Volunteers are always in great demand in the animal welfare world. The problem is that many prospective volunteers imagine that the only way they can help is to clean out cages and litter boxes. Animal welfare activist and dog trainer Lisa Sellman offers these tips to help make your volunteering experience as successful as possible:
1. Choose Wisely /Research and Do Your Homework: There may be a specific aspect of animal welfare that is very important to you. Are you passionate about spay/neuter? Homelessness? Animal therapy? Pet nutrition? Take the time to seek out an organization whose mission speaks to you.
2. Ask For/Offer Referrals: Let people know that you are looking to volunteer, and what your interests are. Your own community is an ideal place to reach out when looking to be connected to a group that means something to you. Once you find something you love—spreading the word is a great way to further the cause.
3. Don’t Overcommit: As eager as you are to make a difference, you don’t want volunteer projects to rule your schedule. Make sure you balance your time carefully so that your professional life or family time doesn’t take a critical hit.
4. Have Fun: Helping others is its own reward, but it shouldn’t feel like a chore. Even the most mundane task can be fun if you manage it with a sense of humor and excitement for making a difference.
5. Consider Your Skills: Ask yourself what you have to offer: What skills do you have and how can they translate to helping your animal welfare agency? If you’re a good photographer, maybe you can take pictures of the animals up for adoption. Are you a good teacher? Maybe you can teach kids about responsible pet guardianship.
6. Learn Something New: Yes, you’ve got something to offer, but what else can you get out of this experience besides the joy of giving back? Trying things that may be out of your comfort zone forces you to learn and adjust—a skill all of us can benefit from. Plus, you might find that you enjoy something you didn’t know about before.
7. Combine Your Goals: Look for volunteer opportunities that will help you achieve personal goals in addition to the goal to do good. Research shows this will help you stay committed to the cause. Maybe you want to shed a few pounds? Find a shelter that needs a dog walker.
8. Pull In The Same Direction: While you may have your own ideas on how things should be done, remember why you are volunteering––everyone is there with the same good intentions.
9. Involve Your Friends and Family: When a family volunteers together, it’s a win-win for everyone. The experience can bring everyone closer together, teach young children the value of giving, introduce skills and experiences never before encountered, and create special memories (plus, wherever you’re volunteering benefits from more hands on deck!).
10. Be Yourself. Bring your heart, your sense of humor, and your enthusiastic spirit to your volunteer service. Never be afraid to ask about things you don’t know or understand yet.