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The Shelter Voice: Finding Volunteers

What the average person can do to rally more support for their local animal shelter!

By Darlene Duggan

Recently, a reader posed a comment on a previous post I wrote about volunteering in shelters (you can read the original post and comment here). As I was composing a reply to her comment, I realized I had so much to say on the topic it warranted its own post!

In my tenure in the animal welfare field I have worked for an organization that had so many volunteers we had to turn people away, as well as an organization that was so starved for volunteers we would take any breathing human being that walked through the door. After experiencing both situations, I can say without hesitation that it’s better to have the pick of the litter (pun intended) than have limited people around.

Although any organization can struggle to find volunteers, it is more likely that municipal shelters find themselves without help. Because of restricted funding, limited staffing, and the inability to raise their own funds, municipal shelters have little control over the situation, and in many cases, have to make do with what very limited resources they have. Most of the time, these types of shelters will not have a dedicated volunteer coordinator, but rather the duty will be handed to an unsuspecting administrator or other person already tasked with additional duties that are just as demanding.

So, why can’t citizens take matters into their own hands and spread the word to generate additional volunteers? Why can’t these volunteers also step in and formalize a volunteer program at their municipal shelters? They can and in fact, they very often do. All it takes is one volunteer that is willing and able to go a little further.

Here are some tips and tricks, and inside scoops for helping to generate more volunteers:

Exhaust your network. This may sound obvious, but mobilize your friends, family, and coworkers to volunteer with you. With the advent of social networking, doing this is easier than ever and your outreach has potential to stretch further than before. Some people might not be aware of the need unless you speak up.

Expand your network. After you have exhausted your personal network, start expanding to others in your community. Think about groups of people that would be interested in volunteering for various reasons and place flyers advertising the need.

  • Find the animal lovers: veterinarian offices, pet stores, dog parks, etc.
  • Find the fitness gurus: local gyms, health food stores, weight loss clubs, etc.
  • Find the families: parks, schools, mom and tots classes (some shelters have an age limit on volunteers, but families can still participate on activities that don’t require animal contact).

If graphic design is not your strongest talent, check out postermywall to make flyers.

Reach out to other shelter’s volunteers. I am by no means advocating that you should steal volunteers away from other shelters, but as I had mentioned earlier, some shelters have access to a larger volunteer pool. Connect with their volunteer coordinator and ask if you can “borrow” some of their volunteers. Perhaps you can organize a volunteer day at the municipal shelter once a month or encourage the more dedicated in this bunch to split their time between both groups.

Create your own non-profit. This option is certainly not for the faint of heart and more easily handled with the help of a group of dedicated volunteers. But, if you are serious about getting more people involved, consider starting a non-profit who’s mission it is to channel resources to the municipal shelter. Most often these types of organizations call themselves “Friends” as in “Friends of the County Animal Shelter.”

The idea behind this concept is that the municipal organization cannot directly fundraise for needed items, positions, or improvements. But, a private, non-profit organization can, and can then share the proceeds with the municipal organization. Choosing this option requires buy-in from the municipal shelter itself, the local government body, and staff. I have seen this model at work, and in my experience, it goes a long way in bringing much needed resources to the shelter. If I were organizing a Friends group, the first order item on my business plan would be to mobilize an official volunteer program for the shelter.

If you would like more information about starting a Friends group, please send me a message at shelterreport@gmail.com—I can put you in touch with those in the field that have successfully done so already.

Finding good volunteers is not just the responsibility of the shelter staff, but of all of us animal supporters. Do your part and spread the word to encourage more people to get involved!

Darlene Duggan worked for many years behind the scenes at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago overseeing volunteer programs, problem solving shelter issues, and laboring tirelessly for the welfare of animals. Her bi-weekly column, The Shelter Voice, explores the complex concepts surrounding animal rescue and welfare usually reserved for discussions amongst those at the very front lines of the industry. 

Related:

10 Things Every Shelter Volunteer Should Know

3 Creative Ways to Help Animals

Make a Difference: Volunteering is What You Make It

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