As a researcher regarding effective volunteer engagement and a trainer of managers of volunteers, I have high expectations when I engage with volunteers or the managers of such as a customer, client or volunteer. I’m a tough audience. I know that successful volunteer training and support, and appropriate customer service, come not from large budgets but, rather, from the organization making such a priority. I’ve encountered so many well-trained, conscientious volunteers from small nonprofits with tiny budgets, and so many ill-trained, distracted, unmotivated, uncaring volunteers from large, well-known nonprofits with large budgets.
I live near a group home for adults with mental disabilities, and I’ve grown quite fond of the residents – one in particular, who loves animals. He used to help his neighbor with her many pets, but she died last year, and all of pets had to be rehomed – taking away not only his beloved friends, but also activities that he absolutely lived for. About the same time, a stray cat living under a foreclosed house across the street had two kittens, and my friend started feeding them. We’ve cobbled together shelter for the cats on the front porch of his group home, and neighbors give him bottles to return to the grocery to get money for cat food. He has a renewed lease on life, and the cats are well-cared for. My friend loves his new role as cat caretaker – but I’m dreading new kittens in the spring. So I decided to see what our options were for getting the cats spayed and neutered. How could I catch these cats? And if I caught the cats, was there a place that would fix them for a low cost? And how would we provide after-surgery care, when he couldn’t have them in his house, and me, with a dog, a cat, and a cat-hating husband, couldn’t have them in mine?
My vet gave me a flyer for the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, based in Portland. I called the number, left a message, and within two hours, a volunteer called me back. She patiently answered all of my MANY questions, said that FCCO does a special surgery that allows cats to be released the next day after surgery, and said that my friend’s cats qualified as feral cats. She put me in touch with a volunteer a bit closer than Portland, who lent me humane traps for the cats, and she explained the week-long process to go through in order to catch the cats. Unfortunately, I was able to capture only one, but I drove him to Portland (45 minutes away), dropped him off at the FCCO offices just before 8 a.m., spent the day with various friends in PDX, then went back just before 4. A volunteer provided an orientation to everyone like me, new to FCCO, about how to release the cat and look for post-surgical issues, and then I came back with the cat to where I live outside of PDX.
Every FCCO volunteer and employee I encountered was wonderful. They had complete information, they all knew the process inside and out, and they answered my questions before I could ask them. They were always ready and willing to help me. I never felt like I was a burden, that I was bothering anyone, as I’ve felt SO many times at other organizations. FCCO made me feel so supported and valued. They didn’t focus on what they couldn’t do – they focused on all that they CAN do for people that care about stray cats. If they couldn’t provide something I asked for, they always gave me an alternative – not just a “No, we don’t do that.” I didn’t have to pay anything, but was happy to make the recommended tiny donation for the cat’s surgery, rabies shot and ear-mite treatment.
BRAVO, FCCO! You are doing a LOT of things right when it comes to recruiting, training and supporting your volunteers. And, based on my experience, I think animal welfare groups are some of the most challenging when it comes to effective volunteer management: the people you attract as volunteers are oh-so-passionate about animals, and that kind of passion and mission ownership be both a wonderful blessing and a horrific curse. Your volunteer management is obviously outstanding, as is your focus on customer/client services. WELL DONE!
As soon as I catch that other cat (the mom has disappeared, I’m sorry to say), I’ll be back!
And if you want to see what it’s like when I am NOT happy with customer service from an animal welfare organization, you will have to go over to my personal blog.
I also have often blogged here on my official, professional blog site about unsatisfactory volunteering experiences, on my part and on the part of others, but I don’t name names. I provide these as cautionary tales – what NOT to do in engaging volunteers: