Three Steps for Building Your Nonprofit Volunteer Programs

Saving thousands of pets each year is an enormous team effort at Seattle Humane. With more than 3,400 active volunteers fulfilling more than 50 different volunteer positions, the shelter could not function without its large network of volunteers. Seattle Humane provided care for more than 7,500 animals in 2017 large in part thanks to dedicated volunteers. From the people who wash dog bowls, blankets and toys, to pet photography, adoption support and event help, each volunteer makes a huge difference to help pets in need. Collectively Seattle Humane volunteers logged a total of 158,599 hours in 2017 – the equivalent time commitment of nearly 80 full-time staff members.

Seattle Humane’s Volunteer Services department consists of only three mighty staff members; here’s how the department functions in order to be as efficient as possible and provide volunteers with a rewarding experience:

Attracting Volunteers

Strong brand recognition goes a long way. Seattle Humane is lucky to have a large base of people who are familiar with Seattle Humane having heard of the organization from friends, coworkers and family members who adopted from the shelter. Other places where we attract new prospective volunteers are community fairs and tabling events. This is a huge networking outlet where we find other groups and individuals with similar priorities. Asking people to volunteer at events where you might otherwise be asking them to donate is an effective method for recruitment. “The advantage of this is people can feel part of the mission and the work when they are on the ground and taking part in the action,” says Brittany Lounsbury, Volunteer Services Director at Seattle Humane. “There are a lot of digital volunteers
out there too who are willing to post and spread goodwill about the brand.

Opening our new 57,000-square-foot facility in August of 2017 also generated significant interest. It’s beneficial to make the most of public awareness if you are working on a capital campaign. Additionally, Washington State is an active and progressive region for animal welfare and other important causes. “There are many people who want to help and are looking for ways to give back,” Lounsbury says.

Organizing Volunteers

Every department at Seattle Humane – from adoptions to animal care to events to fundraising – works with their own group of volunteers. Departments take on more of a volunteer management role with each volunteer reporting to a different supervisor or coordinator. “Having this structure makes our volunteers feel like part of the team. In this reporting structure, the Volunteer Services team works like HR for all of Seattle Humane’s volunteers,” Lounsbury says. “It’s really important for volunteers to feel heard and included.”

In addition, Seattle Humane uses the online portal Vicnet to post volunteer schedules, event calendars, and volunteer openings so volunteers can stay updated and easily sign up for volunteer shifts. Digitizing schedules, signups and other communications is a big step toward becoming more efficient.

Recognizing Volunteers

A few years ago, Seattle Humane started the Volunteer Leadership Council. This group was created to improve leadership and communication among volunteers, and so volunteers have a designated liaison with staff. This group consists of many “superstar” volunteers from Seattle Humane’s adoptions, behavior, cat care, community outreach, dog care, education and foster departments. With our Volunteer Leadership Council in place, we are able to further engage with our experienced and dedicated volunteers who are a voice for their respective volunteer community and assist their departments with the creation and programs with special projects.

Seattle Humane staff also show their appreciation for volunteers by submitting “Wags N’ Brags” for internal staff newsletters as well as the shelter’s quarterly Heartline Volunteer Newsletter. Every summer Seattle Humane also hosts a Volunteer Appreciation Picnic to celebrate everyone’s hard work, successes, and volunteer work anniversaries.

“I love working with volunteers because they’re all here to support a common cause that they truly care about. It’s great meeting new volunteers at our orientations and seeing how excited they are to start,” Lounsbury says. “It’s equally rewarding to see a long-time volunteer decide they want to do more and take on a new role or start a new project.”

“It makes it easy to come into work every day when everyone is  happy to be here and excited about what they’re doing.”

To learn more about volunteer programs and opportunities at Seattle Humane, visit Seattle Humane – Volunteer.