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.


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!

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