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Building Your Team

Like all organizations, animal rescues require people to fill a variety of roles and positions – and most of these positions will depend on the work of volunteers.

Typically, animal rescues operate at three levels: a board of directors, the staff, and a volunteer base. Each level of operation, as well as the different roles within each level, will have different requirements in terms of dedication, time, and duties. 


Board of Directors: 


Every non-profit and charity organization must have a board of directors to oversee the organization and direct it towards its long-term goals. Upon starting your rescue, your board of directors may consist of close friends and family members dedicated to the cause; however, as your organization grows, ideally you should expand your board of directors to include people outside of your own social circle. Your board of directors may be elected or appointed, and can function as either a working board or a separate committee. People on your board may also be assigned to various roles which, at minimum, should include President or Chairperson, Secretary, and Treasurer.  




As mentioned earlier, your staff will be made up of mostly volunteers. However, you may want to consider referring to them as staff – whether or not they are paid – as a way to reflect your rescue’s commitment to professionalism. The number and type of staff roles will vary depend on the way your rescue is organized and the size of your rescue.




Your volunteer base fulfills a different role than your staff members. Your staff will operate on a permanent or semi-permanent basis whereas volunteer positions may operate on a casual or temporary basis. Positions that demand long-term oversight should be filled by permanent staff members while shorter-term tasks, such as helping with promotional events and photography, may be completed by volunteers. If you choose to rely on a foster network, it will also likely depend on the work of volunteers. 


For additional information, see Humane Society of the United States, Rescue Group Best Practices Guide, “Forming Your Team,” pp. 3-12




Rescues must consider how they can address each of these roles and areas of responsibility. In a smaller rescue, one person may take on multiple roles, while a larger organization, each volunteer may work exclusively in one area. 


  • Executive Director

    • Reporting to the board of directors, the Executive Director is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the organization as well as ensuring the rescue is working to achieve its mission. The ideal candidate for this position will have strong skills in planning and management, along with experience in business and public relations/communications. 


  • Records Manager

    • A detail-oriented individual is required to monitor and update records regarding adoptions, medical information, and the current location of each animal, as well as volunteer information and operating records. This can be a full-time job in larger organizations.


  • Financial Manager 

    • This person is responsible for tracking the organization’s finances, including expenses and donations. The ideal candidate is someone with financial, accounting, or auditing experience. In a larger organization, consideration may be given to seeking the services of a professional accountant to handle these tasks.  


  • Facilities Coordinator 

    • If the rescue operates some sort of physical shelter, someone will need to spend time there to monitor the animals and provide the necessary care.  


  • Foster Coordinator

    • The Foster Coordinator works directly with the foster care providers. As such, this person should be readily available to answer questions and provide support as needed. As the organization grows, it may be valuable for an experienced foster to handle this position. 


  • Adoptions Coordinator

    • This position involves working with the public to help connect the animals with their new homes and families. Someone with an understanding of customer service and a good understanding of the rescue is ideal for this important position. 


  • Events Coordinator

    • Public events can help promote adoptions and gather support for the organization. Excellent planning, organizational, and record-keeping skills are required for this position. 


  • Medical Coordinator

    • In order to avoid confusion, the rescue should assign this task to only one or two people in the organization. Responsibilities include managing regular veterinary appointments and ensuring updates are made to the medical history of each animal. (Alternately, one person may be able to handle the duties of both the Medical Coordinator and the Records Manager.) As medical emergencies can happen at any time, it can be beneficial to have more than one person working in this role.


  • Behaviour and Training Coordinator

    • It is useful to enlist the services of animal behaviourist with experience in humane training techniques. The Behaviour and Training Coordinator will assist fosters and adopters to deal with any issues that may arise. 


  • Communications Coordinator

    • This person will share information about the organization via social media and other communications channels. It is important to recognize that this person will likely be the first contact the public has with your organization, so great care should be taken to select the right person for this task. 


  • Fundraising Coordinator

    • Working with or doubling as the Event Coordinator, the Fundraising Coordinator leads the fundraising efforts of the organization. Excellent communication skills and event planning experience are useful. 


  • Volunteer Coordinator 

    • The Volunteer Coordinator is responsible for recruiting, training, mentoring, and retaining volunteers – the lifeblood of any animal rescue. The ideal candidate for this position will possess excellent organizational, time management, and team management skills. 

Volunteer Involvement


Volunteers are crucial to the success of an animal rescue. Before recruiting volunteers, consider what your specific needs are, and how volunteers can assist. It may help you to create a short description for each volunteer position to clarify what is expected from them and your rescue. 


However, bear in mind that working with volunteers requires some flexibility, and some volunteers will only be help out in a limited way, for a limited time. Aim to ensure that volunteers are treated fairly, that their questions are answered, and that they feel their contributions matter. Remember that volunteers come from all kinds of backgrounds and every volunteer is worthy of respect.


