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Got an idea that will help pets?


If you’ve got a skill — or even just an idea — you can use it to help homeless pets. Whether you hold a bake sale fundraiser or create a Facebook page for a shelter or rescue group,
you can make a difference! But the key to your success is having a good relationship with the organization (and their blessing on your project) before you start.


At MSPCA Boston Adoption Center, I volunteered with pets like Hayes.

Maybe you already volunteer for an adoption group. But if you don’t, and you’re not sure how to develop a relationship with one, here are some important steps:

Do your research. If you don’t know of a group near you, you can search for shelters on Petfinder by state or zip code. Look at an organization’s Petfinder homepage to learn about its mission, its structure (are its pets in a shelter or a network of foster homes? Is it run by volunteers or does it have a staff?) and its needs, and to find out how to contact its organizers.

Be patient. Many nonprofits are volunteer-run, and
those volunteers usually have full-time jobs during the day, so they
make take a while to respond to your inquiry. Don’t give up! Contact a
few different organizations about your idea. If your idea needs to
happen at a specific time (for example, if you want to photograph pets
with Santa around Christmastime), get started early so this type of
delay won’t throw you off schedule.

Talk to the right person. Find out who runs the kind
of project you want to do — it might be the volunteer coordinator, the
director of development or, in a small organization, the founder or
executive director. Ask for his or her
advice and make it clear that you’ll use it. Plus, the person’s experience and connections might provide some
fabulous ways to improve your idea.

Prove that you can be trusted. While you know you’ll follow through, remember that adoption groups encounter a lot of well-meaning people who are long on enthusiasm but short on commitment. Show that you’ve got it in you by volunteering in other ways first: Pick up a weekly dog-walking shift (and always show up) or stuff envelopes in support of someone else’s big fundraising idea. And don’t forget to always return e-mails and phone calls promptly.

Ask permission. Make sure the decision-making person at the organization is okay with your plan before you launch it. Why?
Because your use of a shelter or rescue group’s name can have serious consequences for
the organization. If you accidentally answer a question from the public
incorrectly, the group will have to spend time and resources setting
the record straight. Also, it’s good to know about any contracts or
relationships the organization might have; for instance, if it has a
contract with a print shop for all its printed material, the staff may
want you to use that shop for your flyers.

Be flexible. Listen to the organization’s staff or volunteers when they tell you which kinds of projects have been successful for them in the past — and which haven’t. Then use that information to improve your project. So if you’re dying to bring a class of school children to the shelter to walk the dogs and the staff tells you that’s not feasible, think about what is. Maybe the kids can hold a towels-and-blankets donation drive at school?

Submit your proposal in writing. Don’t let the idea of a written submission intimidate you — it can often be just a quick email to the person whose approval you need. Write a paragraph or two describing your idea, how it would benefit the organization, any costs involved and what the group would provide (including money, equipment, time and personnel). Explain why you think the benefits of your idea outweigh those costs. Putting your proposal in writing shows that you’re serious, prevents confusion and helps everyone manage their expectations. And if your project is a success, your proposal can be used as a blueprint for future efforts!

Schedule regular check-ins. If the organization gives you the go-ahead, be sure to update your contact people on your progress periodically. Have you had any successes or setbacks? Share them with your contacts and invite them to celebrate or problem-solve with you.

Evaluate and repeat. Ask your contacts at the organization to evaluate the
effectiveness of the campaign, both during and after — they may well have new insights and ideas for future projects. Plus, hearing the group’s impressions of a campaign can be enormously fulfilling for you and help build your relationship with the organization for years to come.

Tell us: Do you want to start a project with your local shelter or rescue group? What do you want to do?

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Fostering 101: 20 questions to ask before you foster a pet

The Twelve Days of Dewey: 12 ways to help homeless pets

How to start a pet food bank: 10 steps to helping pets on a shoestring budget

How to use Twitter to help homeless pets

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National Volunteer Week: Volunteers bring big ideas

Your Local Shelter Wants You!

Saying Thank You: Supporting Your Shelter

Eight Reasons You Can Foster a Pet — Even If You Think You Can’t

Fostering a Pet: Frequently Asked Questions

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