long-stay pup adopted – celebrate! If you managed to shower that day – celebrate! Celebrating not only reinforces motivation to accomplish goals for the team, but also provides a much needed positive release. Celebrating can be something as big as a party for staff and volunteers, or as small as a quick shoutout to someone you’ve noticed doing a good job. Always be grateful for the time and effort people give to help these animals.

Conclusion

If you are experiencing burnout, things won’t change overnight. But, slow and thoughtful change in the way you think and work will get you through this rough spot. If you are able, reaching out to a mental health provider will help tailor your experiences so you can operate as your best self for the animals.

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of post-adoption follow up

In this article we will cover why post-adoption follow up is necessary, what you should include in that communication, and how to make follow up part of your team’s daily tasks.

Why you should follow up

Get ahead of problems. Very rarely does someone bring a new animal home without any issues. Maybe they are having a hard time litter training. Maybe their new dog is having a hard time with the crate. Creating a line of communication can help you provide resources to your adopters before these smaller hiccups become big problems. This will reduce your return rate and help keep animals in their homes.

Help create a community. We all love to talk about our furbabies. Use a follow up as an opportunity to share your adopter community so you can continue to provide resources and see happy updates of the animals you worked so hard to save! If you do not already have an adopter community, take look at our Guide to Creating and Adopter Community.

Continue to engage adopters. Your adopters are a great resource for future adoptions, foster recruitment, and fundraising. Keeping that line of communication open, keeps adopters engaged and helps grow your rescue or shelter.

What does follow up look like?

The timing of your follow up is just as important as the content. If you follow up too frequently, adopters will start to ignore your emails. If you follow up too infrequently, you may miss key milestones. So what’s the sweet spot?

Follow up following the decompression timeline.

This means following up at 72 hours, 3 weeks, and 3 months post-adoption.

The content of your follow up should hit these key categories:

  • Milestones the animal should have reached at this time
  • Encouragement
  • Resources / action items for the adopter to work on
  • Ways to ask for help

For examples and copy/paste templates, head over to our Email Templates.

How to implement

With everything the day brings you in rescue, post-adoption follow ups can fall through the cracks. The best way to prevent this is to set up a procedure and make it part of your routine. There are many ways to accomplish this, here are a few:

  • Create a volunteer position! This is an easy role that only takes a few minutes a day that a volunteer could do from home.
  • Automate the emails through google sheets. For help setting this up, contact us
  • If you use shelter software, this may be a feature you already have access to. If you aren’t sure, reach out to the software company or contact us

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that adopters may respond with problems they are facing. Make sure to have a plan in place to have someone help them through those issues.

Conclusion

With these tools, you can quickly increase your successful adoption rate as well as expanding your community. Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Email templates

This is a list of email templates that you can use for your rescue or shelter to quickly communicate with vets, other rescues, and adopters. If you are interested in a template that is not listed, shoot us a quick email at hello@rescueallies.com

Quick jump:

Vet partnership

Rescue partnership

Trainer partnership

72 hour dog adopter follow up

3 week dog adopter follow up

3 month dog adopter follow up

Vet partnership

Hi [insert vet name] team,

I am reaching out on behalf of [insert rescue name] in hopes of building a mutually beneficial partnership. As a rescue, we have helped many animals find their forever homes. While in our care, these animals often need veterinary attention. We rely exclusively on donations to cover all costs. Does your practice have an existing rescue partnership program? If not, would you be interested in creating one?

For a fair discount on veterinary services for the animals in our care, we would love to refer adopters to your practice. We have, on average, [insert number of adopters] per year.

Let me know if this is something that your practice would be open to discussing.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best,

[Insert your name], [Insert rescue name]

Rescue partnership

Hi [insert partner rescue name] team,

I am reaching out on behalf of [insert rescue name] in hopes of building a mutually beneficial partnership. As a rescue, we have helped many animals find their forever homes. We are constantly looking to expand our community and I believe our two organizations share common goals and values.

I would love to open a line of communication so we could work together to help our communities in the future.

Let me know if this is something that your rescue would be open to discussing.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best,

[Insert your name], [Insert rescue name]

Trainer partnership

Hi [insert vet name] team,

I am reaching out on behalf of [insert rescue name] in hopes of building a mutually beneficial partnership. As a rescue, we have helped many animals find their forever homes. While in our care, these animals often need training. We rely exclusively on donations to cover all costs. Does your practice have an existing rescue partnership program? If not, would you be interested in creating one?

For a fair discount on training and behavior services for the animals in our care, we would love to refer adopters to your business. We have, on average, [insert number of adopters] per year.

Let me know if this is something that your practice would be open to discussing.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best,

[Insert your name], [Insert rescue name]

72 Hour Dog Follow Up Email

Hi [adopter name], 

I hope things are going well with your new family member! We wanted to check in and see how things are going. You are finishing up the first part of the 3-3-3 decompression period and [insert name of animal] should be starting to get more comfortable in their new home. 

Here are some quick notes to keep in mind to stay on the right track: 

  • Continue to keep your circle small, [insert name of animal] is still getting to know your family 
  • Keep up those frequent bathroom trips for potty training 
  • If you haven’t already, make sure to get in for your first vet appointment. Don’t forget the heartworm preventatives!

Thank you again for adopting! Do you have any questions for us? 

If you’re interested, please join our Facebook Alumni Page: [link]

Best, 

Team at [insert name of rescue]

3 Week Dog Follow Up Email 

Hi [adopter name],

We can’t believe it’s been 3 weeks since you brought home [insert name of animal]! We wanted to check in to see how they are settling. You are finishing up part 2 of the 3-3-3 decompression period and should be keeping these things in mind to stay on track: 

  • Make sure you have your routine, animals gain a lot of confidence from knowing what to expect
  • Stay consistent with crate and potty training
  • If you haven’t already, begin working with a trainer (reach out to us if you need recommendations!)

Thank you again for adopting! Do you have any questions for us?

Best, 

Team at [insert name of rescue]

3 Month Dog Follow Up Email 

Hi [adopter name],

Wow! It’s already been 3 months since you brought home [insert name of animal]. We wanted to check in since you have just completed all steps in the 3-3-3 decompression period! [insert name of animal] should be fully settled into your family. How are things going? What part of [insert name of animal]’s personality do you like best?

Here are some things to keep in mind as you move forward:

  • Keep up with both mental and physical stimulation. If you have questions on these, reach out to us!
  • Stay consistent with training and continue to reinforce good habits 

If you have any other questions or concerns, always feel free to reach out to our team. 

Thank you again for adopting!

Best, 

Team at [insert name of rescue]

Role Definition – How to create a well rounded position

As we all know too well, animals don’t burn people out of rescue, people do. Part of that burnout is often caused by overworking. While most shelters and rescues are often under-staffed, it’s important to consider the capacity any single person has to perform well.

In this article we will cover how to define a role, what restrictions to place on capacity, and how to identify if one of your roles is too large.

Defining a role

When building your team and setting up an organizational structure, it’s important to define the roles, not just the structure. Let’s go over some things to consider when defining a role:

  1. Goals – What is the primary purpose? How does this role fit into the goals of the organization? Make sure to start by clearly defining what the objectives of the role should be. For a manager role, this may be to increase adoption rate by 25% in 1 year.

    For an adoption coordinator, this may be to successfully adopt out 50 animals per month. Make sure these goals are clear, timely, and attainable.
  2. Experience – If you must include experience expectations, first determine the required level of experience as well as the nice-to-have experience. These can sometimes be difficult to differentiate but you can always fall back on the question – Would not having this experience completely prevent someone from achieving the goal of the role? If not, it’s a nice-to-have.

    For an executive director role, you may want to require a minimum of 2 years in the animal sheltering field but 5 years in the industry is a nice-to-have.
  3. Above and below – Every person in any organization should report to a single person. This is who they go to for advice, feedback, and direction. Anyone who manages people should manage no more than 7 people. Any more than 7 becomes difficult to keep up with how each person is performing and to provide support. If you find yourself assigning more than 7 people under one role, it’s time to add another layer.
  4. Time – When building out a role, each responsibility should also be given a time estimate per week. Full-time employees should never exceed 40 hours per week, volunteers should never exceed 20 hours per week.
  5. Measurement of success – Outline what it means to be successful in this role. That can include measurable milestones like increase in adoption rate or it can be to build a good relationship with the community. If there is something you expect this role to accomplish, it should be written out.

How much can one role handle?

Now more than ever, rescues and shelters are bursting at the seams. So it’s easy to want to build a role that covers many different areas to get the biggest bang for you buck. However, this leads to tasks being completed poorly and burnout, which means you would have to invest in recruiting a new member, training, and onboarding. It’s much more beneficial and cost-effective to keep someone in their role by outlining reasonable expectations.

Let’s talk about how to build a well estimated role.

  1. Break out each part of the role. For a foster coordinator, this could include training fosters, assigning fosters, building quarterly reports, communicating with the adoption team, etc.
  2. Assign a weekly time estimate to each task. If a task is completed monthly or quarterly, just divide the time of that task by weeks. Be generous with your estimates and be sure to include meetings.
  3. A full time employee should have no more than 35 hours a week and a volunteer should have no more than 15 hours per week. If a volunteer would like to take on multiple roles to volunteer full-time, that should be considered on a case-by-case basis. However, when building a volunteer role, you should always assume the volunteer has a full-time job or other responsibilities that would prevent them from volunteering full time.

    Why 35 hours for a full-time employee? If you consider full-time to be 40 hours, it’s important to factor in these considerations:

    – Tasks that take longer than expected
    – Emergencies or un-planned tasks
    – Collaboration / assisting other members of the team

    In order to have a true 40 hour work week, we should build roles for 35 hours per week.

How to identify if a role is too large

If you have been reading and think that you have roles in your organization that are currently too large or are worried about it happening in the future, follow these steps:

  1. Track employee time. It should be clear that this is not used for “keeping tabs on employees” but by making sure they are not taking on too much. This can be as formal as filling out a time-sheet, or as informal as estimating at the end of the week how many hours were spent on each responsibility. This will give you a definitive measurement of whether your staff is over-worked.
  2. Have frequent check-ins. Chat with your staff. Get an idea of how they are feeling. If they feel overwhelmed, try to determine if that’s because their role is too large. This allows you to get ahead of any burnout our compassion fatigue. It also creates open communication with your team.

Example Role Description – Foster Director

Summary of Role

The Foster Director will oversee the foster department of Rescue Allies. The role is split between 2 main areas:

  1. Department growth
  2. Foster coordinator management

We expect the Foster Director to advocate for the well-being of the animals in foster, the foster coordinators, and the fosters themselves. The Foster Director will work closely with the Adoption Coordinator and Intake Coordinator to carefully determine capacity based on foster count and experience. We believe the Foster Director should not only have a passion for animals but a passion for people as well.

The Foster Director will report to the Shelter President. No more than 7 foster coordinators will report to the Foster Director.

Role Expectations

Individual Contribution

These expectations are what you should be accomplishing to be considered a solid contributor at your own level:

  • Create weekly reports on the state of the foster team including but not limited to: current capacity, adoption rate, and finances
  • Utilize software to keep track of current fosters
  • Find new and innovative ways to grow the foster program in size and success rate

Collaboration

These expectations are what you should be accomplishing to be considered a solid collaborator at your own level:

  • Partner with other directors to coordinate planned capacity and intake
  • Give regular updates to President and Board
  • Communicate with entire Director level team about any planned initiatives
  • Find ways to assist adoption, marketing, and intake departments when needed
  • Create and maintain relationships with foster programs from other rescues and shelters

Leadership

These expectations are what you should be accomplishing to be considered a solid leader at your own level:

  • Train and mentor all foster coordinators
  • Hold weekly check-ins with each foster coordinator
  • Assist foster coordinators with their communications and management of fosters

Thought leadership

These expectations are what you should be accomplishing to be considered a solid thought leader at your own level:

  • Keep a pulse on trends and strategies in the industry
  • Continuously collaborate with industry experts through conferences, online materials, and networking

Example Role Description – Foster Director w Time Estimates

Individual Contribution – 15 hours / week

Collaboration – 5 hours / week

Leadership – 13 hours / week

Thought leadership – 2 hours / week

Total: 35 hours / week

Conclusion

Building out a role can be tricky. Don’t be afraid to come back and update role expectations once someone is in the role. This should be a living document.

If you need help writing a description of your own, feel free to contact us!

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

5 ways to recruit fosters

Now more than ever, there is a desperate need for foster homes. With adoption rates down, shelters are bursting at the seams.

Let’s talk about ways to recruit fosters to your program.

1. Use your network

As a rescue or a shelter, you have a larger network than you may realize. Working from your community in this order can help you reach people that already believe in your mission.

(Originally discussed in Quick Guide to Creating a Foster Program)

Existing staff and volunteers – You already know them and they know you. This can also be a good “soft launch” of your foster program so you can gain some honest feedback and advice.


Former adopters – They have already gone through an approval process and are often very grateful to you for saving their beloved furbaby. Consider having a modified foster approval process for former adopters. Make sure to only reach out to adopters that have had their animals for at least 6 months to give them time to decompress.


General community – Last but not least is the general public that may or may not have worked with you before. When recruiting this group of people, it’s important to generate excitement, help people picture their lives with a foster animal. A great way to accomplish this is by posting on social media.

2. Targeted Marketing

Even if people want to foster, sometimes they have a hard time picturing how it would look with their life. Some targeted marketing can help bridge that gap and provide potential fosters with a way to visualize a foster animal in their home. Some groups of people to consider:

  • Remote workers
    “Work from home? Foster a furry coworker!”
  • People who travel
    “Ever wish you could adopt a companion animal but your traveling schedule would make it difficult? Save a life by fostering while you’re home!
  • People with kids / stay at home parents

3. Provide incentives

Get people hooked on fostering by providing incentives to get them started:

  • Free training resources – Providing training to your fosters not only benefits them but also the animals in their care. To learn how to build an experienced team, head over to our article on Building an Elite Foster Team
  • Raffles – Encourage repeat fosters by entering each foster into a raffle every time they foster an animal. Prizes can include baskets of locally donated items, companion animal products, naming a kennel, etc.
  • Referral rewards – Encourage your fosters to bring friends into the program by providing referral awards. These can can be similar to the raffle program or even simply featuring them on your page!

4. Customer service

Fostering is hard. Most of the time it completely changes what the day-to-day looks like for a family and it can be unpredictable. As rescuers, we have committed to whatever it takes to helping animals, but we also need people who are willing to commit “just enough”.

If a foster reaches out for help, try to avoid being critical and provide resources and support. A lot of the time, they are just looking for validation and encouragement. It’s worth the extra time to keep a foster happy and excited about the program.

5. Meet people where they’re at

While you may be recruiting for seasoned fosters with years of dog experience, it’s important to accept any qualified foster into the program. Maybe they only want to foster kittens or puppies to start – so give them some kittens or puppies! Create relationships with people and work with them to build their skills and interest in working with other kinds of animals.

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Breaking through your emergency mindset

It is easy to get caught up in the day to day and to become very reactionary to problems rather than preparing for them. There is always going to be an emergency, that is the very nature of rescue. But, there is a difference between actual emergencies that you cannot predict or prepare for and things that feel like emergencies but are actually a pattern of predictable events.

In this article, we will cover how to know if you or your team are stuck in this mindset, ways to break out of that loop, and ways to prevent it from happening again.

Are you stuck in an emergency loop?

Here are some telltale signs that you are reacting rather than taking prepared measured responses to things that come your way:

  • You have a long list of things you want to do to improve your rescue or shelter but can never seem to get over the mountain of the day-to-day work
  • You find yourself always “on” and don’t take meaningful breaks or days off
  • You are highly anxious and easily irritated by staff, volunteers, or the public

If any of these feel like they fit, this article is for you.

Here are some things that may feel like emergencies:

  • Every intake
  • Every return
  • Issues with adopters
  • Fosters needing coverage
  • Behavioral problems
  • Medical problems
  • A staff member or essential volunteer quitting

While there are times where these events can be an emergency, most of the time they are not because you know they are going to happen at some level of frequency.

Before we continue, I want to emphasize that if you are stuck in this loop, you didn’t do anything wrong. Rescue is hard. Very hard. You only get stuck if you care deeply about your work. But trying to improve is the only way things get better, so thank you for being here.

Let’s talk about ways to break through.

Breaking through the emergency loop

  1. Identify one process to work on – This can be from the list above or maybe it’s something entirely different. But only work on improving one thing at a time.
  2. Find patterns – Identify the patterns in when / how these events happen. How many do you see on average every week, month, year?

    Consider returns – they are a part of rescue, while we can hope for a 100% adoption success rate, that is not a reasonable expectation. So, for example, imagine you can expect to receive 20 returns every month. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but now we have something to work from.
  3. Set a goal – It’s important to have something solid to work towards. Choose a single process and make a goal that is reachable AND quantitative (a definitive number or date rather than something vague like “do better”).

    Continuing our return example – if we can expect 20 returns every month, a reasonable goal could be to have the capacity to take all 20 animals back into our program within 5 days of the request. We can even have a secondary goal of taking in 10 returns within 5 days of the request if our first goal feels like a stretch.
  4. Make a plan – Now that you have identified the problem and have a goal, let’s get into how to make that goal happen.

    What needs to change about your organization in order to accommodate your goal? Make a list. Don’t filter your list for what’s “reasonable” just yet, put every idea down.

    For our return example, the list could look like this:
    – Have 10 fosters on standby at all times
    – Have 10 kennels open at all times
    – Create a short-term solution for returns that need to come back right away
    – Add a requirement into the adoption contract that adopters must keep their animals until space is available

    Of course, having 10 fosters available at all times is probably not reasonable. However, having 5 could be. 10 kennels open at all times isn’t reasonable, but having 1 could be. So, how do we work with what we have to reach our goal? Here is an example of a plan:

    1. Adopters agree to keep animals for up to 5 days while space for the animal is identified

    2. Have a team of fosters that only want to foster short-term that can foster for 5 days if the animal needs to come back right away OR if space has not been identified in the first 5 days

    3. Always have 5-10% of foster homes available for a return OR have 5-10% of kennel space open

    Give yourself a timeline for implementing your plan.
  5. Track progress and adjust – As soon as you begin to implement your plan, keep track of progress. How many returns did you have? How many were placed in under 5 days? Remember, any progress is good progress. If you feel like your plan needs adjusting or your goal needs adjusting, you can do that. Neither are set in stone.

Once you have plan in place, you should notice that these situations feel less urgent. You can predict when they are going to happen and you have control over your reaction to them. This is an empowering feeling, so let’s talk about how to stick to it.

Preventing the emergency mindset

The most important part of keeping yourself out of the reactionary day-to-day is by taking the time to plan. Set aside 30 minutes a week to check in on your goals and to adjust your plans. It may feel like you don’t have those 30 minutes but making the time to invest in the foundation of your organization will free up 100’s of hours for future you.

Finally, remember to breath. Even small steps are steps in the right direction.

Do you need help creating a plan? Contact us!

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Limiting factor series – Introduction

The official definition of a limiting factor is “the environmental factor that is of predominant importance in restricting the size of a population”. In terms of a shelter or rescue, it is the one thing that prevents you from your goal before anything else. Shelters and rescues often struggle to fill multiple areas like fundraising and adoption rate, however the limiting factor is the first one to run out. Maybe your space runs out before your money. Maybe your volunteer count isn’t enough to support your animals.

We have identified the top 3 most common limiting factors for any given rescue or shelter and in this series, we are going to give you the tools to solve them. 

But first, let’s talk about how to identify your limiting factor. 

