5 Tips for Getting Staff and Volunteers on Board With Community-Focused Animal Services

January 18th, 2022

Your staff, supporters, and volunteers represent your community. It will help you by leaps and bounds if they are on board, when you bring community-focused animal services to your community.

But introducing a new way of doing things can be extremely challenging, especially for those on your team who are unsure of how they fit in. That's why we’ve drafted this list of our top tips for getting buy-in.

If you plan well, and communicate well with your team and supporters, you’ll develop an army of stakeholders there to help you share the benefits of the community-focused model—and how keeping people and pets together best serves your community.

1. Help your stakeholders understand why.

Focus first on clear internal communications—talking to your employees and volunteers, and explaining the reasons why community-focused animal services are important for your organization and your community.

Frequently when new initiatives or projects are being piloted, we get caught up in operations—what we’re doing and how staff need to modify their processes. But changing an entire system isn’t all about logistics. The fundamentals of offering new services is that you’re meeting the needs of people and their pets, where they are.

You are ultimately providing a service, whether you're running a city department, nonprofit, or rescue, all parts of the organization exist to serve pets AND their people.

Every time we have a discussion or someone has a question about something I ask them how can our discussion or our answer benefit the person or community. If we always look at things as what is in the best interest of our community then we'll always have the support of our community and government leaders, which in turn gives us the community support to save lives and keep families together.
- Mike Wheeler, Director of Community Services for the City of Cabot, Arkansas

2. Make new ideas, their ideas.

As you introduce the idea of new programs or modifications to old ones, share what you’re trying to achieve and let your team fill in the how. Have a “yes, and”-style brainstorming session and kick “that won’t work” phrases to the curb.

Get your team to solve for “how can we…” and you'll find new ways of doing things that are just as much their idea as yours.

I met with each functional area [of the shelter] separately after meeting with the entire staff together. I provided an overview for the large group and then was able to dig deeper into the specifics with each small functional group. Those meetings generated more engagement and discussion, which helped inform our processes and also gave employees a voice in the changes.
- Chris Fitzgerald, Director of Animal Services for the City of Rochester, New York

3. Have staff and volunteers join HASS Job-Alikes.

Whether you’re a part of HASS or not, you and your staff are welcome to join our Job-Alike peer groups. These groups give weekly opportunities to network with peers doing the same work as you, to discuss common issues, ask questions, brainstorm solutions, and share program ideas.

Some groups have already started, like Field Services, Public Safety, Fostering. and Fundraising, while others like Animal Care and Customer Service are starting soon. Find out more and sign up on the HASS website.

Problem solving is easier when you see the problem from different perspectives. None of us should feel isolated in our roles, when there are people out there at other organizations, going through the same things and solving them in different ways.

I had each of my managers pick which group/s they wanted to be in, and they report back on them in our weekly management meeting. Staff are able to join and attend as they desire and that is possible. We’ve piloted a few successful changes this way, and the ideas are brought by them which is great.
- Michelle Dosson, Shelter Director at Norfolk Animal Care Center in Norfolk, Virginia

4. Ask for feedback, and actually take it.

While you're making changes, have an open-door policy for feedback and ideas. This doesn't mean you have to take every bit of feedback and change everything you're doing, but you want your team to feel heard.

Salesforce Research surveyed over 1,500 business professionals on values-driven leadership and workplace equality. Among other findings, they discovered that when an employee feels heard, that person is 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform to the best of their abilities.

5. Develop and use your talking points and frequently asked questions.

Knowing how to talk about community-focused animal services is absolutely essential to making this change successful. And remember, everyone who works with your organization is an influencer!

This communications kit from HeARTs Speak and HASS contains everything you need for a well strategized launch, including customizable FAQs and talking points.

You should learn these inside and out. Make sure your staff and volunteers know how to talk about your programs and changes, too. Give them the time to learn about and absorb the materials, too. This will make them feel more comfortable, confident, and involved.

Be sure to also send your talking points and FAQs to anyone who does communications for your shelter, so they know how to talk about the programmatic changes you're making. Make yourself and your staff available if they have follow-up questions.

The better everyone understands and absorbs why and how you are introducing community-focused animal services, the better your organization will be able to do this urgent, necessary work.

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