How much is enough? What to expect from your foster and volunteer coordinators

By Kristen Hassen-Auerbach

Kristen Hassen-Auerbach | April 22nd, 2019

Simply having clear performance expectations can improve two of your most critical, outcomes-focused programs -- your volunteer and foster programs. Whether you’re an advocate trying to save more lives in your community, a shelter manager struggling to set measurable expectations for staff, or a lifesaving team member who wants to strive for a goal, this applies to you!


As we work with shelters around the county through our apprenticeship program, one of the things that surprise us most is the number of volunteers and foster caregivers who are helping organizations achieve their missions. What’s so surprising? These numbers are often, very, very small.

How many volunteers can one coordinator manage?

At a minimum, one, full-time, volunteer coordinator can manage 500 volunteers who serve at least six hours per month.

When we first ask shelters their number of volunteers, they name a number in the hundreds or even thousands. But when we drill down and ask the number of active volunteers, the reported number often shrinks to between 10 and 100, far too few for even a very, small shelter. One volunteer coordinator can easily manage 500 active volunteers who can assist in nearly all areas of operations. If that sounds overwhelming to you, it may mean that you need to make it easier for people to volunteer and develop policies, procedures and training materials to make it fast to onboard and retain your volunteers.

How many pets can one foster coordinator place into foster in a year?

One foster coordinator should be able to place a minimum of 1,000 pets in foster in a year. In high volume foster programs, one coordinator can work in collaboration with the entire staff team to send up to 3,000 companion animals to foster annually. Pima Animal Care Center, Ventura County Animal Services, Austin Animal Center and Kansas City Pet Project are among the shelters that have succeeded in sending thousands of pets to foster each year.

Not only is fostering a safe, humane alternative to the stress of confinement in a kennel, it also saves money and helps increase the overall capacity of the shelter. We regularly hear about foster coordinators who place a couple of hundred of animals in foster in a year, and that’s simply not enough. Even without a full-time, dedicated foster coordinator, some shelters have volunteers to help manage a foster program and place just as many cats and dogs this way!

As we move forward into a new, bright future for animal sheltering, it’s critical that shelters invest in hiring full-time volunteer and foster coordinators. Equally important is setting clear expectations and success measures for these lifesaving positions.

Follow these guidelines: A minimum of 500 volunteers for one volunteer coordinator and 1,000 pets in foster for one foster coordinator.

American Pets Alive!'s Maddie’s Lifesaving Academy currently offers classes to help you build high volume volunteer and foster programs. Learn about these and other opportunities here


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