Identifying your limiting factor

Our mission is always to save lives. If you are a controlled intake organization, look at your intake denial rate, otherwise, look at your healthy animal euthanasia rate. If you don’t keep record of the specific reason for why you had to deny intake for any particular animal, let’s take a look at some data points around the time of denial to determine your limiting factor:

How many animals were in your care at the time? If that number is at or above your maximum capacity (this can include capacity at a physical shelter and / or foster home capacity), then your limiting factor is Space. 

If you had space, what were your finances like? Did you have the money in your budget to take on another animal? Did the animal require care that you couldn’t afford? If so, your limiting factor was Finances.

If you had the space and the finances, what was your staff / volunteer team like? Did you have a lower number of people needed to care for another animal? Did the animal require experience or expertise that your team didn’t have (ex reactive, blind, diabetic, etc)? If so, your limiting factor was Staff. 

If you are keeping track of this data already and know why any particular animal was denied or euthanized and how many that was, that’s fantastic. If not, starting to keep track can really help with finding patterns in your intake denial / euthanasia rate and get you started on the track to finding solutions. Here is a link to a sample spreadsheet to begin tracking this data. Please copy and paste into your own new spreadsheet. If you need help with this, contact us.

Through this series, we recommend that you look at 1 year’s worth of data. If you do not have that much, that’s okay! You can start with any time period, even a week. 

Next steps

The goal of this series is to help solve your current limiting factor, which would then present a new limiting factor. So, it is created for you to be able to come back and reference as your organization grows and develops. There will always be multiple factors impacting decisions at your organization and this series is not meant to take away from the fact that rescue is complicated but to provide a starting point to start making small improvements that can have a big impact. There will always be exceptions and cases we don’t cover. If there is something specific you would like to discuss, always feel free to contact us.

Without further adieu, head over to the article on your current limiting factor, to learn ways to improve!

Space

Finances

Staff

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Limiting factor series – Finances

Finances is the most common of the limiting factors but, identifying it as your most pressing issue to work on is the first step.

The second step is determining how far you need to go to move past finances preventing you from reaching your goal. If your goal is to increase intake, how many animals do you want to increase intake by? What is the maximum number of animals your space and staff can handle?

If you can financially accommodate the number of animals your space and staff can care for, you will be breaking through the financial limiting factor.

What does this look like in action?

Determine how much you need

Let’s say your shelter can house 100 animals per month but you can only afford to feed 90. So, to break through the financial limiting factor, you need to raise enough money each month to feed 10 more animals.

Break this down even further – how much does it cost per month per animal? In our example, let’s say $30 for each animal every month. So, to reach our goal, we need to fundraise an extra $150 every month.

Fundraising is very hard. This article is primarily focused on identifying how much you need but there are a lot of great resources available like Maddie’s Fund and Best Friends Animal Society for fundraising ideas and tips. We will go over some that are easy to implement to get you started.

  • What items do you spend money on that you could have donated? Towels, cleaning supplies, toys, etc. Reach out to local businesses and schools about setting up a donation box, create an Amazon wishlist, create a Chewy wishlist
  • Free rewards to entice donations:
    – “Name a litter” fundraiser
    – “Sponsor a pet” and get updates
    – “In memory of…” donation
    – “Gift a donation”

Give yourself a timeline for implementing these new fundraising strategies and raising funds to break through your limiting factor. Once you have accomplished this, head back to the original limiting factors article to determine what to focus on next to continue saving lives.

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Limiting factor series – Space

Space is a limiting factor that you may think is a permanent limitation. But, you don’t need space to house every animal, just enough space to house animals in need at the time they need that space. 

Imagine you have space for 90 animals but you have the staff and finances for 10 more. Finding a way to house these 10 additional animals is what will break you through the space limiting factor.

Let’s talk about ways to increase timely capacity. 

Increasing space

Create or expand your foster network – fostering allows for exponential increase in space, but only if done properly. If you don’t have a fostering side of the house, take a look at our guide to creating a foster team

If you do have a foster team, here are some ways to get the most out of the team and expand:

  • Ask your fosters to network for you. They already love fostering for you so they are your best boots on the ground to recruiting and encouraging new faces. You can use similar methods to what is discussed in using your fosters to market
  • Train an elite team to handle medical and behavioral intakes
  • Consider allowing fosters to take a litter or more than one puppy from a litter
  • Reach out to former adopters for a foster plea

Of course the best way to decrease your capacity is to increase adoption rate. 

  • Cohabitate dogs you know are stable with other dogs. This also has added benefits of reducing stress and increasing adaptability
  • Help keep pets in their homes
  • If you notice that certain times of year result in a higher rate of intake requests (after Christmas, etc) consider pulling out all the adoption and foster stops beforehand 
    – Give a home for the holidays
    – Foster for Christmas

Give yourself a timeline for implementing these new space expanding strategies to break through your limiting factor. Once you have accomplished this, head back to the original limiting factors article to determine what to focus on next to continue saving lives. 

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Limiting factor series – Staff

Staff limiting factors can feel difficult to determine. So let’s break it down. 

Animal capacity per staff

What types of staff / volunteers do you have? Some examples are: 

  • Full time staff (experience ranging from 0-5)
  • Part time staff (experience ranging from 0-5)
  • Fosters
    • Adult / puppy dog fosters
    • Adult / kitten cat fosters 
    • Medical fosters (blind, diabetic, etc)
    • Behavioral fosters (human-reactive, dog-reactive, nervous, etc.)
    • Bottle feeding fosters 

How many animals can each care for in the span of one month?

Your animal capacity isn’t just determined by the number of staff and volunteers, but also by their experience. Let’s walk through a basic example of how you can estimate your capacity by your volunteers. 

We have 3 volunteers (Sally, Polly, and John). 

Sally – Full-time, 3 years of experience, rank of 1 medical experience, rank of 5 behavioral experience

Polly – Part-time, 10 years of experience, rank of 3 medical experience, rank of 2 behavioral experience

John – Part-time, 1 year experience, rank of 1 medical experience, rank of 0 behavioral experience

Here is an example breakdown (your organization is most likely very different)

Full time staff can manage 10 typical animals (animals that do not need additional behavioral or medical experience)

Part time staff can manage 5 typical animals. 

Full time staff can manage 1 animal per medical and behavioral rank.

Part time staff can manage 0.5 animals per medical and behavioral rank. 

So…

Sally can manage 10 typical animals, 2 medical animals, 5 behavioral animals

Polly can manage 5 typical animals, 1.5 medical animals, 1 behavioral animal

John can manage 5 typical animals, 0.5 medical animals, 0 behavioral animals

You total maximum capacity is:

20 typical animals, 4 medical animals, 6 behavioral animals

Foster programs can add to this capacity as well. You can add 1 typical animal for each foster home and 1 medical or behavioral animal for each medical or behavioral foster home.

Here is a sample spreadsheet to help keep track of maximum capacity based on staff.

Let’s say you can financially and physically house 100 animals every month, but you only have the staff for 90 animals. You need to find a way to increase your staff capacity by 10 animals per month to break through the staff limiting factor. 

Let’s talk about some strategies.

Improvement Strategies

  1. Recruit more staff – This can be paid or volunteer staff. What kind of staff are you hoping to bring on? New volunteers or people with experience? There are a lot of tools for reaching potential staff. Some places to start are Facebook Jobs and Volunteer Match.
  1. Train your staff – It’s important to keep in mind what kinds of animals you are hoping to increase intake for. If you are hoping to intake 5 more adult dogs each month, consider working with a local trainer to teach your staff how to manage large adult dogs. Empower your current staff to increase their load so you can increase capacity. Be aware of your team’s limit and make sure to resist pushing anyone past their limit. 
  1. Encourage your current staff / volunteers to recruit – Friends and family of your existing team can be a powerful resource since they have reliable information on what to expect so they can more quickly and easily be trained compared to someone without any connections to your organization. 
  1. Don’t underestimate the power of good management – Is your team operating at peak efficiency? Do you have a proper chain of command? If staff have their hands in too many pies, they end up slowing things down. Read about ideal team structure to increase efficiency on your team. 

Give yourself a timeline for implementing these new staff expanding strategies to break through your limiting factor. Once you have accomplished this, head back to the original limiting factors article to determine what to focus on next to continue saving lives. 

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Quick Guide to creating a foster program

Whether you are a brick and mortar shelter or are starting a foster-based rescue, this guide will walk you through how to get a foster program off the ground and things to keep in mind as you move forward.

1. Scaffolding

The first step is to lay the groundwork for your program. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Expected capacity – How many animals do you expect to have in foster? You should ALWAYS have at least 10-20% of your fosters open. This means if you have 10 fosters, at least 1-2 of them should not have an animal in their care. So, you can only have 8-9 animals in foster at any given time.This is to provide support for emergencies.
  • Expected turnover time – How quickly are your animals adopted? This can help you schedule incoming animals.
  • Cost – Break this into sections: expected monthly costs, cost per type of animal (puppy, kitten, adult, special needs, behavioral issues, etc.). This will help you determine how many animals you can have in your program at any given time.
  • Policies – What will you require of foster homes? How do you determine if a foster is a fit for a specific animal? How long will you ask a foster home to commit to? Make sure to iron out all of these questions.
  • Foster coordinator team – Make sure to have a point person for every situation. This includes medical questions, behavioral / training questions, adoption questions, vacation coverage, supply refill, etc. It helps to have a single point of contact for each of these situations if possible.
  • Foster application – Make sure to get some important info on the application but remember to keep out barriers. Here is an example: https://forms.gle/97tSNnvrKcYGPdfB7

2. Types of fosters

Make sure to identify types of fosters that you need. Here are a few common groups:

Determine how many of each category you need to start. This will help you when it comes to recruiting.

3. Recruiting fosters

Now that you have the types of fosters you need and how many you need, you can begin recruiting. There are 3 groups of people you can reach out to for help. Try to reach out in this order:

  1. Existing staff and volunteers – You already know them and they know you. This can also be a good “soft launch” of your foster program so you can gain some honest feedback and advice.
  2. Former adopters – They have already gone through an approval process and are often very grateful to you for saving their beloved furbaby. Consider having a modified foster approval process for former adopters. Make sure to only reach out to adopters that have had their animals for at least 6 months to give them time to decompress.
  3. General public – Last but not least is the general public that may or may not have worked with you before. When recruiting this group of people, it’s important to generate excitement, help people picture their lives with a foster animal. A great way to accomplish this is by posting on social media. Here is an example:

4. Training fosters

Once you have a team of excited and motivated fosters, it’s important to train them on what to expect. Just like with adopters, it’s important to go over common scenarios and to teach them how to handle those situations. Some things training should cover:

  • Decompression – Make sure your fosters know what to expect with the 3-3-3 rule and that they keep their circle small in the first week and not to overwhelm their foster with too many new people, places, or things. There are a lot of great resources on this including this one.
  • Safety – This should be considered both for the family and the animal. For example, go over proper introductions with people in the home and animals in the home.
  • Process – What does the adoption process look like? What should they expect? Walk through the entire process with them from picking up their foster to adoption.

5. Foster success

Now that you have built a program, recruited a team, trained them to be exceptional fosters, the last step is setting them up for success!

First, make sure they have everything they need – Take a look at our Foster Go-Bags article for a quick guide.

Second, always keep open communication. There are a few options for how to collect information from your foster:

  • Assign a foster coordinator to each foster. This will be the point person for that foster for questions and communication about potential adopters
  • Create a communal place to aggregate pictures and updates. This is best accomplished with Facebook groups. (For a tutorial on how to make a Facebook group either read their docs or take a look at our article on Building an Adopter Community). Make sure to make guidelines about posts. We have found it most useful for fosters to create an “album” in the group that they can update with pictures and info about their foster.
  • Have a generic questionnaire that every foster fills out after a week of having their foster in their home. Here is a quick example: https://forms.gle/YBkzJNEbE4zNhCk36

Finally, provide support! Things will always come up that are unexpected. It often helps to have people dedicated to certain types of questions:

  • Medical
  • Behavioral / training
  • Vacation coverage
  • Adoption

Foster teams can not only expand the number of animals you can intake, but can greatly expand on the type of animals you can intake. Fosters also give the animal space to decompress and prepare for an adoptive home without all the stress from a shelter. This makes animals more adoptable and helps build your program so you can save more lives.

This article covers a lot but of course is not exhaustive. If you have any specific questions or would like more detail, please reach out! And as always, we are happy to help you customize any infographics you see to work best for your rescue or shelter.

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

4 ways to boost marketing through fosters

In most cases, fosters love to talk about the animal they are caring for. They want to share pictures, updates, what they’re improving on, and quirks / personality traits they have noticed. While rescues and shelters are always happy to hear these kinds of updates, the people who should really be hearing them are potential adopters.

In this article, we’ll go over how to empower your fosters to become a powerful marketing team.

