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    The Value Of Staff Cross-Training At Your Animal Sanctuary

    Many sharp colored pencils arranged in a circle.
    Sharpening each others’ skills can make for a stronger, more sustainable animal sanctuary!

    This resource has been fully reviewed and updated by a member of The Open Sanctuary Project team as of July 11, 2022.

    Growing Pains

    If your animal sanctuary relies upon a team of employees or volunteers to get everything done within narrowly-defined roles, the threat of an essential team member becoming unable or unwilling to continue their duties can become a significant organizational concern. If a role is largely insulated from most of your staff’s daily operations, it can be difficult for existing staff to know how to cover that position’s essential tasks or effectively train a new hire to take over if necessary. Most troublingly, in the event of time-sensitive crises or emergencies, a staff that is missing training in critical roles, techniques, or resident needs can lead to devastating outcomes. Cross-training personnel is one solution to this organizational challenge.

    The Benefits Of Cross-Training

    Developing and implementing a cross-training policy at your sanctuary means that certain staff members can have the ability to take on different roles to a limited extent should the need or inclination arise. Not only can this flexibility be extremely valuable in times of emergency or limited staffing, but it can also be an enriching experience for staff to learn new things, as well as to better understand and appreciate what everyone does in the course of a day!

    Cross-training can provide new perspectives to help solve challenges at your organization, and can lead to more efficient processes sanctuary-wide. It can also help keep longtime staff members from feeling stagnant at their position in the sanctuary, or provide necessary relief if a staff member may be suffering from burnout, which can help keep personnel turnover at bay. Cross-training is also an important tool in effective sanctuary contingency planning, helping to identify key alternate leadership contacts should they become necessary.

    What Roles Could Be Cross-Trained At An Animal Sanctuary?

    As long as individuals are enthusiastic to learn, mindful of sensitive data and techniques, and are aware of the limitations of what they’re learning, cross-training can be implemented in many roles sanctuary-wide. Here are a few roles that may make sense for cross-training at your sanctuary:

    Resident Care

    It can be highly useful for people outside of the care staff to know the basics of caring for and safely being around the residents at an animal sanctuary. There could be many occasions where more hands are needed with the residents, such as changing herd configurations or relocating individuals to new living spaces or pastures. Maybe your care staff is preoccupied with residents in quarantine and could use a hand getting everyone else fed and cared for. Maybe multiple members of your care staff have fallen ill and it’s necessary to focus all resources on care until your staff heals. Although it’s not expected or realistic for everyone on staff to learn everything about resident care, having the basics trained to non-care staff can provide significant relief when needed. In addition, cross-training with residents can provide an opportunity for staff who may not see the residents every day to reconnect and reaffirm their connection to the sanctuary’s mission, as well as understanding the daily challenges that the sanctuary care staff must contend with.

    Property Maintenance

    If your organization only has one or a few people dedicated to maintaining your sanctuary’s property, cross-training can be very helpful for safe and effective rapid repairs in the event that a caretaker is not available during a time-sensitive issue. Personnel can be safely trained on basic techniques such as fence mending, the use of tools and machinery, the location and function of emergency shut-offs for water supplies and electrical connections, and other critical components of what makes your sanctuary safely operate each day.

    Volunteer Engagement

    If one person is in charge of maintaining the bulk of your organization’s volunteer relationships and communications, losing that person can mean significant challenges in keeping your volunteer program going smoothly. It can be highly valuable to cross-train staff members on what your volunteer coordinator does in the course of their day, how they maintain and log communication with volunteers, and how they express gratitude to those donating their time and resources to your mission! This knowledge can also be valuable in ensuring that all personnel understands the high value of volunteers to your organization.

    Education And Outreach

    Many sanctuaries have robust outreach programs for the public to help spread their compassionate mission and attract more support. If one person is dedicated to planning educational outreach events and running them, it can be valuable for additional team members to understand the basics of what they do, how they organize events, and what has been successful in getting the word out and attracting visitors. This can be valuable leading up to larger scale events where the outreach coordinator might need more assistance to ensure everything goes off without a hitch! If someone manages educational programs at your sanctuary, such as tours, it can be valuable for others to see how tours are organized and run in case tour guides are unavailable on a critical tour day.

    Media And Marketing

    Getting your animal sanctuary’s messaging out to the public is a crucial task, especially in times when asking for financial support when a new resident arrives or an unexpected expense arises. In the fast-paced world of online media, it can be a difficult task for a single marketing coordinator to always have fresh, interesting content for supporters to share to the broader community. Cross-training staff on your sanctuary’s marketing and storytelling techniques as well as identifying what staff could contribute as interesting or compelling ideas means that you have more opportunities to help share your message and your resident’s stories.


    If your sanctuary has a dedicated development director, it can be valuable for others to receive cross-training in the basics of what they do. Things such as annual fundraising plans, tactics used to solicit giving, and stewardship techniques for existing donor relations could be shared. This can lead to more productive fundraising brainstorming and the maintenance of critical relationships if the fundraiser were to become unavailable.

    Private Eyes

    Fundraising cross-training should always be treated with great sensitivity to ensure that private donor information is respected! It would be highly damaging to a sanctuary if a giver’s details were to be incidentally shared against their wishes.

    How To Cross-Train Roles

    The most important aspects of a cross-training policy are a shared understanding of why cross-training is being undertaken, and a time commitment to actually doing the cross-training.

    Sanctuary staff should be made aware that cross-training is being encouraged not because any role is being minimized or replaced, but as a means of sharing more collective organizational knowledge and creating more sustainable staff flexibility.

    Each individual team member should make the decision of which skills would be most valuable and effectively cross-trained, as they will have the best idea of what could be reasonably handled by someone else on the team in a pinch!

    Cross-training can be accomplished by a number of methods, depending on individuals’ schedules and the time availability to train people while getting daily tasks accomplished. Some different cross-training options include:

    • Staff pairing off and teaching each other the basics of what they get done in a day, trading off shadowing for a full day and allowing ample time for questions and hands-on training
    • Personnel giving a group presentation on the essentials of what they do and how they do it, with hands-on training or visual aids
    • Personnel scheduling a demonstration every month or so on a technique they’ve mastered that might be valuable for other team members to know about
    • Personnel having “swap days” (on a less busy day!) where they perform some tasks of another team member with appropriate supervision to ensure that the cross-training has been effective

    Ultimately, there’s no wrong way to cross-train roles, as long as everyone involved feels comfortable and they think the training is an enriching, useful experience, and no sanctuary tasks suffer in the meantime!

    When Cross-Training May Not Be Appropriate

    Cross-training does not mean everyone needs to learn how to do everything; there are many specialized role requirements at animal sanctuaries, some of which require years of training, and it is impractical to try to teach all of the nuances of one’s position to another.

    Generally, cross-training should be something exciting and compelling for staff; if anyone feels like they truly should not be doing a certain task, nobody should ever feel pressured to cross-train for that position. Everyone has their own strengths, weaknesses, and preferences that should be respected!


    Learn About Cross-Training Employees | The Balance Careers

    Protect Your Nonprofit By Cross-Training Staff | AAF CPAs

    15 Tips To Launch A Cross Training Program | The Uncommon League

    Cross Training: It’s Vital To Your Nonprofit’s Success | Welter Consulting

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