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Anatomy of a Rescue Group

Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to start your own rescue group. After you’ve filed your articles of incorporation and applied to the IRS for tax-exempt status, the next important task is finding your team (and yes, you do need a team– that is, unless you are looking forward to having a meltdown within the first 3 months). Although the majority of your staff will be unpaid volunteers with other jobs and obligations, it’s crucial that everyone involved is committed to their position to ensure that the rescue runs as smoothly as possible.

More importantly, don’t put someone into a role just because they offered or you think all you need is a body. The person’s skills should align with the post. For example, the outgoing individual who loves meeting new people but isn’t always the most organized – is better off as a volunteer coordinator rather than the financial coordinator. Similarly, the individual who doesn’t bat an eyelash at mounds of paperwork, yet gets easily stressed out by demanding customers – is a great fit for the records manager but not the adoption coordinator.

Read on for a basic template to use in building your rescue group’s staff, including suggestions for job responsibilities and helpful skills. This list is not meant to be all-inclusive so use it as a starting off point and tinker to fit the needs of your organization. And don’t be afraid to split these positions among several people – there is plenty of work to go around! Just remember that you don’t need to fill all these positions by day 1. Start small and continue to build as your rescue group gains more volunteers.

  • Executive Director – This person is the face of your organization, so choose wisely. In addition to being the rescue group’s spokesperson, this individual is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the organization and involves interaction with the Board of Directors as well as the other staff members and volunteers. The Executive Director ensures that the organization is operating in line with its mission statement and developing for its future. The individual in this position should be someone with business and media savvy as well as a considerable amount of patience and tact.

  • Records Manager – This is where your obsessively organized volunteer goes. This individual should be tech savvy as the records manager will be dealing with all paperwork and the animal management software, which includes updating each animal’s profiles with location, medical and outcome history as well as updating bios and pictures for the group’s website and Petfinder listing. As your organization grows and the number of animals coming in and out of your organization on a weekly basis explodes, this becomes one of the most overwhelming jobs. Find a couple of people to share the work or rotate every couple of months.

  • Financial Coordinator – Which one of your friends is an accountants or math-wiz? This is the person you need to keep track of the organization’s finances – both the outgoing expenses and the incoming donations. Always send a thank-you note to your donors, even if they only give a small amount. People appreciate the personal contact, and if you can give an example of how the funds were used (e.g., picture of a dog toy or cat bed) it helps cement the connection. Hopefully, this person would also be able to negotiate prices for food and other supplies with local pet stores or other big box stores to help bring down expenses. And when it comes time to file your 990 tax returns with the IRS, this is the person who will prepare the information for your group’s accountant. If someone in your rescue group or community is an accountant, ask if they will donate their services come tax time. Otherwise, you should seek help from a professional. If your rescue group has its 501(c)(3) status, you can inquire for a reduced rate.

  • Facility Director – Are you going to have a brick and mortar facility to house some, if not all of your animals? Or even a few cages in a storefront such as PetSmart or Petco? If so, you will need someone to run each facility to care for and ensure the well-being of the animals as well as coordinate volunteers. Preferably, this person will live close to the shelter because they will have to be at the location on a frequent basis, including any emergency situations. In addition to creating protocols to care for the animals, this position also requires managing volunteers (training, retention, juggling schedules). This position is ideal for someone with community outreach experience who can turn a job cleaning cages into something fun that the volunteers feel invested in. Prior animal care experience is essential. This person should also be aware of The Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters, for best practices in running an animal facility.

  • Foster Coordinator – This position requires someone with a lot of patience. The foster coordinator needs to give prospective foster parents a clear list of what the group will provide and what the foster parent will be responsible for. Importantly, this person needs near constant access to email and/or phone to respond to foster parent’s questions in a timely manner. Additionally, the foster coordinator will coordinate returns and find a new location for the pet. It’s helpful to build a good relationship with your foster parents to keep them happy and continue fostering!

  • Adoptions Coordinator/Counselor – The adoptions coordinator position is great for someone who has reasonable email access throughout the day and time to field all the inquiries. This person should have a good working knowledge of the group’s “inventory” so when a potential adopter says that she is looking for a 2-4 year old Maine Coon cat who is good with kids, the adoptions coordinator doesn’t throw up her hands in exasperation and say “I don’t know, check the website!” You want someone who doesn’t need to use rigid rules for adoptions but instead can use general guidelines and appropriately investigate any red flags that arise. This is another position that requires considerable tact, sensitivity and thoughtfulness. This is a position for someone who is a “people person” and is able to confront difficult people in a non-judgmental manner.

  • Events Coordinator – Who likes to get up early (i.e., before noon) on a Sunday morning? Neither do we, but there will be someone in your organization who does. Grab this person to be the events coordinator and run your weekly adoption event. Responsibilities include showing up every week to set up and break down the event, having the appropriate paperwork on hand and projecting a warm and welcoming appearance to potential adopters and fosters who walk by.

  • Volunteer Coordinator – So as to not drive your foster facility director, foster coordinator, adoption coordinator and events coordinator completely nuts, it’s a good idea to have a volunteer coordinator on board. This person will take all the volunteer inquiries and shuttle the newbie to the appropriate staff member. It’s also important for the volunteer coordinator to have a general idea of the needs for each area to help make a shift when there’s an imbalance. For example, when Facility A has 50 volunteers to fill 14 shifts, but Facility B only has 10, the volunteer coordinator can send out announcements and ask some people to move from Facility A to Facility B. And the volunteer coordinator can send out advertisements to bring in new volunteers for all aspects of the rescue group. The volunteer coordinator is also a good resource, for example, when an animal needs transport to a new home or the vet as this person will have contact information for all volunteers in the group.

  • Medical Coordinator – This person is responsible for creating vet appointments and working as a liaison between the rescue group and any vets the organization works with. It’s too confusing and wasteful to allow everyone from the rescue group to contact the vet when there’s an issue. It will make everyone’s life easier if only one or two people from a rescue group are allowed to approve vet appointments. The only caution is that the medical coordinator should have constant access to email and phone, otherwise there may be problems scheduling and approving emergency vet appointments. This person should have general knowledge of common animal health problems to determine when it is necessary for an animal to see the vet.

  • Behavior and Training Specialist – This should be someone the organization has on-call (whether on staff or not) to help with behavior issues that arise. It is helpful to have standard operating procedures already drafted for common behavior issues that occur with your rescue animals. The person in this position should work closely with the volunteer, foster and adoption coordinators to help avoid problems before they start.

  • Communications/Marketing/Publicity – Someone savvy in social media (Facebook, Instagram) or webpage design is perfect for this job. This is also a great opportunity for someone who enjoys planning events for fundraisers or someone who wants to help but isn’t able to volunteer on a regular basis. Having a photographer on staff (either a volunteer or ask someone in your community to donate his/her time) is key as a good picture can make all the difference in getting an animal adopted.

  • Grant Writing Coordinator – Notice the word “coordinator” on this one. We can’t expect one person to write all the grant proposals, but it’s helpful to have someone who can search through the resources to find applicable grants and form a team of a few people to draft them. The coordinator keeps track of the grants in progress, grant deadlines, any specifications for the proposal and the outcome. Check out HSUS’s resources on finding and applying for grants.

There are countless other positions your organization can create to make the rescue group run smoothly. Think about the goals and needs of your organization and plan accordingly. And remember, nothing is set in stone – you’re free to adjust positions and responsibilities to make it work for you. Good luck!

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