Question from a member:?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
I'm always interested in hearing what makes a program work and what people have learned not to do so that others don't have to reinvent the wheel. Can you talk about what are keys to your success and the top things you learned not to do?
Jan Ravenâ€™s response:
Keys to Success:
It helps, of course, if you have leadership that is passionate about the organization's mission. I think that is pretty common among rescue groups.
AzCATs has a narrow, focused mission. We have priorities and policies in place to guide our decision-making process. We don't try to be all things to all people.
We never had the them-us mindset regarding volunteers. I volunteer for other rescue organizations. I encourage our volunteers to do that. We encourage volunteers from other organizations to work with us and continue with other organizations.
I frankly think it helped that one of the co-founders is an attorney. I had that whole rules, regulations, and structure thing already ingrained.
One of the things I absolutely love about AzCATs as an organization is that we are always growing, changing, trying new things. We aren't afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.
Top things learned not to do:
Being afraid of losing a critical volunteer. Sometimes that can prevent needed growth and change.
Testing feral cats for FeLV or FIV.
Being afraid to move forward or change for fear that a mistake will be made. You will make mistakes, get over it.
If you are the founder of an organization I'd recommend not trying to hang onto control - move the organization forward so that it can thrive and grow beyond you.
Chris Whyleâ€™s response:
KEYS TO SUCCESS:
Of the many keys to success of the Homeless Cat Management Team program, the most significant is our partnership with the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, which is an open-door shelter in the Pittsburgh area. In our fledgling years the Humane Society provided us with most of the resources we needed to spay/neuter/vaccinate cats. Our first volunteer veterinarians were employees of WPHS. This organization gave (and continues to give) us full use of their large veterinary clinic and space for recovery. As our program gradually became financially stable, we took on more and more of the financial burden of operating our clinics, and now purchase all of our own supplies.
Another key to our success is the support and dedication of our volunteers, including compassionate veterinarians, vet techs and supporting volunteers. This support did not come all at once; it took some time to get the word out, to contact the veterinarians and vet techs in our community, and to build a steady volunteer base. Included in this volunteer effort is a dedicated Board of Directors who work long and hard to deal with unexpected problems, and to refine our operation into one that many have commented works like a â€œwell oiled machine.â€
The generosity of the community, especially those who benefit from our free spay/neuter program, is another reason weâ€™ve been able to sustain and grow our program financially.
And weâ€™ve benefited greatly from the experience of other programs like ours across the country, from whom weâ€™ve learned and unashamedly imitated. Among these programs three stand out: The Feral Cat Coalition in San Diego, CA, Operation Catnip in North Carolina and Florida, and Alley Cat Allies, whose educational materials weâ€™ve reproduced endlessly.
WHAT WEâ€™VE LEARNED NOT TO DO:
I think it will be more helpful if I point out some important things that we learned TO do, rather than not to do. I will borrow from situations HCMT has found to be of significance.
1. Always put the welfare of the cats in your care and your mission first.
2. It is important to clearly define your policies and make sure all participants, both volunteers and caretakers, know these policies.
It is also important to be courageous enough to revise a program or policy when you find out it isnâ€™t working, or needs some fine-tuning. But one thing you MUST do is think through and develop initial policies that address crucial and controversial issues to your organization. Be sure to research as much information that is out there, and get the opinions of veterinarians and other professionals. The following decisions should not be arbitrary, and should be consistently observed at your clinics.
* Euthanasia: under what circumstances will you choose to end a catâ€™s life? Quality of life issues, and FeLV or FIV test results are two of the main points of discussion.
* Vaccination Protocols: Which vaccines will you provide?
* What cats will you serve, and how will you define this population? What will be the penalty for ignoring this mandate? How will you screen for compliance and will you allow â€œrescuersâ€ or â€œtrappersâ€ to screen individuals/situations themselves?
* What will be your testing protocol and who will bear the financial burden of testing? What will you do if a cat tests positive?
* Pregnant Cats: Will the length of the pregnancy affect your decision to spay?
* Juvenile Spay/Neuter: At what age will you spay/neuter a kitten?
* What other surgical services will you provide, if any? Will you provide antibiotics or other medicines if a cat needs it, how will you determine if the cat is able to be medicated, and who will bear the financial responsibility for the cost of the medications?
* How will you assure that the cats will not be abandoned at your facility? What will you do if a cat is abandoned, and what is the penalty for abandonment?
* After-Care: What should a caretaker do if a cat experiences surgical complications, who will be the judge of whether a caretaker needs to seek veterinary intervention after surgery, where should the caretaker go to seek help for a cat, and who will bear the financial burden of the aftercare.
* Scheduling: How will you schedule cats fairly? Will you give volunteers preferential treatment? Will you have a limit to how many cats a caretaker can bring into a single clinic?
3. Record keeping, both financial and statistical (i.e. number of cats, males, females, pregnant, test results, etc.): Figure out a good statistical model or form and make sure to consistently update your records. When it comes time to apply for a grant, or defend your program, or answer media questions, you will be VERY glad you did.
Although the following has never been an issue for HCMT, make sure you follow all DEA regulations for documenting usage of controlled substances, and storing these drugs.
4. Decision Making: Have a chain of command and make sure that the person at the top is a good decision-maker and will follow program guidelines. Make sure everyone knows the chain of command.
5. Clear volunteer guidelines: Make sure your volunteers know and follow your rules and policies. Accept suggestions from volunteers, but do not let them arbitrarily ignore the policies youâ€™ve put in place.
6. Insurance issues: What will you do if someone is injured at your clinic? Whose insurance will cover bites, etc.?
7. Liability: Develop a good liability waiver and make sure all participants understand and sign it.
If I went into the situations that caused me to list the above items, this would turn into a book instead of a forum answer! But HCMT has had issues arise with all of the above. Some we were prepared for, some we were not. And I can tell youâ€”it is better to be prepared!