“How can we recruit more foster caregivers?” is a common question by organizations that want to save more lives. However, the real question they may be trying to answer is a little broader in scope: “How can we put more pets into foster care?”
When it comes to placing more pets in foster homes, recruitment is only one piece of the puzzle. Through “repurposing,” your organization can turn supporters into foster caregivers. “Recycling” the caregivers you have by getting foster pets adopted quickly can help keep compassion fatigue due to emotional attachment to a minimum while allowing experienced fosters to take on more pets. By doing all three at the same time, you’ll have the best opportunity to grow your foster program.
Recruiting new fosters can be done in a variety of ways. Here are just a few tried-and-true strategies:
Talk about foster care all the time. Aim to talk about foster care on social media in some way every day, similar to the way we talk about adoption, in order to familiarize your supporters with the concept and make it the norm in your community. We recommend recruiting all year round, not just as the need arises.
Target your messaging. Our market research on foster care tells us that most potential fosters don’t understand how fostering saves pets’ lives or helps them get adopted. Learning can motivate them to apply.
Tell stories about individual pets. Meeting pets in need of a foster provider can be a powerful tool for making an emotional connection between a pet and a potential foster. This connection can motivate them to act. Organizations that do this often find that they recruit more than one foster caregiver for many of the pets they post, enabling even more pets to be placed in foster care.
Send out a press release. Media coverage can be particularly effective in recruiting fosters. There are multiple foster-related angles you can highlight, such as the need for caregivers for a sudden influx of cats or giving viewers an “inside look” at fostering.
“If you’re not reaching out to local media, you’re missing out on potentially your greatest tool for foster recruitment,” says Rachel Jones, Adult D0g Foster Coordinator for Pima Animal Care Center, which put a whopping 5,000 pets into foster care in 2018. “We get new kitten fosters almost every day during the summer because of our media partnerships.”
Utilize word of mouth. One of the most effective ways to recruit new fosters is by word of mouth. Huddle up with your current foster caregivers and ask them to talk about your program whenever they have a chance. Send them text and photos they can post on social media sites such as NextDoor to help you recruit.
Make ‘foster fails’ into wins. Our market research shows that about 40% of foster caregivers adopt their foster pet at some point. Some may be able to continue fostering, but those who can’t may be open to writing a personal testimonial on social media about your organization’s need for new foster caregivers.
There are myriad other ways to recruit fosters. For more ideas, check out this webinar.
Repurposing those who already support your organization as fosters is a great way to grow your foster program. There are many ways to do this, including:
Make your volunteers into fosters automatically. Your volunteers are already trained to handle your pets in a shelter environment, where stress is higher than it is in the average home. Many volunteers already have emotional connections with the pets they’ve been walking or socializing. Making them into foster caregivers could greatly expand your foster program overnight.
Create a ‘found foster’ program. People who find stray pets often form emotional connections with them and care about their welfare. Giving them the tools to foster found pets themselves so they can be cared for in a home environment is a no-brainer.
Start a short-term foster program. Programs such as field trips and sleepovers lower the bar for entry to fostering, allowing more people to participate. Our research has shown that participating in short-term foster enables some folks to get comfortable with fostering for longer lengths of time as well, similar to the way we tend to dip a toe into the swimming pool before diving in.
Traditionally when a pet has gone into foster care, there’s a tendency for the organization to think that they’re “safe” and refocus their energy on marketing pets who are still in the shelter for adoption. Fostering one pet for over a year isn’t unheard of.
We’d like to propose a different strategy: marketing foster pets heavily for adoption in order to move them through foster homes more quickly. This can allow your organization to put more pets into foster with the caregivers you already have. It allows caregivers to gain experience with a greater number of pets, minimizes attachment and sends them a powerful message about how much you value their time.
To “recycle” your own fosters, set the expectation that assisting you with marketing foster pets is part of their job from the get-go. Ask them to provide marketing material (photos, videos, write-ups on outings the pet has been on, etc.) at least every 7-10 days and use it to market their foster pet on social media. If a caregiver is hesitant to help with marketing, match them up with a volunteer who can take great pictures or help with marketing and point them toward resources for learning.
Recruit, repurpose, recycle. Using all three of these strategies concurrently will allow you to put more pets into foster care and, ultimately, save more lives.