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Volunteer Management: Not Like Starting Over

Look at existing models to avoid reinventing your volunteer program from scratch

  • Ryan Klos/

This spring, after 10 years of managing volunteers in animal care environments, I joined The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) as director of the National Volunteer Center, a new initiative that aims to increase the consistent, professional, and high-level engagement of volunteers across the organization. It’s an amazing opportunity to develop, implement, and nourish a volunteer program on a completely different scale, and it’s very exciting to be here. I’ll be leading the charge internally here at The HSUS, and also continuing our work with those of you managing volunteers in the animal protection field, to provide resources, support, and training as you work to increase the effectiveness of your own volunteer programs.

I’ve moved from managing a few hundred volunteers in one physical location to working with thousands of volunteers across the country. I’ll be involved with everything from providing direct care to animals in our animal care centers to responding to rescue animals from natural and man-made disasters, gathering signatures for ballot initiatives, or helping to keep animals out of shelters by providing counselors and resources to pets at risk. It’s quite a change. No longer surrounded by the sounds, smells, and sights of shelters, I’m instead immersed in a cubicle maze in what feels like the nerve center of animal protection. A lot of things feel different, not the least of which is dressing for an office setting instead of wearing clothes that allow me to be prepared for everything from cleaning to animal intake and cat wrangling.

What doesn’t feel different is the approach I’m taking as I start this process. I can honestly say that I’m following all of my own advice on volunteer management, which I’ve shared in this column over the years. I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again: Best practices are best practices, whether they’re applied in a foster-based rescue group with 10 members, in animal shelters or wildlife rehabilitation centers with hundreds of volunteers, or environments like this, with thousands of volunteers taking countless actions to benefit the animals and make the world a more humane place.

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