At this time of year, our thoughts naturally focus on giving. And undoubtedly many of us have received requests to donate to our favorite rescues or shelters. However, during the holidays our budgets may already be stretched so thin that it can be difficult or impossible to make a financial donation. Luckily, money isn’t the only thing rescues need, both now and throughout the year.
As someone who has both volunteered for and been employed by various nonprofits, I can tell you this: Volunteers are their lifeblood. Most simply could not function without generous souls who are willing to donate their time and talents. And volunteer opportunities for rescue organizations go far beyond fostering or helping at adoption fairs. There are countless ways that you can help, especially if you have a creative bent.
Check out the following talent categories. If you fall into one of them, chances are that a shelter or rescue would be thrilled if you donated your time and talents to helping dogs find their forever homes.
1. Social media maven
Some people may think that anyone can tackle social media, and maybe that’s true. But it takes a special talent to do it well. Most animal welfare organizations understand the power and importance of social media, but many don’t have the resources to set up a Facebook page or Twitter account, much less keep it active.
If your favorite rescue doesn’t have a social media presence (or if it hasn’t been updated in months), offer to set one up for them or manage it for them. Talk with the director to find out what kind of posts or tweets the group would like to make. For example, does it want to cross-post animals who need rescue immediately or focus only on the animals in its care? Once you’ve some ground rules and established trust, the rescue will most likely be more than happy to let you be creative and run with it.
2. Website wrangler
It seems that nowadays in order to be considered a credible, trustworthy business or organization, you need a website. Yet there are still some rescues that either don’t have a website or the website is outdated or difficult to navigate. If you know your way around WordPress or, better yet, have a coding background, you have a talent many rescues desperately need.
If a website exists, offer to update it for them or to check for and fix any bugs or broken links. If they don’t have a site, help them establish one. It doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. A simple, easy-to-navigate site is leaps and bounds better than no site at all.
3. Photography fiend
The great thing about this opportunity is that you don’t have to be a pro or have a fancy camera to help out. If you’ve ever been told that the Instagram photos of your furry companion are sigh-worthy, you can probably put those skills to work helping dogs find homes. In addition to photographing adoptable animals, offer to take pictures at adoption events or at the next fundraiser. Those types of photos are invaluable for publicity and creating good will in the community, both things that are important for grants and individual donations
4. Design diva
Do you enjoy playing around with Photoshop or InDesign? Do you dabble in art or have a passion for graphic design? If so, there are countless ways to put your talents to work. Whether it’s designing a flyer for an upcoming adoption fair, creating a new logo or putting together an eye-catching Facebook timeline cover, rescues always need some sort of design work done.
5. Writing wiz
For someone who has a way with words, the opportunities to help are endless. Maybe your favorite rescue has a blog but the last post was from May 2002. Perhaps it needs a press release for an upcoming event or help with a fundraising letter. They might appreciate help with writing up adorable Petfinder bios that showcase the personalities of adoptable dogs. And if you have any experience writing (and getting) grants, you are worth your weight in gold.
Now that you’ve established a need and how you can fill it, keep these things in mind when reaching out to your favorite shelter or rescue:
- Introduce yourself and say how you found out about them.
- Let them know you’re interested in volunteering and specifically what you’re interested in doing. Explain your background and attach a resume if it seems applicable.
- Tell them how you can help without calling their baby ugly. Don’t say, “Your Facebook page is terrible. You really need help with it.” Instead, let them know that you noticed their page had been dormant for awhile and that you’d love to help them keep it updated.
- Establish parameters and time commitment. For example, if you’re offering to set up a website, let them know what it will and won’t include. If you can’t maintain it for them, let them know upfront but perhaps offer to train someone on it.
- Don’t be discouraged or take it personally if you don’t hear back right away. Remember, most rescues and shelters are overworked and understaffed. They are undoubtedly inundated by emails and phone calls about unwanted pets and are likely juggling many balls at once. If they don’t respond within a week, send a friendly follow-up email as a reminder.
- Don’t give up. If your first choice can’t use your talents, there is most definitely one out there that can. When you find the right match for your talents, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Your turn: Have you volunteered your time or talent to a shelter or rescue? Tell us about it in the comments!