Happy Volunteer Appreciation Week! Last year, we had over 19,800 logged volunteer hours – that’s equivalent to about 10 full-time employees! Our volunteers work selflessly and tirelessly to enhance our capabilities as a shelter, and we truly could not do this life-saving work without them. Our volunteer program recently went through an overhaul, with fresh initiatives that aim to better support our animals, and enhance community involvement. I had the pleasure of speaking with our new Volunteer Program Manager, Delaney Jooris, regarding the program:


Can you tell me about the new volunteer program and what goals it aims to achieve? What are the key differences you expect to see as a result of these changes?


The purpose of the new program is to create more diverse opportunities for potential volunteers – there is truly something for everyone to do at the shelter, and we wanted to make sure anyone who wanted to be involved could be, regardless of age, ability, experience or background. We’ve added new roles, and divided up some of our historical volunteer roles into more specific, modular roles. This will give our volunteers more flexibility in the number of roles they’d like to sign up for and the kind of work they’d like to contribute, hopefully making volunteering for the SPCA a more fulfilling experience.


What specific issues or needs prompted the overhaul of the volunteer program?


Under our new executive leadership, the goals of our organization have been revitalized, and we have developed a more focused and strategic approach to our practices. At this time, we’re deeply interested in supporting pet retention through programs that help pet owners in our community, as well as shortening length of stay for our resident animals. This will allow us to do as much life-saving work as possible, and these goals are reflected in the changes made to our program. We have made updates to our staff training and operational policies over the past year to align with best practices in sheltering, and a revamp of our volunteer program was the logical next step in that alignment.


How did feedback from volunteers and staff influence the changes made in the program?


We received a lot of feedback from both volunteers and staff that they often felt like they were playing on different teams. This couldn’t be farther from the truth – we are all working towards the same goals – so we knew something needed to change. Moving forward, staff will be directly involved in volunteer training, and we will be working to foster an environment that better reflects the deeply collective nature of our work.



What are some new roles available for volunteers, and what are their key responsibilities?


A few new roles I’m personally excited about include the Clinic Reception Supportand Animal Transport roles. Our community has a huge need for affordable veterinary services, and having volunteers help out with the administration of some of these public services will allow us to extend their reach. The Animal Transport role will provide invaluable support to our Intake and Rescue team – the transfers we receive from other Virginia animal shelters are very often life-saving, so I think this will be an incredibly fulfilling way for people to get involved. 


What kind of training and support do you provide to new volunteers?


Every volunteer will start with a basic orientation, which will include a tour of the shelter, an overview of what CASPCA does and doesn’t do, basic emergency protocols, etc. From there, depending on the task, many opportunities have tiered training levels. For instance, if you’d like to volunteer as a dog walker, you would start by learning our kennel cleaning protocols and go from there. Our aim is to give volunteers the background knowledge they need to be most successful, and so most opportunities will involve several training days. I myself am here on-site and available to provide support and answer questions Tuesday through Saturday – my door and email inbox are always open!


What are some challenges you face in managing volunteers through this change, and how do you address these challenges?


Change is always difficult, and it’s especially difficult when change hasn’t been made in a long time. My goal is to communicate the research and reasoning behind these changes to those who may have concerns, and to foster two-way conversations as we navigate these changes together. 


Can you share a story where a volunteer made a significant impact on the shelter or an individual animal?


There are so many, but Jess Goldman comes to mind immediately. She is a junior volunteer who has been working with our cats for several years now. She has so many great ideas – recently she noticed that older cats have a harder time getting adopted, so she took it upon herself to come up with a “care package” program for senior cats, filled with supplies for adopters to take home on adoption day. I’m so happy we were able to work together to make that idea a reality – it just goes to show how much stronger we are as an organization when we actively engage with and leverage the ideas and support of our volunteers.


How will you evaluate the effectiveness of the new program, and what measures are in place for making further adjustments if needed?


Right now the metric I’ll be tracking most closely will be retention of new volunteers. We have a small core group of volunteers who have been here consistently for many years, and we would like to add to and diversify that group to prevent things like burnout. We’ve had a lot of interest in the new volunteer program, and as new volunteers get trained and onboarded, I’m really interested to see our retention rate. We want the volunteer experience to be fulfilling and rewarding – that’s a difficult metric to measure, but I think retention and seeing people continue to come back and volunteer consistently will be a good measure of how successful we’ve been in creating that kind of experience. We’ve developed this program based on sheltering best practices, but every shelter is different, and we’re prepared to make changes and tailor the program over the course of the next year to best suit the unique needs of our shelter and our volunteer community.


For someone interested in volunteering, what steps should they take to get involved?


Anyone interested is encouraged to visit the volunteer page on our website and fill out a volunteer application. Be sure to have a look at the Volunteer Opportunity Directory before applying, as you are able to mark roles of interest to you on the application. From there, I’ll send them a link to schedule their first orientation!

Visit out volunteer page here!

For inquiries, please email [email protected]