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“Volunteers – Getting Ready for Them, Finding Them, Keeping Them”

Bonney Brown, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary


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Getting ready for them, finding them, keeping them

Getting Ready for Volunteers
What you need to have in place before bringing volunteers on board.

Written materials about your organization
This should include:

Volunteer Recruitment Materials. Youll want to have this information formatted in an appealing way to help you attract new volunteers:

  • The organizations mission and goals.
  • An outline of the organizations programs and services.
  • A listing and description of the organizations volunteer opportunities.
  • A questionnaire for the potential volunteer to complete.

Volunteer Training Packet or Manual. This should include:

  • The organizations mission and goals.
  • An outline of the organizations programs and services.
  • Clearly defined organizational policies and standards.
  • An agreement for volunteers to sign. Volunteers should agree to abide by the organizations policies and provide their services on a volunteer basis (without compensation). You may want to consider asking them to sign a liability release. Your organization can be held liable not only for injuries sustained by volunteers, but also for the actions of the volunteers. Defining policies in writing can help to safeguard your organization.
  • Job descriptions which clearly define tasks, expectations, and time lines for completion. Include who the volunteer reports to and an explanation of who has the authority to make specific decisions.

Special Information for Specialized Jobs. Some jobs, such as providing foster care for animals in the volunteers home, may require specific, detailed agreements with the volunteers. Its a good idea to clearly define guidelines in writing. For example, a foster care agreement may include:

  • Establishing the organization as the legal owner of the foster animal.
  • Describing what care the volunteer is responsible for providing to the animal.
  • Where the animal is to be kept confined, allowed outdoors, allowed to mix with other animals in the household, etc.
  • What to do in an emergency.
  • Who covers expenses food, vet care, supplies.
  • Who is responsible for arranging adoptions.

Make it clear and readable. Be sure that everything is written in a clear and understandable manner.

In addition to providing information on the organizations polices, be sure to provide training in other skills necessary to the job be it animal care, use of equipment, or office skills.

  • Explain and demonstrate a task, then watch while the volunteer does it. Its worthwhile to take the time to observe volunteers who have had prior experience; you may learn something new, or you may head off a problem before it starts.
  • Allow plenty of time for the volunteer to ask questions.
  • Pair up a new volunteer with a veteran.
  • Provide written materials and background information. Training is an ongoing process, and should include ongoing, two-way communication.

Youll need a volunteer coordinator and/or supervisor with good communication skills, a positive attitude, appropriate expertise, and adequate supplies/equipment to do the job. The right individual will be able to genuinely delegate responsibility, while providing safeguards to ensure that critical jobs are completed on a timely basis. (Trust but verify.)


The Right Fit. Assess people with care, and match them with appropriate jobs. Some people are seeking a challenge and an opportunity to take on a major project. Others are looking for an easy, stress-free volunteer experience. Take the time to find out what the volunteer is looking for and to find the right job for the individual.

The Right Attitude. Be tolerant of individual differences whenever possible, without sacrificing the quality of care provided to the animals and the service provided to the public.

If part of your larger mission is to encourage compassionate feelings and actions, then investing time in creating positive volunteer experiences is very important.

Finding Volunteers
Tell people what needs to be accomplished. Ask them to volunteer.

The only way to connect with new volunteers is to get the word out there. To reach as many people as possible, youll need to employ a variety of strategies.

How to Get the Word Out
Here are few suggestions:

