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Volunteer Management: Building a Successful Volunteer Program

How to step back, slow down, and plan for long-term growth

How to step back, slow down, and plan for long-term growth

Animal shelters and rescue organizations are often so desperate for volunteers to offset their small budgets that their volunteer programs are developed quickly, with very little structure or planning. It's therefore no surprise that serious problems often arise—including conflicts among staff and volunteers, and volunteers who are disruptive, poorly trained, and end up creating more work for shelter staff. These serious issues can slow the growth of a volunteer program and even make staff question the need for volunteers at all.

We encourage your organization to step back, slow down, and plan your volunteer programs using a series of building blocks. These steps can help give a program a strong foundation, preventing major problems and supporting healthy growth.

Each of the blocks we discuss below builds on the previous one. We recommend that all animal shelters and rescue groups with volunteers begin at the first block, focusing on addressing issues there before moving on to the next. You might even consider not bringing in new volunteers until issues in each of these areas have been addressed. While it can be difficult to stop bringing in volunteers, we believe it can create a much stronger program in the long run—and bringing volunteers into a dysfunctional system helps no one.

We hope to get into more detail about these individual steps in future columns, but in the meantime, we hope these building blocks will help you get started!

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