Staff Hiring Tips For Your Animal Sanctuary

Outdoor sign that reads "Now Hiring".
If only it were as easy as putting up a sign…

If your animal sanctuary is looking to hire individuals to fill staff roles, it can sometimes be daunting to determine how to go about the hiring process. Hiring for any nonprofit organization can be a challenge, and the unique environment and roles required of animal sanctuary staff members only makes the process more complicated! Although we cannot offer one-size-fits-all advice for sanctuary hiring, the following observations have been found to be generally effective for a number of sanctuaries, given patience and persistence!

Roles To Hire At Your Animal Sanctuary, From Slightly Simpler To More Complex

As you may imagine, certain sanctuary staff roles are slightly less complicated to find the right fit for than others. If you’re looking to fill roles that have closer (or nearly identical) counterparts to staff roles at other nonprofit organizations, it is typically a bit easier to find viable candidates from the general public. These more generalized roles might include a Volunteer Coordinator, a Marketing Director, an accountant, legal counsel, or even a Development Director.

Things get more complicated with roles that require either specialized knowledge, longer hours, or more rigorous experiences necessary to draw upon, such as Facilities Managers, Education & Outreach Directors, the Executive Team, or anyone associated with the care of animals, which are some of the most complicated roles to find the right organizational fit for.

Think About Your Dream Hire

Even for less complex roles that you may be looking to fill, it can still be a challenge to find the right fit for your organization! For instance, volunteer coordination requires a great deal of interpersonal skills, diplomacy, and a connection to your organization’s mission that can be gracefully communicated with gratitude to the public. A Facilities Manager might need both technical maintenance skills in addition to the ability to work around animal residents safely and managing a pool of volunteers to get projects done. An Outreach Director might require a great deal of research and project management skills, and the ability to confidently host workshops and events for different age groups. Each role will ultimately require a thoughtful analysis and explanation of what your sanctuary is looking for, and a conversation among your team about what you may be willing to be more flexible about.

Would your organization be willing to hire an individual with extensive recent experience working in an industrial agricultural operation, or having actively exploited species in the past that your organization cares for? What if they choose to consume animal products? It can be highly valuable if you’ve never hired a staff member before to think about qualities and experiences that you’d be comfortable embracing in a potential employee, and what you may be less comfortable with.

Hiring Care Staff At Animal Sanctuaries

Sanctuaries have reported that it’s particularly difficult to find the right folks for the care of their residents, both in the form of daily Caregivers, or Shelter Managers to help oversee the bigger picture of care operations. This is not particularly surprising, as being an animal caregiver is a highly demanding, knowledge intensive, and time consuming role. A resident Caregiver must do more than simply enjoy spending each day with animal residents; they must have significant dedication to the role, including working through the occasional tedium and emotional ups and downs associated with working with residents who might be unwell or on the mend. Hiring a Shelter Manager requires all of the above along with management capability and being able to advance care principles for residents organization-wide in the long term.

Sanctuaries have tried a number of approaches in finding animal care staff, and in looking for qualifications, have found it challenging to quantify what background would ultimately make a good Caregiver.

While some sanctuaries have sought individuals with a professional veterinary degree or veterinary technician background when hiring for caregiver positions, others have found that the daily caregiving responsibilities may not appeal to a veterinary professional looking to utilize their technical skills regularly (and additionally have found it difficult to meet the salary expectations for individuals with such education). It can be an additional challenge to retain folks with veterinary backgrounds if there’s a mismatch between expectations of how often they’ll be performing veterinary healthcare and the realities of relatively non-glamorous caregiving tasks that must be completed each day. This isn’t to say that those with veterinary backgrounds are poor fits for Caregiver roles; many have excelled at sanctuaries! However, a sanctuary looking to hire a vet tech to fill a Caregiver role should expect to have thorough dialogues about the position’s responsibilities and the organizations’ aims and policies in order to provide clarity of how the sanctuary may differ from a shelter or clinical environment.

Other sanctuaries have looked to folks with experience at dog and cat shelters, who may make up a more available candidate pool in one’s region, but these candidates may have a completely different set of expectations about long term animal care, since shelters have different long term care objectives than sanctuaries (typically related to adoption-centered policies).

