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Making It Work

Formalizing your volunteer program is worth the effort—trust us!

Volunteers. They’re more trouble than they’re worth!

That’s what I remember thinking one day back in 2008, as I set a pile of scribbled notes on the counter, returned a batch of unused vaccines to the refrigerator, and made my way to the front office.

The task interrupting my busy day was to welcome a kind soul to our animal shelter and orient her to our volunteer program. This was how we used to do orientations: Drop everything, provide a quick, on-the-run spiel as we walked the newcomer through the facility: “Dogs go here, cats go here; here are the sink, brushes, and leashes; be careful to wash your hands; don’t let the dogs fight; good luck,” and then let the new volunteer sink or swim.

I was the Ark-Valley Humane Society’s assistant manager at the time—and I knew better. If we made some changes, got a bit more organized, and trained our volunteers more thoroughly, there was no doubt in my mind that we’d improve volunteer retention, cut down on staff interruptions, and reduce the nagging worry about volunteers getting bitten—which we felt every time a new volunteer picked up a leash or opened a kennel door.

But where should we start?

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