1. Pictures

The best pictures to generate adoption interest are picture where the dog looks happy and well adjusted. An image where an adopter can really imagine the animal in their home. Where else are you going to get these kinds of photos than at the foster home? Encourage your fosters to take pictures in these scenarios:

  • A smiling picture outside in grass on a sunny day
  • Sleeping in a goofy positing
  • Cuddling on the couch
  • Playing with a toy

Take it a step further and make it a game! Give fosters a bingo card with options for photo ops and have them fill out the card for a prize. Note: this works best for animals the are generally stable – do not encourage fosters with nervous animals to push their fosters outside of their comfort zone.

2. Social media templates

If you have fosters that are social media savvy, provide them with templates that include your logo. This also saves time for your marketing team to focus on animals in your physical shelter or with fosters that are not confident in using technology in this way.

A great tool to use for these templates is Canva.

3. Bio writing

Bios is the first impression an animal will make on their future adopter. These words can make or break an adoption. The best bios include specific details about the pet and are enthusiastic. Who better to provide this info than the foster!

Provide fosters with a standardized checklist to identify personality traits and behaviors so your team can write a bio that sounds like they know the pet themselves.

4. Sharing in community networks

One of the biggest benefits of having a large foster network is that their friends are now your friends. When they post on social media, your rescue or shelter is reaching people you never would on your own. Encourage fosters to share their foster animals to their networks including community facebook pages. Provide sample templates of posts they can use or encourage them to create something on their own.

When a foster is engaged in the marketing process, they feel closer to the organization and it gives them an opportunity to feel connected to the home the pet ends up in. These creates a positive experience that they will want to continue!

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Increase adoption rate by removing barriers

The goal of every rescue and shelter is to find homes for the animals in their care. Seems straight forward, right? Well, no adoption is black and white. We have all had adoptions that ended poorly. Maybe the animal was returned, maybe the animal wasn’t cared for, and in the worst cases – maybe the animal was abused. After having this happen, it can be easy to start creating a list of requirements that adopters must have before they can bring home one of your beloved animals. But, these restrictions can also prevent good homes.

This article will talk about what adoption barriers are and how you can remove them without sacrificing the quality of home you find for your animals.

What are adoption barriers?

Adoption barriers can start with your application:

  • Long application with lengthy questions
  • Support for only one language
  • Requirements for many references including vet

They can continue with what you ask from the adopter:

  • Fenced yard
  • Own home
  • Work schedule
  • Adult only homes (no kids)
  • Income requirement

These go on and on. You may be reading some of these and thinking I have to include these to feel comfortable with the adoption. While this may be true for some of the animals in your care, is it true for all?

Ways to start removing barriers

Let’s go case by case:

  • Long application with lengthy questions – What does your application process look like? Do you have a call or conversation with an adopter that could cover most of these questions? Challenge yourself to stick to a single page application. Any remaining questions can be answered when you speak with them.
  • Support for only one language – Citizens of the US speak over 350 languages. Is your application only in English? Could this prevent adopters who primarily speak another commonly spoken American language like Spanish? Even using Google translate could open up the opportunity for a whole new group of adopters.
  • Reference requirements – Do you really need 3 references for each applicant? Could you ask for references on a case by case basis? This would allow adopters to more easily submit and application and begin that conversation.
  • Lifestyle related requirements – Blanket requirements for things like a fenced yard or owning a home is a huge barrier. Sometimes these are necessary for a particular dog’s needs but and English Bulldog really doesn’t need a fenced yard, how far could they get? An adult husky without any leash skills could be a candidate for a fenced yard requirement though. These requirements should be on a case by case basis to allow good adopters to find the right fit rather than blocking them from any dog.

Hopefully you are considering making some of these changes during your application process. This is NOT to say that you should allow anyone to take any animal but this gives the opportunity for good adopters to adopt!

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Building an online adopter community

Your adopters, if allowed, can be one of a rescue or shelter’s greatest assets. Adopters already know your organization, they believe in you, and more often than not, they are grateful to you for bringing their pet into their lives. So, how do you capitalize on this relationship?

You build an adopter community.

1. Create a group where adopters can share

This is probably most easily accomplished with Facebook.

In Facebook, select “Groups”
Create a new group
Fill out the required fields and start inviting members. We recommend you keep an alumni group private.
2. Determine a purpose for the group

Here are a few options of ways you could use the group:

  • A space for adopters to share updates – this can be nice for adopters of littermates, sharing updates with original rescuers, and keeping an eye on the animals you worked so hard to adopt out.
  • A space to share upcoming events – your adopters are the most likely group of people to support any fundraising you do. Targeting them directly will only help increase attendance and participation.
  • Share helpful tips directly to adopters – a lot goes into setting an adopter up for success, but there is always more to share. For example, before the 4th of July, you may want to remind new adopters to keep their pets leashed in the yard or at the beginning of winter, remind adopters to use pet safe salt. An adopter group allows you to get this information out quickly and efficiently.
  • Volunteer plea – as we have established, adopters are already emotionally invested in your rescue and know what you are about. This makes them the perfect group of people to recruit for volunteer roles. Before posting publicly, ask your alumni group to contact you if they are interested in filling one of your open volunteer roles.
3. Group moderation

Despite the best intentions, sometimes social media can create problematic situations.

  • Avoid conversations around training or medical advice – these should always be directed towards a professional. While well intentioned, adopters can give bad or even harmful advice. For example, if someone is asking if chocolate is okay to feed their dog, it would be easy for an adopter to respond with “my dog never had a reaction”. Though they are trying to be helpful, this kind of question is one for a vet.
  • “Is anyone else in the [example] litter aggressive?” – When people feel they are struggling with their puppy, they are often looking for validation that it isn’t their fault. This can create a dangerous snowball effect where adopters get worked up over typical puppy behaviors like teething. You can get ahead of these types of questions by setting up “Alert words” in your group so when a word like “aggressive” is used, you are immediately notified so you can assess the situation. This could also apply for words like “rehoming”.
4. Create excitement and engagement

Starting a group can be hard and it might feel like crickets in the beginning. Get the conversation going with some fun topic starters:

  • Show a picture of your pet on their gotcha day and now
  • What are your favorite nicknames for your pet? Please include a pic!
  • What made you fall in love with your pet?
  • What is your pet’s favorite food?
  • What is the goofiest part of your pet’s personality?

Engagement will grow naturally over time!

5. Help adopters find your group

Make sure to include a link to your group in an email after a dog is adopted! This can be in the finalization email or in a post-adoption follow up.

Creating a community won’t only strengthen your rescue or shelter, but it will also provide a positive reminder of why you do this hard and emotional work.

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Helping animals in your community – keep them out of your shelter

A shelter or rescue’s primary role is to provide care and find suitable homes for animals with nowhere to go. While this effort often takes all hands on deck, dedicating resources to preventing animals from entering your care could save more lives in the end. Let’s go over some places to start.