Whether communicating in person, by phone, or by text, be friendly and respectful. Emails and texts can be a great way to communicate, but be cautious with your messages. It is very easy for a message that is intended to be funny or ironic to appear rude to the receiver. 


Practice active listening in order to fully understand what the volunteer is trying to say. Some volunteers will say openly what their concerns or problems might be, while others might be more reticent to share this information. 


Get to know the person’s strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps a volunteer spends a large amount of time of social media and has a good online presence. In this case, they may be the perfect person to help out with the rescue’s website and social media. 


Where to find board members and other volunteers for your organization:   


Reach out to your own contacts

  • Friends, coworkers, neighbors, and social acquaintances - ask around!

Rescue website

  • Post a help wanted/how to help/volunteer section on your website. Provide all the necessary information about the position along with the application form so that it is easy for the volunteer to reach out.

Dedicated phone/email for volunteers

  • Create a separate email account or phone number for potential volunteers to use to reach out

Social media

  • Post on your social media channels if you are looking for volunteers (board members, help with a special event, etc.)

Help wanted

  • Don't be afraid to use posts on help wanted board or free advertising websites such as Kijiji or ised which may offer free posts 

Recruitment Process


Recruitment is a two-way process. Be prepared to provide potential volunteers with sufficient information so they fully understand what their role will be with your organization. 


  • What are they being asked to do, and why?

  • What kind of work is involved in the task?

  • Is training required/what skills are needed?

  • What kind of commitment is needed?

  • How and where will the activities take place?


¹ This material is modified from the Super-Team HR Manual

Responsible Screening¹

Animals cannot protect, defend, or assert themselves; as such, they are considered to be vulnerable and must be protected. Any individual or group that cares for animals must be responsible for providing for the needs of all animals in their care. The standard of care is a reasonable level of attention, care, and protection in accordance with The Animal Protection Act


In order to ensure that adequate protection is provided for homeless animals, the rescue must ensure that anyone involve in the organization is carefully screened. Specifically, the rescue must consider:


  • Is the volunteer a good fit for the organization?

  • Is the volunteer going to negatively impact the safety and quality of programs?

  • Is the volunteer going to add risk or liability to the organization?


There are some general considerations in regard to the role of volunteers:


  • When developing the roles that volunteers fill, it is important to reflect on what information the organization needs. The organization should not ask for any more information than is needed, and should not ask the volunteer to be responsible for anything unreasonable.

  • The position of a volunteer should not be structured so that only one person can do it; instead, the position must be structured so that it is reasonably open to the public. If skills or training are not needed for a position, they should not be a part of the position description.

  • Where reasonable accommodations can be made, volunteers should not be excluded due to disability. All organizations have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations.

  • Personal information should not be collected except where there is a practical use for it. Names, address, telephone numbers, driving history, medical records, and criminal records are all examples of personal information. The rescue is obligated to ensure that if this type of information is collected, it is protected.

  • Privacy is not the same thing as secrecy. While organizations are entitled to some degree of confidentiality, they are also obligated to provide a transparent representation to the public. Nevertheless, personal information of clients or volunteers must be protected within reason. 

    • Physical Protections – Locking files up in cabinets, restricting access to areas with information, shredding papers rather than recycling.

    • Administrative Protections – Developing procedures to manage personal information, training for privacy, and supervising the areas of operations requiring privacy.

    • Technical Protections – Anti-virus software, passwords for computers, and ensuring that few people have access to passwords.

    • Disposal – Retain information for a set period of time before destroying it.  Only retain information for as a long as you need it, and then for a limited recall timeframe.


The rescue should decide whether criminal record checks will be required for some or all volunteer positions. Developing a policy to answer this questions is important, perhaps in consultation with a legal specialist. If a criminal record check is required, contact the community police agency to confirm the process. 




The basic orientation of each volunteer should cover the following topics:  

  • What is the history and mission of this organization?

  • What services does this rescue provide?

  • What is the structure of the organization?

  • Briefly explain the main policies and procedures that impact the volunteer.

  • What exactly is the volunteer being asked to do, and how should they do it?

  • What support does the organization offer to the volunteer?

  • What will the volunteer need to have in order to succeed?


As well, depending on their role with the organization, the volunteer will need information on handling specific tasks, and how to handle emergency situations that might arise. 


¹ The Screening Handbook, by Public Safety Canada

² The Basics of Volunteer Orientation and Training, by Dr. Joanne Fritz of The Balance

Developing Training a Program


Going through the training process helps volunteers learn about their responsibilities with the organization. As well, as they become more familiar with other volunteers and staff, the new volunteer will start to feel more like part of of the team.  

The investment in a formal training program is resource demanding, so the rescue organization should have a good understanding of the type of information volunteers will need. When training new members of the organization, it is important to incorporate the concepts of adult learning.


Principles of adult learning


  • People are willing to learn what they want to learn, but it is the responsibility of the instructor to communicate clearly how the information will benefit the learner. If the learner understands the purpose of the information being presented, and is given examples of its use, it will be better retained.

