Nonprofit animal shelters rely on the kindness of animal-loving volunteers to foster animals, transport them, help out with special events, and assist with day-to-day tasks around the shelter.
Finding and retaining volunteers is seldom easy for any nonprofit, and animal shelters have particular challenges. Volunteers need to do some dirty work; it’s not all cuddling puppies and playing with kittens.
Finding volunteers for your animal shelter begins with understanding what motivates someone to volunteer and what will attract volunteers to your organization. When you know that, you can craft a message that will bring people in to help.
Consider the motivations of your volunteers
Lay the foundation to find volunteers for your animal shelter
Make it easy to sign up for volunteer opportunities
Reach out to the community
Lots of people love animals, but there are underlying reasons why a few volunteer to work at a shelter.
Some people seek a more satisfying experience than their day jobs provide and want to apply their knowledge to help your shelter achieve its mission. Some need to meet volunteer requirements for school. Some want to get experience for their resume. And some just want to meet other people who love animals, particularly if they’re retired or unemployed.
Keep these motivations in mind as you create your volunteer program, and set expectations for volunteers.
To persuade people to volunteer for your animal shelter, you need a volunteer program with a strong foundation. Create a clear vision with understandable plans for the program. Write a mission statement to define the program’s purpose.
Set aside a dedicated section of your website where interested people can learn about your volunteer program. Include a paragraph about the mission of your shelter and the importance of dedicated volunteers. Call the section “Volunteer Opportunities” or something similar to make it easy to find.
Next, consider what you need volunteers to do. There are many ways people can help besides walking dogs and entertaining cats. Write job descriptions detailing the skills you need from volunteers, such as assisting at adoption events, providing information on animal adoption, and introducing the animals to people who are interested in adopting them.
Keep the motivations of your potential volunteers in mind when writing these job descriptions. For example, high school students may only need a certain number of hours to fulfill a school requirement and will have other commitments. You don’t want the description to sound like a full-time job, but you want prospective volunteers to know that the hours they volunteer will be meaningful.
Carefully consider the message you use to recruit volunteers. Your shelter’s website and social media messaging need to resonate with potential volunteers.
Craft a strong volunteer recruitment message that clearly lays out the types of volunteers you seek, then ask yourself if your ideal volunteer would say “yes” after reading the message.
What skills do you need? Do you need someone who is savvy at social media or a person who can chat up potential fur-ever parents for that sweet elderly cat?
Make it easy for potential volunteers to sign up and help you. Embed a form on the Volunteer Opportunities page of your site where they can list their contact information and interest areas.
Adding an extra step, such as requiring them to call, creates a barrier for many people. Younger people are often averse to picking up the phone, but a web form they can fill out while they’re looking at your opportunities is familiar and will help you get volunteers in the door and trained sooner.
Once you have the foundation of your volunteer program in place, begin reaching out to the community with targeted volunteer outreach.
Partner with a professional organization if you need volunteers with specific skills, like marketing. Consult with local high schools and colleges to find out how you can post volunteer opportunities for students. Active adult communities, where residents are often retired but, for one reason or another, can’t have pets in their homes, are also a good place to recruit.
Consider partnering with local businesses for a pet food or blanket drive for your shelter. It’s a win-win for you both. The business demonstrates to their customers that they’re giving back to the community, and you increase community awareness of your organization. And the people who donate to your animal shelter are the ones most likely to volunteer at your shelter.
Encourage your volunteers to provide information about volunteer opportunities to the people cooing over the cats and dogs at your events.
Equip these volunteers with a brochure or card so interested people know where to turn for more information. Train volunteers so they can confidently answer questions about the time commitment and skills needed at the shelter. People who stop to look at the animals and express regret that they can’t bring one home may be ideal volunteers.
In addition, offer small incentives to encourage word-of-mouth volunteer recruitment. For example, you could run a volunteer drive a couple of months before your next big adoption event and provide a certificate of gratitude to each volunteer who gets someone to sign up.
The bottom line is, plenty of people are willing to volunteer at your animal shelter. To find them, you need to clearly state what you need in a volunteer and do a little legwork so they can find out about the opportunity.
Some volunteers will be regulars who clean up the animals’ temporary homes, while others will be occasional event volunteers or will provide foster homes for some of your animals. Make it easy for them all to express interest in the opportunities you’ve posted, and you’ll be that much closer to fulfilling your shelter’s mission.
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