Can you use technology and innovation to increase your foster placement and gain more fosters? Absolutely. Just ask the team at the Arizona Humane Society (AHS), who applied for an Innovation Grant late last year. Their idea? To create a new online foster portal to help streamline their foster engagement as well as encourage more people to foster. Judging by the response from the public and the increase of foster placement by 53 percent from November to April – we’d say it worked!
“Thanks to the generous support of Maddie’s Fund last year, we surveyed our volunteers and used their feedback in order to upgrade our foster portal and improve the user experience,” explained Sharon Kinsella, Director of Volunteer Engagement at AHS. “During this time, we also decided to make our available foster pets viewable to the public in order to share with our community more about the lifesaving work we do rescuing sick, injured and abused pets through our Emergency Animal Medical Technician and Second Chance Animal Trauma Hospital programs. We hoped that by featuring our foster pets front and center we would inspire more people to become foster heroes.”
And that they did. “In recruiting new foster heroes, we found that a picture is worth a thousand words. People love how accessible the foster pets are and enjoy seeing all the information on the foster pet, including how long each pet will need to stay in a foster home in order to make a full recovery,”said Kinsella. “This helps potential foster parents determine if they feel that a pet is a good fit for them before they contact us.”
The new portal came at just the right time. AHS had recently launched a number of programs and initiatives that helped to keep pets in homes and prevent unwanted litters, contributing to a 57 percent decrease in their intake and an 84 percent decrease in their euthanasia rate – which allowed them to now focus on rescuing pets who desperately needed fostering.
“This transformation allowed us to focus more on rescuing and saving sick and injured pets across our community through our Emergency Animal Medical Technician Program and through our Second Chance Animal Trauma Hospital. Additionally, with the support of Maddie’s Fund and Petco Foundation we were also able to build a parvo puppy ICU, launch an intensive behavior modification program and a neonatal kitten program, allowing us to provide critical care for more pets who were often in need of additional foster support following treatment.”
Based on the influx of medical cases, Kinsella said they knew they needed to do something drastic to better support the needs of our current foster volunteers and “to better respond to our renewed focus on treating sick, injured and vulnerable homeless pets in our community.”
In addition to an online portal that features all foster pets and their information publicly, AHS also created convenient online training, making it easier for fosters to learn on their own time.
Before the online training option, interested fosters would attend a classroom-based foster orientation that we held several times a month. Those who would continue on to foster bottle-baby cases would be coached one-on-one by AHS medical staff.
Kinsella said that in some cases, they found they were losing potential new fosters due to work scheduling conflicts. “The new online foster orientation allows potential fosters to complete the orientation and training on their schedule, rather than ours. Additionally, the new online orientation is much more user-friendly and convenient for the general public. It also is very useful internally as it ensures that all of our staff and foster volunteers are caring for neonate kittens consistently, from one person to the next.”
Wondering how you might implement a new online foster portal of your own? Kinsella says it’s easy to do. “The online foster portal was integrated into our WordPress website. The online orientation and bottle baby training is a learning management platform through Tracorp. These were easy to implement, and we took extra care to ensure that information was tailored to an online, self-learning audience.” She also advises to consider working with an instructional or user experience designer to ensure that the portal is user friendly and effective in accomplishing what it was designed to do for all parties using it.
One final change was shifting their staff structure. “We specifically created a foster support technician position for a laser-focus on foster medical support and foster pet check-out and return, allowing our alternative placement team to focus more closely on their area of expertise: matchmaking.”
The results have been dramatic: between November 1, 2016 and April 30, 2017, AHS placed 2,015 animals into foster homes, compared to 1,314 during the same period last year. “We currently have 735 foster animals in foster homes, compared to our typical rate of 350 to 400!”