  • Learning by experience is a powerful tool. Whenever possible, instructors should use real-life examples of situations they have encountered, and encourage the learner to reflect on their own similar experiences. 

  • Support the learner by developing the policies and procedures to guide them in their volunteer role, and ensure there are clear guidelines for more complicated tasks. 

  • Teach solutions to problems. Provide the learner with the information they will need to handle complex situations such as handling an emergency or responding to a stressful situation. Training programs quite often include information which may be beneficial, but does not actually contribute to solving the problems that the learner is likely to face. 

  • Ensure your training sessions are interactive. Hold regular discussions, seek input from the learners, and develop exercises that provoke the learner to think critically about something they’ve never experienced before. 

  • A positive, engaging teacher can help create a positive, engaged student. Volunteers, like the rest of the population, are going to learn in different ways and at different speeds. They may make mistakes. The instructor must be able to engage in a corrective action without becoming emotional. 

  • Whenever possible, the responsibility for developing training should be centralized under one person, even if there is more than one person providing the training. 


What to teach¹


An effective training program will provide volunteers with answers to the following questions:


  1. What are they going to be doing?  

  2. What should they do if they are unsure of how to do a certain task?

  3. What are the things they shouldn’t do?

  4. When things go wrong, what needs to happen? 


A common tool used by teachers, trainers, and instructors, is the development of a lesson plan. Lesson plans lay out the larger goals of training and establish how they will be useful to the learner. While someone who is well-versed in the topic may feel confident in simply speaking off the cuff with the volunteers, being prepared and having a well-developed plan in advance generally works out better in the long run. 


For more information on the principles of training, refer to The Basics of Volunteer Orientation and Training, by Dr. Joanne Fritz of The Balance

¹ The Basics of Volunteer Orientation and Training, by Dr. Joanne Fritz of The Balance

People Skills

Good people skills are essential to the operation of your rescue. Whether you are interacting with the public, staff or other organizations in the animal welfare sector, the impression you have on others will affect the overall success of your rescue. 

Strong interpersonal skills will help you talk and work with all types of people, strengthen your  ability to communicate effectively and build strong relationships with the people in your workplace. Having good people skills means maximizing effective and productive human interaction. 

Things to consider: 

Exercising self-awareness

Being aware of your own feelings and emotions can help you be cognizant of the messages you convey to others whether through words or non-verbal communication.

Non-verbal communication

Having good non-verbal communication is an important aspect of good people skills. Non-verbal communication includes:

  • Eye contact

  • Facial expressions

  • Body language

  • Gestures

  • Physical contact

How you present yourself and react with non-verbal communication can make relationships stronger or damage them depending on how they are used and the context of the situation.

Being respectful to others

Showing respect can foster positive relationships and work environments. Some ways you can show respect include: 

  • Showing appreciation for the time and effort of staff and volunteers

  • Showing gratitude and courtesy

  • Listening to what others say

  • Being respectful of other ideas and opinions 

  • Not insulting, attacking or disparaging others

Showing empathy and understanding 

Having empathy for others helps you take into account the thoughts, feelings, and needs of others.

Active listening 

Active listening is when you listen to what others have to say and try to understand their point of view rather than only listening to respond. Approach each conversation like you have something to learn and remember everyone has their own unique insights, experiences, and perspectives on different subjects. By actively listening to others, it helps you learn and grow and create positive relationships. 

Behaving appropriately

Depending on the culture of the organization, what's considered appropriate can vary, however these are general accepted behaviours and expectations: 

  • Being punctual

  • Being friendly and respectful towards others

  • Being cooperative

  • Having a positive attitude

  • Dressing appropriately

  • Taking personal responsibility and being accountable

Compassion Fatigue

Volunteering or working with a rescue, while rewarding, can also be an emotionally demanding experience. Due to the nature of the type of work rescues do, your staff will often see animals at their worst. Since most people get involved with rescue organizations because they care deeply for animals and their well-being, seeing so many mistreated and homeless animals can be demoralizing. 

Compassion fatigue—or secondary post-traumatic stress disorder—will effect most people involved with the animal welfare sector at some point. Compassion fatigue is not an illness in and of itself, but a set of symptoms that arise from caregiving to people or animals in unfortunate circumstances. Symptoms include fatigue, negativity, chronic illness, frustration, and feelings of apathy and powerlessness. While you may not be able to eliminate compassion fatigue entirely, there are steps you can take to support your staff as much as possible. 

Encouraging a positive, healthy, and supportive work environment for your staff and volunteers can help mitigate the effects of stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout. A culture of open communication will help everyone feel more supported. Self-care should be taken seriously and staff should be encouraged to take mental health breaks if necessary. Additionally, you may provide resources so that staff know where to seek professional help if they desire it. 


Learn more about ways to deal with compassion fatigue:   

Building Your Team
Volunteer Involvement
Responsible Screening
Developing a Training Program
Compassion Fatigue
People skills
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