Rebecca Poling, President, Companions For Life
Member Groups Coordinator, Metroplex An
Follow-Ups: More important than you think (and easier, too)!
By Rebecca Poling, President
Companions For Life
Member Groups Coordinator
Metroplex Animal Coalition
The Case For Making Contact After The Adoption
Why is it important to follow up on adoptions when you know your counselors are doing a good job? Follow-ups not only ensure the safety and happiness of the animal after the adoption, they give you the opportunity to reinforce adoption contract covenants, generate goodwill for your organization, increase staff and volunteer morale, and provide information you can use to assess the success of your adoption program.
The safety and happiness of an animal after adoption is a top priority. No matter how strong your policies and procedures, even an experienced pet owner may run into a health or behavior problem they don’t know how to handle. If you don’t follow up, you’ll never know if a problem has arisen and you’ll miss an opportunity to offer the advice and assistance that will keep the animal safe and happy. You never want to find out too late that the adopter gave the animal to an unscreened friend or relative because they realized once they got home that they were allergic to the pet. You need to know if an adopter is becoming frustrated over inappropriate elimination issues before they decide the “indoor-only” pet you adopted to them should be outside permanently. Follow-ups give you a chance to prevent behavior problems before the health and well-being of the pet are compromised.
Follow-ups are an excellent opportunity to remind adopters of the most important covenants contained in your adoption contract – things that may not have made as much of an impression as you’d like during the adoption process. Even the most
well-intentioned adopter is likely to forget at least one of the pledges they’ve made due to the excitement surrounding the adoption of a new family member. Think your adopters will remember that return clause a year from now? Follow-ups not only give you an opportunity to reiterate the basic agreements in your adoption contract, they also establish your organization as the place an adopter should turn if circumstances change and they become unable or unwilling to keep the animal at some point.
A successful adoption generates immeasurable goodwill. It is up to you to capitalize on that goodwill. Follow-ups offer a great opportunity to remind the adopter of the great work you do. Adopters who would never before have considered donating to an
animal welfare charity may now do so if you establish a supportive relationship. Many adopters in business for themselves may inquire about sponsorship opportunities once they see how professionally your organization operates. You can even use a follow-up conversation as an opportunity to recruit new volunteers. Simply visiting with an adopter about their new pet often provides important information that you can capitalize on. A secretary might be recruited to help with data entry or returning phone calls; a teacher may be willing to assist with development of humane education materials for your group; or a graphic designer may help update your printed materials or your website.
You can use follow-ups to get adopters signed up on your mailing list, subscribed to your newsletter, and to let them know about upcoming special events. You can also add a wish list to your follow-up correspondence, solicit donations for specific programs, or offer free information on any number of topics. It is important to understand that follow-ups are a form of customer service and that a satisfied customer is a walking, talking advertisement for your group. Follow-ups help ensure repeat adoptions when happy adopters decide to adopt another companion, and they make it likely your group will be recommended to friends and family considering adoption.
Follow-ups can also help you combat your own emotional fatigue. Adopters love animals as much as you do, and they love to talk about their companions, too. Many are anxious to share their stories of their new companion’s first night at home, the special names they’ve bestowed on their new pets, and the unusual habits that make each animal so unique. They love to relate the excitement of their first trip to the vet, the budding relationships developing with each family member, and first encounters with the other resident pets. Who among us doesn’t yearn to hear “We love our Callie,” “Spot is the best dog in the world,” “Jake fits in perfectly with our family and loves the dog,” “Thank you so much for saving Fluffy,” and “I’m so grateful to you. I’ve never been happier!”? You’ve worked hard to find the perfect home for the animal and have earned the right to know that your efforts have paid off. You deserve to enjoy your successes.
How is morale among your staff and volunteers? Few organizations can honestly say their staff and volunteers wouldn’t benefit from the occasional boost to morale provided by happy adopters responding to follow-up requests. Posting those comments on a bulletin board or publishing them in an internal newsletter is a great way of putting a smile on the faces of those who work so hard to help homeless animals each day. Having trouble retaining fosters? Forwarding them the positive comments obtained through follow-ups can help you hold onto those valuable volunteers longer. Using those same comments in materials used to recruit new fosters may be the key to convincing them to open their hearts and homes to a foster animal, thereby expanding your organization’s capacity to rescue more animals.
Assessing your own performance is another key benefit follow-ups provide. The policies most animal-welfare groups follow were established as a response to a situation or issue they experienced or in an effort to prevent one. The only way to really know if those policies are working and resulting in quality adoptions is to follow up. Once you know where the problems lie, you can adjust your procedures to prevent those situations from being repeated. But you can only know you are doing a good job if you can effectively analyze how successful your adoptions really are.
Follow-ups allow you to ensure the safety and happiness of the animal you’ve placed, offer key advice and support to adopters to increase retention rates, remind adopters of the most important aspects of your adoption contract, generate goodwill, recruit volunteers, solicit donations, gain supporters, increase staff and volunteer morale, and honestly assess how well you really are doing.
Putting A Follow-Up Plan into Action
There are 5 key steps in a good follow-up program;
-Obtaining the adopter’s contact information;
-Preparing your initial correspondence;
-Tracking adopter’s responses;
-Addressing any issues discovered during follow-up.
Second, prepare a form email or template to tell the recipient who you are and why you are contacting them. Address the email to yourself and put the adopters’ emails in the Blind Copy blank. This way you automatically get a copy for your records, and you protect the anonymity of your adopters and their email addresses. Depending on the program you are using, you may be able to put as many as 25 email addresses into one email, or you can send individual emails and personalize each to specific adopters. Be sure to include your contact information at the bottom as well as a note reminding the adopter of the most important covenants of your adoption contract (see sidebar for examples). And don’t forget to ask for photos of the pet in its new home to publish in your newsletter or post on your bulletin board.
Keep a record of whom you’ve contacted. If you use a database to hold adopter information, your IT folks should have no problem adding a space to each adopter record to indicate when a follow-up was sent and if a reply was received. That makes it easy to go back in a week later and identify the adopters who have not responded so you can send a second request to them.
A simple but effective method if you don’t have a database is to simply provide your follow-up person with a copy of the adoption application. Set up a simple file folder or notebook with one section for answered follow-ups and one for those that have not yet been answered. The adoption application copies go in the “Sent” section as soon as the first attempt has been made to contact them and then are moved to the “Finished” section once you’ve received a response. It’s then easy to see at a glance who has not responded and to send a second request a week or so later.
In some instances, a second request may not generate a response and you’ll need a volunteer willing to phone the adopter and do the interview via phone. The questions should be the same whether the adopter is contacted via phone or email. If you are unable to make contact with the adopter via phone calls or emails, you may need to pay them a visit in person, provided you’ve reserved the right to do so in your adoption contracts. Often, leaving a business card on the door along with a note is all that’s needed to get an adopter to make communicating with you a priority
Document your results. If possible, have an easy way to differentiate between a positive follow-up and one that requires further attention. If you are using a manual system, this may be something as simple as a separate section in your notebook. If you are using a spreadsheet to track responses, include a separate column to indicate those adopters that need further counseling. A database system may go one step further, showing at a glance whether the adopter indicated a health problem or a behavioral problem.
If you’re doing good adoptions, most of the responses to your follow-ups will be positive.
But you’ll need a staff member or experienced volunteer as a backup – someone who can provide further counseling to adopters problem behaviors with their new pet, authorize additional veterinary care if needed, or authorize a return of the animal if warranted. And don’t forget to flag and refer records of potential volunteers and supporters to the appropriate individuals within your organization.
Sample Text For Follow-up Emails
My name is Jane Doe, and I work/volunteer for ABC Animal Shelter. ABC likes to do a quick follow up with our new adopters to simply check in and make sure all is going well. We also want to find out if you have any questions or problems we may be able to assist you with. Would you please take a moment to reply to this email and let me know how things are going with your new companion? I will update our records as soon as I receive your reply. And if you have a photo of your new companion, we’d love to see it! We’ll be glad to share it with our staff and volunteers and may even publish it on our website for everyone to see.
A few reminders:
-If the unfortunate need would arise where you feel you are no longer able to care for the pet you have adopted, please remember that the adoption contract dictates that you return the animal to us. Just contact us immediately and we will be glad to help you.
-Please remember that your new companion is intended to live in your home, not outside. If you have any questions or need to discuss this situation, please contact us.
Thank you for your time and for adopting a pet from ABC Animal Shelter.
A Few Memorable Responses
Hello. I am fine. My new family are pushovers. I have control of the entire house, and the mouse. Tell my friends at the shelter “Good luck.” I won’t be back.
Sly is such a joy to have as part of our family. He and Pluto are so happy to have each other and give us hours of pleasant company and entertainment. Sly is healthy, loves our cat furniture, and is fascinated by the automatic litter box. We’re very glad that he came home with us. Thank you and your organization and the person who rescued him.
Tiny is doing great! He has come out of his shell and walks around the entire house like he owns it. He is doing well with our other two cats also. They all three can be found curled up on my bed at times. Tiny tucks my son Jay in every night. Then I let him out of Jay’s room to play with the other two cats and roam around. Whenever I am in the kitchen, he comes in and talks to me. He is a great addition to our family!
We couldn’t be more pleased with our Trixie. She is a valuable part of our family and we are very glad we made the decision to adopt her. She has brought us a lot of laughs and joy, and I think she likes us, too. Pictures to follow when we aren’t quite so busy or when Trixie learns to take a self-portrait! Thank you for following up. I have passed along word about your organization to a few friends. Trixie says “HI” and “Thank You” from atop my computer.
My new mom spoils me rotten, and, of course, I’m worth it! I am very happy and loved. Mom calls me a gift from Heaven, and even added “Princess” to my name to make it more special!
-Princess Shadow (formerly just Shadow)
To those who share their homes and save kitty lives, we are so ever thankful for our little boy Paulie. Keep doing the great work that you do!
-Nancy & Jonathan P.
Just wanted to drop you a quick note of thanks for rescuing our Candy. She is so very happy here now and fits in with the others perfectly. She is such a sweetheart! I can’t imagine our life without her!
For further information, contact Rebecca Poling