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Treat your shelter volunteers well

In April I filled out a volunteer application with a local shelter …

I listed that I was available for cleaning morning and night and interested in fostering.

I filled the form out at the shelter and physically handed it over.

A month rolled around, then a few more weeks, and I never heard anything back.

I didn’t get any emails (checked my spam). Didn’t get a phone call.

This left me feeling like either the shelter didn’t want my help or that for some reason I wasn’t good enough. Or, more likely, the shelter was unorganized.

Either way, I wasn’t all that excited to volunteer after I didn’t hear anything back.

Whenever I had talked with people from that shelter, they sounded in need of volunteers. But when I stepped up to help, I got no response.

Is this a common problem?

Do shelters and rescues have bad customer service?

Let’s just say there is room for improvement.

I wonder how many others have tried to volunteer at the above organization and those like it? How many potential volunteers will try again if ignored?

How many adoption applications go ignored?

I know what it’s like to run a business. I know what it’s like to volunteer for a nonprofit. Customer service should mean the same thing across the board.

Since I’m a veteran as far as shelter volunteering goes, I know not to take anything too personally and I know sometimes all it takes is a second phone call or a second email or to stop by in person.

Someone new to the animal sheltering world would not know this and could easily slip through the cracks.

I’m not trying to pick on this particular shelter. I do understand it is run entirely by volunteers – people with full-time jobs, family commitments and their own pets. That’s no excuse for a lack of communication, but it’s the most consistent problem I’ve experienced with rescues and shelters in general.

I know, I know. Papers get filed away. Email piles up. It happens.

And, no matter what, there are always more cats and dogs. More animals than you know what to do with.

So, here’s the lessen behind this:

If you want to volunteer and you haven’t heard back – try, try again!

When I didn’t hear anything back, I emailed the shelter and asked if it still needed volunteers (it did), and when could I start? (I started right away.)

And if you’re in a leadership position at the shelter, do not let potential volunteers get away! You need them on your side.

Make sure you are connecting with every single person who expresses interest in your organization, even if it’s to say “Thank you for contacting us. How would you like to help?”

Heck, it can even be an automated email. Just make contact somehow.

Volunteers are probably the most valuable part of a shelter or rescue.

Most volunteers will even forgive a shelter for honest mistakes like misfiling an application or not responding to an email.

Bottom line is, if someone truly wants to volunteer, she will probably find a way to volunteer. It just shouldn’t have to be so hard.

If you want an endless team of dedicated volunteers at your shelter, then treat each volunteer like gold.

Do that, and each one will give you her all.

Have you tried to volunteer at a shelter? Did you hear back right away?

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