1. The top reason people surrender their animals is financial hardship

Most of these hardships are temporary – losing a job unexpectedly, medical bills, etc. Shelters and rescues can keep these animals in their homes is by providing a way to help families weather the storm.

  • Create a community food pantry with food for animals
  • Build a sponsorship program for an anonymous family. This is especially effective around the holidays when a generous family can offer to “sponsor” an animal to keep them in their home
  • Create a partnership with a vet that provides low cost senior care to elderly animals
2. The next most common reason is due to house restrictions

36% of the United States rents their home*. This means they are subject to changing restrictions or sometimes need to move with little notice. In addition, as we all know, there is extreme breed discrimination in the United States which means most people cannot rent and own a Pit mix, GSD, etc. Here are a few options on how to help with housing restrictions:

  • Create a list of animal-friendly rental properties in your general area. Display this list publicly on a website or provide it to the owner during a surrender inquiry. Take it a step further and partner with landlords so you can recommend their properties and they advertise or donate for your rescue / shelter
  • Leverage your following to petition local, state, and federal Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) to allow “banned breeds” in more rental properties. This can be as simple as providing a template email for people to send to representatives. This is a site that helps you quickly find your representatives – https://myreps.datamade.us/
3. Finally, spaying and neutering

Of course, one of the largest reasons rescues and shelters are always bursting at the seams is because of un spayed and neutered animals.

  • Partner with a vet to create a low-cost spay/neuter program
  • Contact a local “Spay / Neuter Waggin” or mobile program to come to your community https://www.arlboston.org/services/spay-waggin/
  • Work with local businesses and vets to provide incentives to spayed and neutered animals. For example, spayed/neutered animals get a discount at your local animal store. To get started, check out our email templates.
List of 3 reasons why animals end up in shelters with a picture of a cartoon dog head and cat head

It doesn’t matter how small you start, any act to reduce the animals your shelter or rescue needs to intake makes a huge difference for the lives of all animals and people involved.

Happy rescuing!

* Pew Research

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Setting your adopters up for success

A nice family has found their newest addition and they are ready to go home with their new pup. This is the point where they are the most excited and eager, however, may not be the time they are able to listen (they just adopted a pup for Pete’s sake!). Returns can be devastating for rescues and shelters not to mention the trauma it has on the dog. As always, the best defense is a good offense. With a few easy modifications, you can create the best chance of success for your adopters.

1. What to expect

A little education is important for every adopter but is extremely important for first time adopters (we were all first time adopters once!). Make sure to share a quick guide on what will be coming in the next few weeks, months, and years. ALWAYS deliver important information in at least 2 ways:

  • Printout with guide (for more details on these guides, visit our What to Send Home with Adopters article)
  • Verbally go over this guide before they leave
  • Email a guide after they get home

It’s most important to give them something they will be able to reference at a later time or date because the actual day of adoption is too exciting to be talking about potty training. Ideally, you would be able to cover this with adopters before they even adopt.

Guideline of what to expect in your first week of adopting a dog
2. Create a “going home” package

There are a lot of supplies dogs need when first being adopted. Take some of the stress off your adopters and create a fundraising opportunity for you by creating baskets of necessary items available for purchase. These can include:

  • Small bag of food
  • Toys
  • Treats
  • Leash / collar / harness
  • Bowls
  • Pee pads
  • Dog bed
  • Crate
3. Training tips

Most adopters want their dogs to be well trained. Very few adopters know how to accomplish that. You, on the other hand, have a lot of experience working with dogs so giving them some starting tips can go a long way. REMEMBER – never assume an adopter knows something, start from the very beginning.

Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Potty training – Take your new pup out to potty every 1 – 2 hours. This seems like a lot in the beginning but trust us, it will make your potty training experience much faster! If they go potty outside, give lots of praise and treats. If they have an accident inside DO NOT scold. Dogs don’t know what you mean and this just makes them afraid of you. Watch out for signs that your pup needs to go potty like getting up from sleeping, sniffing around one area, going towards the door.
  • Crate training – Make the crate a positive place. Start with giving meals in the crate with the door open. Give high value toys and stuffed kongs in the crate. Always allow your dog to have access to the crate and reward them when they go in on their own.
  • Confidence building – There are a few things that build confidence in a dog: mastering a new trick, sniffing and finding, making decisions. Teach your dog new tricks like “Sit” and “Down”, providing praise and treats, never scolding or corrections. Teach your dog “Find it” by giving the command and when they drop their head to sniff, drop a treat. You can even do meals like this in grass! Allow your dog to make decisions like which way they want to walk or which treat they want.

Of course, nothing can replace the expertise of a professional and it is always best to have a trainer in place before issues arise.

4. Professional trainer referrals

There are many trainers out there but, unfortunately, not many great trainers. A poor experience with a trainer can not only be traumatizing for a dog, but can quickly lead to a return. Here are a few tips on ways to help your adopters find a trainer that works for them:

  • Have trainer relationships – If you have a trainer (or several) that you have enjoyed working with, consider reaching out to them to create a partnership. You will refer adopters to them if they can give your adopters a discount. Perhaps they even work with your dogs in foster or in the shelter before they are adopted.
  • Have a list of vetted trainers in surrounding communities – Your adopters will ask for trainer referrals, create an INTERNAL list of trainers you know have a good record and your trust. Make this list by geographic area so it’s easiest to grab and send to an adopter. Don’t wait to be asked, give referrals for EVERY adoption.
  • Create training classes hosted at your shelter – Set up monthly group puppy training classes hosted at your shelter for easy access for your adopters. This could even double as a fundraiser. If you are a foster-based rescue, consider hosting at a local park.
5. Community

No matter how well you prepare an adopter, bringing home a new dog is a big life change and can be difficult. Create a community for your adopters to share the ups and downs, helpful tips, and support for each other. This not only will increase your adoption success rate, but will take some of the pressure off of your staff for follow ups. Make sure to monitor posts, while well intended, adopters can give harmful advice. Training and medical questions should always be directed towards a professional.

The goal of rescues and shelters is always permanent placements. There are going to be returns, but taking these steps during the adoption process can greatly reduce that number, giving your rescue or shelter an opportunity to help more animals.

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Building an elite foster team

For foster-based rescues and fortunate shelters, fosters are essential to increasing your adoption rate. Most fosters do not have extensive experience with dogs and there are very few who are trained to handle reactive dogs. Having a foster team that is able to support the intake of these dogs will save lives. This article will go over how to build a successful specialized foster program.

Don’t recruit expert fosters – create them

1. Establish program goals
  • Increase bully breed intake
  • Allow for medical intake (heartworm disease, blind, deaf, etc)
  • Allow for behavioral intake (dog reactive, extremely shy, human reactive, separation anxiety, etc.)

