BOOKS: Volunteer Management for Animal Care Organizations

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2006:

Volunteer Management for Animal Care Organizations by Betsy McFarland
Humane Society Press (c/o Humane Society of the U.S., 2100 L Street,
NW, Washington, DC 20037), 2005. 120 pages, paperback. $15.95.

Volunteer Management for Animal Care Organizations opens with
the results of a Humane Society of the U.S. survey of humane
organization volunteer managers which found in late 2002 that
volunteers are considered twice as helpful, on average, as boards
of directors.
Author Betsy McFarland does not state the findings quite so
bluntly. She adds a disclaimer that the survey was not “a
representative sample.” With 289 respondents, proportional
weighting could have made the sample as representative as any–and
perhaps it already is.
Worth a mention might have been that boards almost always serve on a
voluntary basis. In effect, they are volunteers who supervise the
paid staff, opposite to the role of paid staff in supervising

Yet with all of those caveats, the point is significant:
most humane societies function reasonably well from day to day, even
if their boards rarely meet and are seldom seen, but most would be
in deep poop without volunteers to scoop litter and walk dogs.
McFarland does not dwell on recruiting or training volunteers
to do just the basics. Her key point is that volunteers can be
recruited to do most of the essential work to build a successful
humane society, with paid staff providing structural stability,
training, coordination, and know-how. Effective leadership
understands that volunteer recruitment and management is as important
a role as any, and necessarily should occupy much executive and
managerial time.
That applies to ANIMAL PEOPLE as much as any other animal
charity. Except for a few months in 1992-1993, before the only
office volunteer we ever had moved on to paid positions with two
leading national animal charities, ANIMAL PEOPLE has not had
volunteers physically present–but as editor, I spend much of my
working time in liaison with a hundreds of volunteers who help me
gather and verify information. Some are reporters with other news
media, who share whatever they run across that might be useful.
Some are humane workers. Some volunteer for other charities.
ANIMAL PEOPLE has no formal relationship with any of them,
though several have shown sufficient reliability, integrity, and
news judgment that they function much like the part-time stringers
who help the fulltime reporters at any newspaper. Despite the lack
of formal connection, I try to ensure that these people feel
appreciated–among the most important jobs for any volunteer
My senior volunteer news gatherer, Patty Bonney of Portland,
Oregon, is now in her 30th year of assisting me. My paid assistant
of the past 10 years, Cathy Czapla, of Chelsea, Vermont, helped
for 16 years as a volunteer before becoming paid staff. Odette
Grosz, who relocated from New Orleans to the Washington D.C. area
after Hurricane Katrina, has energetically helped for 18 years.
Many others have helped for 10 to 15 years.
McFarland in Volunteer Management for Animal Care
Organizations presents many itemized lists of points to remember
about recruiting and keeping volunteers.
Ideas of note include networking; using the Internet;
targeting people who love animals; reaching beyond animal lovers;
consider ing volunteers with special needs; recruiting for
diversity; appealing to responsible youth; and involving senior
There is a common fallacy in humane work that only active
animal lovers will volunteer on a regular basis. This may be just
about backward, especially when recruiting to fill positions
requiring skills other than those of hands-on care.
People who are already actively involved with animals may be
too busy to spend time at a shelter. People who are merely looking
to fill a void in their lives may have the time. They may start
helping just to meet people, or stay active, but often they later
develop a commitment to animals, after a particular shelter dog or
cat identifies them for special attention.
Several of my most valuable helpers are special needs cases,
including Cathy Czapla, who for many years has been semi-
housebound, but knows the world through the Internet. Her knowledge
of animal issues and news sources relative to geography has become
second to none.
Recruiting diverse staff and volunteers has for decades
challenged humane societies, largely due to misunderstandings. For
example, I often hear that poor people do not volunteer because they
cannot afford to–but low-income people often do huge amounts of
volunteer work, both formally, often through churches, and
informally, helping family and friends.
Inner city people may not be able to commute to suburban
shelters and may not want to clean cages, especially if they do
housework both at home and for a living, but thousands feed homeless
dogs and cats right where they are, and could use the support of
humane society outreach programs.
In exchange, they could provide the community contacts that
humane societies need to do effective education, sterilization,
vaccination, and humane law enforcement in areas where humane
services are now barely a rumor.
Appealing to responsible youth sounds almost too obvious to
mention, but many humane organizations tend to shy away from youth
recruitment from misplaced concern that the investment in training
will have short value. Young people do soon grow up, graduate,
move away, and/or take on paid jobs demanding more of their time.
Yet regardless of the age of the recruit, six years is the average
“lifespan” of an active volunteer in any cause, with a peak active
phase of about three years. The likelihood of obtaining the average
time contribution from a teenager is almost the same as for anyone
More important, volunteers tend to become the most reliable
donors later–and young volunteers are the people most likely to
again volunteer when older.
Finally, senior citizens typically bring to volunteer work a
wealth of useful experience and contacts. Some volunteer managers
become impatient with seniors because they often like to chat, and
have a need to develop social relationships, having often lost a
spouse, with their children grown and moved away–but the solution
to that problem is often as simple as introducing seniors to each
Further, the most effective volunteer manager is often a
volunteer senior who likes to both talk and listen. That person will
be able to make fellow volunteers feel noticed, heard, and
appreciated far more, in many instances, than a harried employee
who is always on the run.
Volunteer Management for Animal Care Organizations includes
many useful forms and model letters that a beginning volunteer
coordinator can copy. Being a fairly skeptical fellow, I
cross-checked the ANIMAL PEOPLE files to see how many of the
organizations whose materials are included have had significant
scandals or internal meltdowns as result of volunteer issues.
Since about 50 organizations are in the midst of
volunteer-related disputes of some sort at any given time, and since
the number whose dirty underwear is in the ANIMAL PEOPLE archives
runs into the high hundreds, it is a good reference that none of the
contributing organizations have had scandals of note involving
One did have a board member who lastingly tagged the
executive director with an unflattering nickname. Though the
nickname stuck, the board member is long departed. That in itself
may demonstrate noteworthy volunteer management skill.

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