Shelter call lists

As the new volunteer coordinator for the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley (HSOV) I’m doing a good bit of “inventing the wheel” for our shelter, designing systems to make life easier for folks who need asssistance from volunteers. I’m also wanting to limit the number of times volunteers get contacted via e-mail for jobs not on their “I-like-to-do” lists.

The plan I’m working on today is a series of Call Lists, using FileMaker Pro software. I’ll enter each volunteer’s contact information and note their preferred tasks on a spreadsheet. The previous coordinator put all this information on Excel but, to use the spreadsheet, you have to tab all the way out to the right to get the task, scroll down to find an “X” in that column, then all the way back to the left to pick up contact information, then tab all the way back to the right, finding the correct column, scrolling down some more, etc.

If I manage to lose track of the correct column after getting contact information, I must go all the way to the top of the document to pick up the correct column heading before starting the process again. I’m not a big fan of Excel, though I’m sure there are probably methods (given a week or two of study) to make that software work for me. FileMaker Pro, on the other hand, is just too darned easy and you can fit everything on one page, so I’m going to spend the time entering all the information AGAIN.

My database is going to include the volunteer’s name, address, e-mail (though folks around here don’t check home e-mail as often as in urban settings, where lots of our customers actually forward home e-mail to work during the day, or respond from their cell phones), telephone, and age (we have a lot of kids filling out volunteer forms). I’ll have all the volunteer form’s specific skills listed and will check those applicable. I don’t intend to go to the trouble of entering ANY information for minor children. No one is going to call a kid at home to get them to the shelter to assist with cleaning, painting, grooming, etc. I’m not sure why anyone has them complete a volunteer form, other than to get Mom or Dad’s signature on the waiver.

I’ve actually re-created the volunteer application to change it from a 3-page form to a 1-page form, but mine isn’t being used widely yet. Oh, the trees cut down for the sake of volunteer forms and useless waivers.

What I’d actually prefer is that people wanting to volunteer at the shelter be given my name and e-mail address — maybe even handed the shelter phone with my number dialed — and that they contact me to discuss their skills and level of commitment (hours a week, hours a month, walked-in-once-and-may-be-back). During this conversation I can get an impression of where their skills might best be put to use, and whether or not we can count on them for regular visits.

As with most situations, there’s a bit of salesmanship that needs to be applied to volunteers. Shelters generally suck at this but, when someone expresses an interest in volunteering, they should be made to feel neededwantedvaluable – and shouldn’t just be asked to sit down and complete a 3-page form. Here’s an analogy most of us will relate to.  They should be treated like a person who meanders onto a car lot “just looking” for their next vehicle. Salespeople know this rule and shelters should learn it: don’t let that person leave your shelter without making them feel important to your operation, and without a specific commitment to return on a specific date to do a specific job.

And, if volunteers were asked to contact me, we’d be handling fewer bits of information. A committed volunteer will appreciate being given a specific name, e-mail, telephone to get started with their involvement. A non-committed volunteer, who doesn’t really intend to be called upon to help and wants to wander in every 30 days or so, won’t go to the trouble of calling the volunteer coordinator.

Not that we don’t want these folks to help, but my task is to coordinate volunteers and I want a nice, tight group of committed folks. Coordinating volunteers is like moving and guarding prized stock. Non-committed or casual volunteers (includes most children, who are carried hither and thither by their school schedules, extracurricular activity schedules, and parent’s schedules) are like a flock of birds circling overhead. It’s nice that they’re sticking with us but I’m not going to expend energy keeping track of them.

While I’m here in relatively warm Ohio, entering data into FileMaker Pro, Bud’s in Wisconsin (brrrrr…) doing a seminar today at a little training center he’s never visited before. They’ve never been introduced to Bud’s style of handling, intuitive movement the dog cues off of, so it should be interesting to hear if they accept or reject the premise.

Tonight he drives a short distance to present teacup handling. I believe this weekend’s event is a teacup seminar / trial combo where folks run a course, do handling skills on that course, re-set equipment, run a game, do handling skills on that game set-up, re-set equipment, etc. It’s a fabulous way to introduce folks to teacup agility and allow them to earn qualifying legs while learning the rules and handling required.

In the meantime our home is very much quieter without the two young, noisy girls Bud’s got with him on this trip. Hazard, a sheltie, feels she must be heard pretty much whenever she moves. And Blue, probably a JRT mix, feels barking is the only reliable way to get what you want from people. When they’re gone, the old dogs and I are all more relaxed and the house is considerably quieter.

Last night’s fun runs were attended by just 2 students and 3 dogs. A large group of students were here Tuesday night for a private lesson and yesterday’s harsher weather meant most of them stayed away from fun run night. Beth drove an hour and 15 minutes each way, bringing Coda and Huey, and Maddie came from 5 minutes away with Brandy and her new puppy, Max. Maddie’s mom and cousin attended as well, and I tried to convince them to sit in “bar setter” chairs placed out in the building so Maddie could practice getting Brandy’s attention when distracted, but they didn’t last long in isolation.

It didn’t help that 2 of 3 dogs decided to take a poop in the building during their runs. I don’t blame them — long drive, complete darkness outside, cold north wind blowing, snow swirling — I’d poop indoors, too.

But we all had a nice time and got to spend some time discussing strategy, rather than spending all our time on handling. Strategy is the more advanced topic and, in large groups, is addressed less often. With a small group we can present several strategic options, try each of them, and then pick the option with the most reliable results. Since Beth had driven so far I wanted her to get a good lesson.

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