The type of dog you are planning to help will determine how you build your program.

2. Create a training plan

Now that you have your goals, you can start figuring out how you will train your fosters and how long / intensive that training will be. Here are some options to consider:

  • In-house trainer who could run workshops
  • Bring in a trainer you trust to run workshops
  • Create or use an existing online course

Your plan may change depending on the dog or foster or change over time. This does not need to be set in stone but it’s important to have somewhere to start.

3. Identify qualified homes

Unfortunately, not every home will be a fit for every dog, despite the fosters’ willingness to learn. For example, a dog-reactive foster dog can’t be placed in a studio apartment with 2 resident dogs. So, you need to create guidelines for safe placement. This is different for every dog, but things to consider are:

  • Kids / ages of kids
  • Other pets (dogs, cats, farmed animals, etc)
  • Home type (apartment, single-family, rural, suburban, etc)
  • Time commitment to foster (1 month, 1 year, etc)
  • Work schedule

This will help you identify foster homes that could benefit your specialized program.

4. Generate excitement

Fostering these dogs is hard. It is a bigger time commitment, emotional commitment, and can mean bigger sacrifices in a foster’s day-to-day life. BUT it’s also more rewarding and more fulfilling to help a dog that others can’t. Once you have fosters that you think could be a fit for the program, emphasize the benefits:

  • The satisfaction of “Rescuing a rescue”
  • Create a flashy name for the program like “Elite Foster Squad”
  • Share success stories with quotes from the foster

There is no such thing as too many cliches so whip out those tear jerkers. Of course it’s important to also clearly communicate the commitment but without the hype, it will be very hard to recruit a team.

5. Create a community

As we’ve established, this work is hard. You will need to have a support system not only for practical training or medical questions, but for emotional support. The easiest way to do this is by creating a Facebook group or group message where members of your team can communicate with each other while you are able to keep a finger on the pulse and identify any problems. Additionally, more seasoned fosters can provide experiences and insight that can’t be learned in a course. See our article on how to create an adopter community for more tips.

6. Have a backup plan

No matter how well you trained a foster, how well you vetted a dog, there will ALWAYS be dogs that need to move foster homes. Because of this, you should NEVER fill every foster home. This is important for any regular foster program but is even more essential for a specialized program. When a foster needs to move their foster dog, having an emergency home available could mean their life. So, have a group of emergency / vacation coverage fosters that can foster for a few weeks at a time with little notice.

Creating a specialized foster program creates a life line for dogs that otherwise have no other options.

Each program will be different and it’s important to find what works best for your organization. If you have questions or want help creating a customized plan, contact us.

Happy rescuing!

List of steps to create a specialized foster program with cartoon images of dogs
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Foster go-bags

You’ve recruited and trained a whole new team of fosters. You have matched them with dogs that are a fit for their home. You’ve gone over your policies and they are excited to get started! Make sure they are set up for success with these essential items:

  • Emergency numbers – This should include the number for their contact at the rescue (if they have multiple contacts, include all)
  • Non-emergency contacts with available times – Who should they contact for medical questions? Training questions? Adoption questions?
  • What to expect guide – Easy to understand overview of what they should expect in the first few days and weeks
  • Food – Make sure to include feeding instructions
  • Leash / Collar – It’s best if the collar is a martingale to avoid dogs getting loose. Always educate on proper use of a martingale collar

Chart overview of fostering tips in the first week

You may also want to include some items that not every foster will have:

  • Kong toys / lick mat – This will help keep a dog’s mind busy and can help with decompression
  • “Adopt me” gear – This could include a bandana, leash, collar, harness, etc. Get creative!
  • Crate – This is important for the safety of the dog but a crate trained dog is also much more adoptable!

Above all, make sure your fosters are excited and feel they have the resources to succeed.

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

Structuring your organization

Your core rescue team is the most important part of your organization. These are the people that will be the face of your org, set the tone for subsequent volunteers, and help you make all the difficult decisions that come with rescue. In this article, we’ll cover what roles are essential, how to delegate tasks, and how to run efficiently.

Your rescue is a business

Non-profits are businesses. The only difference – their goal is to make an impact, rather than a profit. Everything else should be treated the same.

Businesses operate through a separation of tasks and specialties. You wouldn’t ask your barista to paint your car (even if they could physically accomplish it). So, you should avoid having a director who also takes applications or performs home visits.

Separate your rescue out into teams. Even if you are a two person org, each team should have autonomy that makes its own decisions on how to execute agreed upon goals.

Let’s break that down.

Distributing tasks

Imagine we have a foster-based rescue with the following roles:

  • President
  • Foster Directer
  • Adoptions Director
  • Operations Director

The rescue has a meeting with all members and determines their goal for the next quarter is to increase intake by 25%.

BEFORE implementing a clear and defined structure and responsibilities, this is how they split up tasks:

President – Reaches out to foster families, talks to adopters

Foster Director – Onboards more fosters while coordinating the transport of dogs and managing applications

Adoptions Director – Considers an adoption event while fielding foster applications and responding to emails about transport and timing

Operations Director – Says “yes” to the first 40 dogs being surrendered without consulting the team. Sends out flyers.

A messy chart with many arrows distributing tasks amongst members of the rescue

This is messy. The members are stepping on each other’s toes while certain tasks are neglected. Everyone feels overwhelmed with the task of increasing intake and people burn out.

AFTER implementing a clear and defined structure and responsibilities, this is how they split up tasks:

President – Creates a budget for managing a higher intake

Foster Director – Onboards more foster families

Adoptions Director – Recruits and onboards more adoption coordinators

Operations Director – Coordinates an adoption event

An organized distribution of tasks to the roles of the rescue

All of these individual teams are able to operate separately while still maintaining a unified goal. They are able to break everything down into manageable tasks.

The benefits of creating clearly defined roles and responsibilities are:

  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced burnout
  • Early identification of problems

For a deeper dive into role definition, visit our guide. Now that responsibilities are clearly defined, it’s time to organize management responsibilities.

Distributing volunteers

It’s important for volunteers to have clear leadership. Using the same roles as earlier, this is a sample of how a rescue could distribute volunteers:

Sample organizational chart for rescue directors that distributes volunteers across the directors

Of course there will be some overlap between roles, though each volunteer should only report to ONE person.

Conclusion

Creating structure in your rescue or shelter is hard. It is not a “one size fits all” kind of solution. When creating your structure, these are the key things to keep in mind

  • Teams should work autonomously towards a combined goal
  • Each role should be clearly defined
  • Every volunteer reports to a single person
  • The structure can change and evolve, it does not need to be rigid

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!