Ultimately it seems like there’s no “right” set of backgrounds or experiences that make the ideal resident Caregiver; the ability for an individual to work with the residents with compassion and diligence, to learn new skills and perspectives, in addition to fitting comfortably in the culture of the organization, seem to be the best indicators of long term satisfaction for Caregivers.

Regardless of what kind of background a Caregiver may have coming to your organization, it’s important to follow certain principles in order to keep them engaged in their role! Read more on care staff retention tips here.

Where To Look For Job Candidates

Hiring From Within Your Community

Many sanctuaries opt to first hire individuals already working, volunteering, or interning for the organization. There is the obvious benefit of already knowing the individual fairly well, and knowing that they likely have a good working understanding of your sanctuary’s needs. Unfortunately, not all sanctuaries have the luxury of internship programs or robust volunteer pools, so this may not be a feasible way to hire the most qualified candidate for your organization. In addition, it’s important that if you’re hiring from a pool of interns, you respect the laws regarding internships (especially with regards to not guaranteeing any prospective interns that it will be a path to employment).

Hiring From Within The Wider Sanctuary Community

If you’re lucky, you may find a job candidate who has previous experience working at another animal sanctuary. Hiring someone with sanctuary experience can be tremendously valuable, as they likely have a good understanding of what they’re getting into and what will be expected of them. On the other hand, we would still recommend a thorough interview process and a dialogue to see their perspective on sanctuary work and culture. Often, two different sanctuaries are unlikely to do everything the same way, and what might have worked for an individual at one sanctuary may not in another. For this reason, a thorough discussion of some of your organization’s Philosophy of Care decisions should likely be a part of the interview process as you get closer to a final candidate.

Online Job Listings

Many sanctuaries have sought qualified candidates for all positions through online job postings. These can range in cost and reach, with some sites specializing more heavily in promoting certain jobs over others. For sanctuaries in more remote regions of the world, the internet might be the most effective tool available to reach the kind of candidates they may be seeking. Indeed is a commonly used site to find talent, especially when looking for those with specific experiences like nonprofit development or management.

For farmed animal sanctuaries, there are a few online job boards that might be particularly suited to finding qualified candidates, especially those interested in farmed animal care. Both Vegan Jobs and Vegan Mainstream have been utilized successfully by sanctuaries to fill many kinds of roles.

In addition to these resources, The Global Federation Of Animal Sanctuaries maintains a job listing page for animal organizations, though they require the posting sanctuaries to be accredited by GFAS standards. And certain regions of the world have online nonprofit job boards that your organization may be qualified to post on free of charge, though you may not get quite as targeted of a candidate pool as those looking on a more specialized online job listing site!

Your organization’s social media pages and website can be a good (and likely free!) place to mention that you’re seeking new hires, as you can greatly increase the audience of your inquiry, and you can easily send any interested folks your application.

Interviewing Job Candidates

For sanctuary hiring, much like hiring for other nonprofit organizations, having a structured interview process can be a highly valuable tactic for helping to determine if a candidate is a right fit. Some organizations have the interviewee shadow the department (if there is an existing department) that they are interested in joining to ensure that the candidate has a solid understanding of what their day will look like and to get to know who they might be working with. Interviews are also a good way to gauge the commitment of a candidate and ensure that they will culturally gel with the Founder and other members of the organization. Conducting multiple rounds of interviews with candidates is an excellent way to gauge the commitment of candidates, though it’s important to respect interviewee’s time and be clear if someone doesn’t seem to be the right fit earlier in the process if possible.

Checking The Fine Print

Once you’ve found the right candidate for your animal sanctuary, it’s best to offer a contract along with a job description, and ideally, an employment contract to help clearly define their job, expectations, and responsibilities. If your organization is incorporated in the United States and you are hiring an employee, don’t forget that you must now abide by OSHA, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and you mustn’t misclassify your employee on either the basis of exemption or independent contractor status! A lot goes into being a responsible, compliant employer!

We hope that you found some valuable hiring tips in this resource! Do you have tips you’d like to share with the global sanctuary community? Get in touch with us!

Updated on August 3, 2020

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