Shelter Management

Training and Retaining Volunteers in a Small Organization

From TNR fundraisers to foster care and community education programs, volunteers at Mayport Cats, Inc. (MCI) take on the work of much larger groups – and they do it with remarkable commitment and enthusiasm.

In fact, this deserving all-volunteer rescue group received an ASPCA grant in honor of National Volunteer Week in 2013 for its dedication to the welfare of feral cats.

Here are some of MCI's tried-and-true strategies that keep volunteers coming back day after day:

Transition the Folks You Serve Into Volunteers

Dubbed the Neuter Ninja Navy, MCI's volunteers are mostly military personnel because of the rescue's proximity to a Naval base and military housing, where there they regularly perform TNR with the local homeless cat population. Rather than put out a mass call for volunteers, MCI actively seeks out people in the community who have been directly assisted, since they bring an understanding of the mission. "Because of our location and the base's reputation for feral/abandoned cats, we purposely market our services to all military personnel, and they make wonderful volunteers," says Tammy King, MCI Director.

Allow Flexibility in Roles

Instead of assigning tasks, MCI encourages volunteers to do work geared toward their specific interests and skill levels. King finds that this kind of empowerment creates an environment where the group helps one another by sharing resources and exchanging ideas. When given this opportunity and shown this level of faith, volunteers are set up for success.

Provide Thorough Training

MCI's volunteers learn all aspects of the organization so everyone is prepared to step in and help with any project if needed. New members are teamed up with seasoned volunteers, and also attend regular training events to learn about the group and their mission. To ensure volunteers are able to handle any issue that arises, MCI encourages ongoing animal welfare education for the team.

Make Space for Creativity

MCI stresses the importance of giving volunteers the freedom to be innovative and creative. One volunteer owns a cookie company and makes colorful cat-shaped cookies to sell at events, which have become very popular. Another volunteer came up with the idea of kitty pacifiers for some orphaned kittens who seemed to cry not because they were hungry, but because they just wanted to suck and knead. To make the pacifiers, MCI inserted nipples in the bellies of small stuffed animals. "The toys kept the kittens warm, and had cat scent on them since we let the older cats sleep with them," explains King.

Let Them Inspire You

Groups like Mayport Cats prove that volunteers can perform as well as paid staff when treated like the valuable assets they are and given freedom and trust to do their best work in support of an organization's mission. Says King of her Mayport community, "Every cat with a tipped ear, ex-street cat now living in a home or sick cat who is now healthy is a testament to what volunteers are capable of."

More Lifesaving Resources

Tips on Personalized Training Helps Empower, Retain Volunteers

Webinar on Volunteer Management 201

Big Goals, Small Staff? Volunteers to the Rescue!

Volunteer Programs: What We're Learning from You

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