Strategic Plan for Foster Families During and After COVID-19
You did the hard work to get pets into foster homes quickly and nimbly during this emergency pandemic situation. But now what? What can you do to keep foster families engaged? How can you support and increase their success in finding adopters? What evolving phases can we plan for now? How do you safely and systematically bring in only those pets who need to return to your shelter, considering you may fill up in the meantime in response to COVID-19 demands?
We hope to answer all these questions in this document; provide ideas to find permanent homes for fostered pets; give you a game plan and structure for after the crisis (when some foster animals are brought back to your shelter); and hopefully share ways to keep the amazing foster volunteers you’ve gained through this experience engaged in your day-to-day operational needs.
Whether your group is a seasoned foster-based organization, or this is the first time you have put so many pets into community foster homes, fostering is temporary in nature. You still need to market these pets and find adopters, but you can now leverage the team of foster volunteers to help you!
The Best Friends Foster Training Playbook lays out key elements to a successful program and provides SOPs and documents to get you started.
Keeping open communication with foster families is essential to creating lasting, successful relationships. The following resources can help staff and foster families clearly understand the processes and roles they play:
- Key public messaging for staff to share with the community (American Pets Alive!)
- Communicating urgency without negativity in emergency fostering (Maddie’s Fund®)
- Outlining the adoption process for fosters (Kansas City Pet Project)
This section includes some creative ideas for keeping foster families connected to your work and with each other, including:
- Zoom meetings and virtual office hours
- #FosterUniversity FaceTime
- Email surveys asking how the dog or cat is doing in the home so you can update their profiles in your shelter or rescue database and adoption platform
You have trusted your community members to care for your organization’s pets and it is important to continue that trust. When placing a pet who is available for adoption into a foster home, make sure the family knows that the goal is finding an adopter.
- Maddie’s Fund has a comprehensive resource called Getting Pets Adopted Directly from Foster Homes
- Shifting Our Marketing Focus to Fosters
- Six Guidelines for Marketing Your Foster Pet
- Communications & Marketing Guide for Shelters, Amid COVID-19
- Animal Farm Foundation’s Best Practices for Marketing
- Marketing Is Not Adoption Counseling: Keep ‘Em Separate, Save More Lives
The actual steps you want foster volunteers to take in finding their foster pet an adopter may vary among organizations. The following are the pivotal interactions usually involved in adoption, adapted for COVID-19 measures, and suggestions for how to make them work:
- Adoption counseling or conversation
- Virtual meet-and-greet
- Next steps
- Finalize the paperwork. Consider using software like DocuSign to automate your entire agreement-signing process.
Here are some additional ideas for an adoption toolkit for foster volunteers:
- Give them your adoption philosophies in writing. Here is some information on open adoptions that they can read and follow.
- Provide information about Adoption Counseling and do’s and don’ts with potential adopters.
- Provide short articles covering basic topics and information to help anyone settle in a new pet successfully.
- Online versions of adoption forms or PDFs of your paper forms. Here are some examples of paper forms that you can give them: Cat. Dog. Dog.
- Give instructions on how to do virtual meet-and-greets. Here is a short video showing a real one in action and a quick how-to guide.
- Provide tips on marketing foster pets on social media. Here is a great form that Jacksonville Humane Society put together to hand out to their foster families, giving them many ways to help their foster pets find homes.
- Provide a resource like Tips and Tricks for Shooting Video of Adoptable Animals to foster families to help them take and post effective videos of their foster pet on social media
- Include information about this Maddie’s Fund course, which is one of the best tools out there on how to market foster pets. It uses a step-by-step format and you can jump to different areas you feel you want to learn about.
- You can use organizing programs like Trello to help you organize the animals in foster so the staff and volunteers can access and help the public with information. Here is an example from Lifeline; they have a Trello Board with all the foster dogs/cats.
Don’t forget to celebrate and share on social media the adoptions and fostering fun being had to show foster volunteers what they make possible! Here are some examples:
- Metro Animal Care and Control shares their foster families’ adventures and happily-ever-after stories daily on their Facebook page. Here’s one of many.
- Lifeline Animal Project has a #FosterUniversity.
- Palm Valley Animal Society is promoting what foster volunteers learn about their foster dogs.
- Lincoln County Animal Services shares the successes of their Love Is Blind Project here.
We do not know how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last or what the new “normal” will be, but this section lays out what to do when the crisis is winding down.
- Schedule adoption
- Adoption ambassador foster caregiver
- Need new foster home or need return
- Dealing with non-responsive foster homes
People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. This section includes some customer service tips
Every successful managed intake system brings in non-emergency animals when there is a place to put them. It is what some refer to as Shelter Math 101.
Here is a great webinar on managed intake that walks you through all elements of this type of program.
Create a spreadsheet to organize the information for your waiting list for pets returning to the shelter. The spreadsheet also can be utilized to continue your managed intake program.
Here is an example of what one might look like.