5 Ways Animal Welfare Organizations Can Support Volunteers

Photo by Patrick Danforth | www.clicktozen.com

Photo by Patrick Danforth | www.clicktozen.com

As someone who has volunteered with many different organizations, I have gained perspective on the ways they can best attract, maintain and support their volunteer base. Many shelters, rescues and other advocacy groups depend on volunteers for everything from business operations to fundraising as well as working directly with animals through transport, fostering and rehabilitation. The strength of an organization that depends primarily on passionate, committed volunteers is a force to be reckoned with!


A love for animals is a given for anyone wishing to volunteer for animal causes, but other skills may not be as obvious. Even the same task for two different organizations can vary, and this is why it’s important to offer assistance and clear guidelines for your expectations and procedures. Printed material, online manuals and orientation events are excellent ways to make sure all volunteers are working in harmony with your mission.


Communication goes hand-in-hand with training. When possible, a volunteer coordinator should be in place for recruiting, organizing and supporting volunteer ranks. There is nothing more frustrating for a potential volunteer than reaching out to a desperate plea for help and not having that call or email returned. Existing volunteers should have emergency contacts and feel like they are not on their own when difficult situations arise.


Nothing is more fulfilling than knowing a dog’s life was saved or a perfect home was found due to a group’s effort, but people thrive on acknowledgement. Many volunteers are trading time with family or other interests for a cause they believe in. While it isn’t about the accolades, amid the chaos of rescue work, gratitude can fall by the wayside. Set aside a moment to thank your volunteers, whether by a simple personal note or a year-end potluck.


The work of animal welfare is incredibly rewarding, but it can also be emotionally and even physically taxing. The eager new volunteer may not know all they are getting into, and the seasoned rescue warrior can suffer from compassion fatigue. Animal people are notoriously sometimes better with animals, and it’s important to remember that we are all in this together for a common good. Treat volunteers with the same kindness, respect and patience we show toward our animal friends.

Reimbursement of Expenses

Many organizations are already operating on a shoestring budget, but for those that have the resources, providing supplies or reimbursing expenses may enable someone who has the time but would otherwise be unable to volunteer due to financial constraints. Supplying dog food to foster homes or reimbursing fuel expenses for transporters can go a long way toward getting and keeping more feet on the ground.

Volunteers are an integral part of the animal welfare community. Without them, shelter dogs would get fewer walks and rescue dogs would have fewer foster homes. Volunteers are often operating behind the scenes, dedicating their time and talents to make phone calls, build web pages, secure sponsors or distribute flyers. They are working for free and for the love of animals, but these suggestions can ensure they feel valued and create lasting relationships.

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Positively Expert: Lara Wilber

Lara E. Wilber is a writer and animal advocate with a background in horse training which helps her relate to fearful dogs as well as appreciate the rewarding relationships built from positive reinforcement. She blogs about a joyful and enriching life with her two rescue dogs at Rubicon Days.


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