  • Word of mouth
    • Invite current volunteers to bring a friend to a special get-together.
    • Ask board members to provide a list of potential volunteers.
    • Ask your members through your newsletter. Include a listing of your volunteer needs and provide a check box on the donation-response form for donors to request more information on volunteering.
  • Flyers and posters
    • A simple poster campaign is an inexpensive, but highly effective, way to find new volunteers.
    • Your flyer should list attractive, well-defined volunteer jobs. Offer a variety of types of opportunities, involving different skills and levels of commitment.
    • Distribution is critical; you can have the worlds most wonderful materials, but if no one sees them, they wont help a bit. Display posters and/or flyers in all the area vet clinics, pet supply stores, markets, health clubs, places of worship, libraries, etc.
  • Hold open meetings in each of the local communities.
  • Newspapers articles and free listings.
  • Radio local radio stations will often read public service announcements. You may be able to get on a show as a guest.
  • Newsletters many companies have electronic or printed newsletters for their employees.
  • Local cable access TV stations usually have community bulletin boards and community-oriented shows
  • Community organizations and clubs ask to speak to their group or to distribute literature to their members.
  • Recruitment days at local pet supply stores or community events.
  • Best Friends Network complete an organizational questionnaire and well let network members in your area know about your groups volunteer needs.

Most people volunteer because they were asked.

Volunteer Placement
Once an individual expresses interest, youll need to learn more about them to find the right job for them. This is usually done through a questionnaire. In addition to basic contact information and their availability, youll want to find out about the person: their past work and volunteer experiences, what they have liked and disliked about these experiences, what they see themselves doing with your organization, why they are volunteering. You may also want to ask them to sign a liability waiver.

The questionnaire should be followed up with an in-person interview. Allow time to answer their questions, and be sure to provide them with a written copy of the organizations goals, polices, and volunteer guidelines.

Seek Out Qualified Help
The first person to raise their hand in a meeting may not be the best one for the job. If you have an important task, dont trust to chance. Ask a specific person to take on the responsibility. This is particularly important when filling critical roles such as board member or committee chair. (You know the old adage; when something needs to be done, ask a busy person.) Asking someone to help can be a compliment.

Put yourself in the shoes of a member who wants to get involved. How easy is it? Are such efforts rejected or encouraged? When a member offers to help and receives no response, the delusion that sets in can be destructive to the relationship. Annette E. Petrick

Keeping Volunteers
Providing a good volunteer experience.

How can you keep volunteers motivated and involved? Youll need to invest time and resources into managing volunteers in order to ensure that you are fulfilling their needs as volunteers.

  • Good placement and ongoing assessment. Make adjustments as needed. Volunteers may be ready to become more involved, to take on a new challenge.
  • Share information. Keep volunteers abreast of developments within your organization and the humane movement at large. Share copies of articles and related information that pertains to their work, such as veterinary care developments, new dog training methods, or the latest adoption practices.
  • Offer training opportunities. This may include an offer to attend a seminar, or to receive a related publication.
  • Provide encouragement and feedback on their performance. Always treat volunteers with respect and courtesy. Make time to listen.
  • Provide needed supplies and equipment.
  • Implement good ideas from volunteers.
  • Do not waste their time. Any meeting should be productive and necessary.
  • Appreciation and recognition.
    • Thank-you notes. (Notes can be personal and hand written or more official, signed by all of the board members.)
    • Certificate or award.
    • Parties and get-togethers.
    • Sincere in-person thank you.
    • Small gift.
    • Article in the local paper.
    • Mention in newsletter.
    • Offer participation in educational opportunities (seminar, conference).

View volunteers as customers, not as extensions of staff. Doug Ross

Responsibility and trust are high motivators. Jonathan T. Scott

Volunteer Resources


Independent Sector
1828L St. NW, Washington, DC 20036
202-223-8100 800-575-2666

Points of Light Institute
1737 H St. NW, Washington, DC 20006
202-223-9186 800-272-8306

Virtual Volunteering web-based resources

Action Without Borders

Virtual Volunteering Project and Virtual Verve e-newsletter

Echoing Green Foundation

Seeking Specialized Help

Accountants for the Public Interest
1012 14 th St. NW, Ste. 1003, Washington DC 20005

Animal Legal Defense Fund
127 4 th St., Petaluma, CA 94952

National Executive Service Corps
257 Park Ave. S, New York, NY 10010-7304

American Association of Retired Persons
601 E. St NW, Washington, DC 20049

Courtesy of
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Kanab, UT 84741-5001
(435) 644-2001
fax: (435) 644-2078


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