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.
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:
- Puppy/Kitten fosters
- Adult animal fosters
- Adult only homes
- Pet free homes
- Long term fosters
- Short term / vacation fosters
- Elite fosters (read up on how to build an elite foster team)
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:
- 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 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:
- Behavioral / training
- Vacation coverage
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.