Volunteer Programs and Practices

Volunteers can have a huge impact on the quality of life for shelter animals, but they can also be your best advocates in the community, bring fresh ideas to your shelter, and handle lots of tasks to free up staff. Cultivating a vibrant volunteer program will infuse your shelter with good energy, make your animals happier (and more adoptable), and improve your relationship with your community.

Doggy Day Out

Doggy Day Out is a short-term foster program where the public can take dogs from local shelters on day outings.  A Doggy Day Out can include a hike, a trip to a beach or lake, or even a sleepover.  These field trips help shelter dogs manage kennel stress, burn off energy and get more exposure to potential adopters.

Doggy Day Out requires minimal training commitments for participants.  This encourages members of the public to engage with their local shelter and advocate for the animals.  It’s a great excuse to get out and have fun with a canine sidekick.

Good to have written guidelines as to safety protocol for the dog like double leash, use a harness, a list of dog friendly places, emergency contact information etc.   And helpful to have a bandana or similar item, saying I’m available for adoption.   Have the volunteer take pictures of the dog and provide a short summary of how the dog behaved.

Make Sure Volunteers Feel Appreciated

Volunteers are the backbone of many animal shelters and it’s critical to recognize their hard work on behalf of homeless animals. While certain times of the year like National Volunteer Week (the third week of April) are the perfect times to highlight the wonderful work being done by volunteers, saying thank you is important all year round. According to the ASPCA, letting volunteers know their dedication to the mission of the shelter is appreciated helps:

  • Keep them happy
  • Provides motivation
  • Foster a sense of community
  • Reduces turnover.

When volunteers know they’re making a difference, they feel a sense of pride in their work, which ultimately leads to improved results for your community. The ASPCA offers tips on how to thank shelter volunteers.

Promote Volunteering From Home Opportunities for Kids

Create a ‘Volunteer at Home’ document to give out when people inquire about children volunteering or possibly to hand out to local youth organizations. Include instructions for making dog/cat toys, baking treats, hosting a supply drive, doing a fundraiser, and anything else you can think of that people, especially kids, can do from home.

Reach Out to Former Volunteers

If you’re struggling for ways to attract new volunteers, consider reaching out to volunteers who have stopped volunteering for your organization to ask why they stopped. Their answers may give you insights into what you can do differently to attract and retain volunteers. It is also an opportunity to talk with that former volunteer about their ideas for improving your volunteer program, and potentially re-engaging them.

Take a Shelter Dog to Work

Invite shelter volunteers to take a shelter dog with them to work either on a designated day (when you can take advantage of an empty shelter for some deep cleaning or staff training/appreciation) or as an ongoing program to help socialize the dogs.

Volunteer Wheel

Build or buy a wheel (think wheel of fortune) and write jobs on the different sections with dry erase markers. If volunteers come in and staff isn’t available to tell them what to do or they don’t know which job to do, have them spin the wheel to find out. This is particularly brilliant if you have tween or teen volunteers. It’s just one more way to make volunteering at the shelter fun. If you can’t find a wheel, you could also place jobs on slips of paper in a box and let people draw for their day’s job.