Friday, April 15, 2011

Mythbusters - Volunteers are More Trouble Than They're Worth

As National Volunteer Appreciation Week draws to a close - I'd like to take this opportunity to thank our awesome volunteers at Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Lost Dogs Illinois. Who knew, only a little over a year ago, when there were just four of us, that we would open such a huge can of worms! The longer we are at it, the more we peel back the layers of confusion and misunderstandings about "strays" and our animal control system.  We now have almost 50 volunteers who work tirelessly to get dogs back home to their owners, thereby keeping them from crowding our animal shelters. Between our two organizations we have assisted in the recovery of over 200 dogs since early 2010.

I often hear the following from shelter volunteers:  they want to do more to help save lives but they are frustrated. Frustrated because they aren't encouraged to do more, plus they aren't empowered to help with anything that would make a real difference. Sure, every shelter volunteer should know how to do the laundry and scoop poop. But there is so much more they can do.

The sad thing is, these are smart people. Many are retired from high level managerial positions or have owned and run their own businesses. They may have a lot invested in the shelter; definitely more than most of the kennel staff, both in time and in dollars.  Volunteers are there on their own dime and time, no paycheck involved. Yet when they make a suggestion (usually a good one), they often get labelled as a bothersome volunteer.

 Many of these volunteers are the ones that have the time and income available to go to the conferences and seminars that teach new, lifesaving methods. There is nothing more frustrating (I know this from experience) than to come back from a conference with your brain busting with low-cost, live-saving ideas,  just to get stonewalled or ignored.

Plus, most of these volunteers have the maturity to know that their suggestions may not be implemented immediately or that there is a reason why things are done the way they are.  But keeping volunteers on the low rungs of the ladder forever is a surefire way to make them quit in frustration.

My husband uses Situational Management in his line of work. He empowers employees, continually moving them up the ladder and engaging them in decision making.

Another good read is Tribes by Seth Godin, which discusses how the old   hierarchical management style is pretty much dead and gone.

When will the shelter managers figure this out? When the last volunteer has left the building? I hope not. Our shelter animals need them.

Thank you, to our great volunteers at Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Lost Dogs Illinois; and to all the volunteers around the nation who are making a difference in the lives of our companion animals.

"The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling while they do it" - Teddy Roosevelt


  1. Amen. Right now, a college student volunteer who did scoop poop for me today is currently walking dogs one at a time who wouldn't normally get walked individually. The time, individual attention and a different person for each dog is extremely important - it has changed the lives of several dogs here. Congratulations on your growth, your volunteers and the stunning work you do. Thank you.

  2. If it wasn't for the Tompkins County volunteers being "more trouble than they're worth", there is no way that community would have made it to No Kill first or ever. We must have been a whole lot of trouble, because you couldn't put a price on what we did.