Enhance social relationships and community-focus through trust building. Motivate your team of supporters to work together, develop friendships, be involved in ways they can and most importantly, focus on collaboration and communication.
Team Building starts the moment a potential supporter becomes aware of your organization. Creating interest, onboarding, training and retention are all functions of team building and your organization’s culture determines the success (or failure) of your internal dynamics. Compassion Fatigue (exhausted animal welfare workers/volunteers) is extremely high right now, making it even more important to focus on your in-person team feeling more supported and cared for than ever.
Donors & Sponsors are offered the white glove treatment but it is often oversighted to put the same effort into showing appreciation for the people giving their time in lieu of financial support. EVERYONE is important – and without volunteers/fosters, most organizations simply would not exist.
Each person on your staff and volunteer team should feel they are critical players in the overall success of the organization. If you (or the leader of each team) can’t name every volunteer/employee actively participating in your organization, you need to put more effort into valuing each individual supporting your organization’s success.
It may not seem like a big deal but having your Leadership Team acknowledge individuals by creating a space within your organization they feel appreciated and recognized is incredibly meaningful.
Simple but huge morale boosters include appreciation strategies such as:
Staff likely have a specific schedule and perks they are required to perform which may not offer much flexibility per their contract. Whatever you can do to cultivate a supportive and understanding environment for employees is essential.
Volunteers/Fosters often want to help and be involved but from time to time, have to focus their energy in other places. You’ll want to hold on to every possible helping hand – but sometimes holding on too tight is detrimental. Ultimately, your organization has to balance being flexible without potentially hurting the organization through a false sense of security due to inaccurate perceptions of ACTIVELY participating volunteer numbers. (ie, having 100 volunteers on your list but only 37 actively participating.)
Set up your volunteer communication structure so that ACTIVE volunteers/fosters are privy to more communication and perks without losing contact with INACTIVE volunteers/fosters. Keep the lines of communication open so when they are ready and able, they will come back to help again.
It’s also important to support volunteers/fosters when they can no longer help, whether temporarily or potentially long term. Usually volunteers feel shame and guilt when they cannot be available as much as they would like or your organization needs – you want to make sure they feel comfortable communicating if they are not available and also feel warmly welcomed to come back again when they have the time.
Volunteers/Fosters give of their time and resources freely. It’s important to incentivize helping hands by offering perks to help ease the burdens in their own lives. You can be creative regardless of the restrictions often placed on shelters due to liability or financial concerns.
Here’s a few creative perks to consider:
Every interaction with someone local is a recruiting opportunity (often missed)! Make sure you are integrating a welcome call for volunteers/fostering in every communication platform online, on forms, on every page of your website and especially in adoption kits. All conversations should always circle back to volunteering and asking potential helping hands to join your team in a non-invasive way.
Recruiting can be done by posting on your public page and hoping like-minded people want to get involved. But it’s MUCH FASTER to motivate people to become involved when your volunteers and fosters are sharing direct experiences with their friends, family and acquaintances.
When experience sharing comes from someone a potential volunteer/foster feels they can trust and/or connect with to ask questions, recruiting happens organically. Word of mouth is ALWAYS the most effective recruiting tool.
Recruiting Posts should make it SUPER simple to get involved. Even if you have a multi-step process, make sure that first connection with potential fosters and volunteers gives them direct access to someone who will get back to the immediately.
Best Practices include:
So many potential volunteers and fosters do not want to be involved in animal welfare because of emotional attachment fears. It is true, working with animals forces people to face a lot of their personal insecurities and to feel emotions they have been pre-programmed to avoid at all costs. Offering a way out of emotional attachment right out of the gate opens a ton of potential.
Generally speaking, people WANT to help animal related causes but are “afraid” to get attached when fostering or that it will be too sad to see animals in kennels/cages. Changing the narrative by correcting these statements and offering policies that restrict them from making emotionally impulsive decisions puts people’s mind at ease.
Ways to Change the Narrative
“I can’t foster a dog, I will fall in love and want to keep it.” Balance this fear by restating your organization understand this is most peoples’ concern so you actually removed the stress of having to make that decision by restricting fosters from adopting their first foster. Explain the benefits of fostering over adopting and how often people are more likely to foster if they KNOW they cannot adopt the pet they are fostering. When the temporary commitment is enforced (as opposed to worrying it might become permanent), people’s mentally change and they are more willing to foster because they realize they can love an animal without feeling obligated to keep it. Believe it or not, just offering the simple rule for fosters is often what they may need.
“I can’t foster a cat, I will fall in love and want to keep it.” Balance this fear by restating your organization understands this is most peoples’ concern so you actually removed the stress of this by requiring fosters to take in a litter of kittens vs one cat so there are too many to focus on – reducing the changes of only loving just one. Explain how people often realize fostering is the only realistic opportunity to have a house full of heart-exploding fluff balls at the most interactive and soul-healing stage, endlessly.
“I wish I could volunteer, I just don’t have enough time.” Balance this fear by stating that “None of us do – but it counts as exercise” and explain the flexibility your organization offers and the various ways they can be involved plus the DOUBLE BENEFIT of offering an hour of time counting as both volunteering and steps/exercise! Make the situation seem MUTUALLY beneficial!
“I wish I could volunteer but I can’t handle seeing all the animals sad in their kennels.” Balance this fear by stating “Sad? Who is sad? All our animals are really happy and every one of them love being here with all the volunteers… As a matter of fact, most volunteers come here because they can always count on doofus smiles, wagging tails, head boops and purr-purr kitties when they need an uplift. Some are sad, injured or sick, sure – but most are really just infinite balls of happiness and appreciation. It’s actually very inspirational.”
On the flip side of the coin from removing emotional attachment – you always want to look for fostering opportunities.
If a potential adopter cannot pick one kitten – ask them to foster a litter and then pick their favorite after say 2 weeks. It will be unlikely they will require you to take back the others if you discuss them keeping them until they are adopted.
This applies to dogs as well. Offer opportunities for adopters to take a chance on dogs that need a little more time, behavioral training or would just adjust better in a certain home.
For those saying they don’t have time to come into the facility to volunteer – offer fostering as an “in-home volunteer” opportunity.
Every single person reading your organization’s posts should be considered a part of your supporter community and team. Whether social followers take immediate action today or just like your page for cute animal content, online supporters bring awareness to organizations through social sharing and virtual connectedness and every engagement online has a ripple effect in a positive way, so make sure to take advantage of this!
Your social handle followers should feel a sense of inclusion in your organization even though they are not “hands on” involved. It’s important to offer ways for them to feel current on the happenings inside the organization.
Best Practices include:
Online Fundraising makes asking for help very easy and non-invasive. Your organization can effortlessly generate $1,000-$2,000 a month simply by recognizing and addressing your online followers as a part of your support team.
Best Practices include:
Subscriber Lists are a great way to allow online supporters to be involved in your organization. Offering an opportunity for online supporters to be “in the know” about your organization’s current position and/or needs through systematic updates enables trust building through online communication.
While someone might not be in a position TODAY to volunteer, foster or donate – this does not mean in 6 months they won’t be looking to make a large donation to an organization with a mission they are passionate about or maybe they will have purchased a home with a big fence specifically because they want to foster.
Best Practices include: