Getting the Most from Your Dogged Volunteer Work

John Lipp is president of Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) in San Francisco, and works with more than 500 active volunteers to fulfill the agencys...


John Lipp is president of Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) in San Francisco, and works with more than 500 active volunteers to fulfill the agencys mission and ensure that low-income, disabled and senior people are never separated from the unconditional love of their pets. He’s also the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Recruiting and Managing Volunteers (2009 Alpha/Penguin Books). In other words, he knows all about the world of volunteers, and knows what it takes for volunteers to be happy. Since Dogster is rife with wonderful people who volunteer their time on behalf of animals, I asked John, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working over the years, to write a guest post on how dog lovers can get the most from their volunteer experiences. And here he is now! Enjoy!

Maria Goodavage


Getting the Most From Your Volunteer Experiences

By John Lipp

Dog owners are pretty terrific people. Most pick up the poop, work hard to have good canine citizens, and are usually very generous donors and volunteers for the many nonprofit groups that work tirelessly for animal welfare. Hanging with these people at the dog park, I hear a wide variety of opinions about what its like to volunteer, ranging from best thing I ever did to what a horrible waste of time. This got me to wondering why some people had a better experience volunteering than others and, more important, how much of that was due to their own initiative. So while most of my work over the past 24 years has been dedicated to what organizations need to do to support and nurture their volunteer programs, this blog is devoted to things volunteers can do themselves to get the most out of their experience.

1. The Right Fit

Organizations spend a lot of time and resources screening volunteers to make sure they get the right person to the right job. Yet with all of these screening tools, the only person who truly knows if its the right fit is the volunteer her/himself. If something isnt working for you, be honest with your supervisor and explore if the job can be modified, if there might be another opportunity in the organization, or maybe another organization may be a better fit. There are thousands and thousands of great opportunities for volunteers out there; the volunteers who are happiest are the ones who take the time to find that right position.

2. Be Proactive

Let your supervisor know what it is you want to achieve from your volunteer experience and periodically assess if your goals are being met. Along the way dont be afraid to speak up (in a nice way, of course!) and share your ideas for making things better. Even if your suggestions cant be implemented, making yourself heard is a powerful way to build a deeper relationship with your co-workers and the organization you care so deeply about.

3. Understand the Big Picture

Make a commitment to learn about all aspects of the organization you work for so that you understand how your service as a volunteer fits into the big picture. You may discover other volunteer opportunities within the organization and, at the very least, will have an increased appreciation for all the moving parts that go into delivering services.

4. Be an Advocate

As a volunteer, you have a lot of knowledge and understanding about important issues impacting the community. Whether you help recruit new volunteers, collect donations, or just open up a few minds, embrace your inner advocate and share your passion and knowledge with others. At the end of the day, there is nothing more motivating that sharing your experience with another person and seeing your own passion reflected in their face.

5. Acknowledge your Coworkers

Take time to get to know your coworkers (paid staff, other volunteers, and your supervisor) and pay attention to what makes them unique and effective. When they least expect it, let them know how much you appreciate them. As Mark Twain said, The happy phrasing of a compliment is one of the rarest of human gifts and the happy delivery of it another.

6. Find the Balance

As much as you love you volunteer work and the difference you are making, part of what makes you successful is your ability to find balance in your life, keep things in perspective, and keep all the parts in harmony. Acknowledge your limitations we cant be everything to everybody! and know how much time you can realistically give as a volunteer. The happiest volunteers measure their success in the quality of the time they donate, not the quantity.

7. Know when to Leave

Volunteering for an organization is a journey of discovery and, like all journeys, there is often an ending. Whether your volunteer tenure with an organization is a couple of years or a couple of decades, there will come a time when that inner voice that tells you youve given all you can give and that its time to start a new journey. When this happens, work closely with your organization to prepare an exit plan that ensures your important work will continue and that other volunteers are in place, ready to fight the good fight. And, of course, just because you no longer volunteer for an organization, doesnt mean you have to stop being an advocate. (See #4 above!)

Follow John on Twitter at and receive Volunteer Recognition tips and other great ideas for your volunteer program. He can be reached at

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