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


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


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


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!

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