In Part One of this blog series, we looked at why animal rescue involves so many personal conflicts. We also addressed the use of active listening to make critics feel heard, defusing potentially explosive problems. Today, we’ll look at two common dilemmas that occur when conflict rears its ugly head in animal shelters and rescues. First, when is it time for an organization to separate itself from a supporter who creates toxic situations within the group? Secondly, when should a rescue respond publicly to smears and rumors?
When Do You “Fire” A Volunteer?
Organizations dependent on volunteers must by necessity tolerate behavior that would be unacceptable coming from a paid employee. If a volunteer is sometimes later or rude, it’s still best in most circumstances to let it go and be thankful that the organization has volunteers at all, even somewhat unreliable ones. However, at a certain point, a line in the sand must be drawn. Some people become so destructive within an animal rescue organization that the only remaining choice is to separate that person from the group.
If an individual volunteer or supporter is chasing away numerous other potential volunteers or supporters with their behavior, the organization must step in. Making an effort to hear the angry person’s concerns (as discussed in Part One) can sometimes reduce or eliminate hostility. Once a good-faith attempt has been made at calming an angry former supporter, if the alienation of other potential supporters continues, the only remaining choice is to terminate the group’s relationship with the angry, toxic person.
This message should be delivered in person by a panel of decision-makers within the organization so as to present a united front. If the individual being dimissed from her volunteer involvement seems unstable or violent, police should also be present. In the worst case scenario, a restraining order may be necessary to prevent an angry former supporter from harming the organization or animals in its care.
Responding Publicly to Criticism
In the Internet age, gossip spreads even more quickly than it once did. Critics of rescue groups often take to Craigslist, Epinions and o ther websites to voice their grievances. Many organizations simply try to shrug it off, but sometimes a public response to public criticisms is necessary.
If a particular rumor or accusation has begun to spread and seems to be reaching individuals who otherwise might support the rescue, a statement should be made, the sooner the better. A single individual should make this statement, with others present for emotional support. A public response should be issued in a such a way as to reach the group’s core supporters, who will spread the message further, as well as the individuals potentially swayed by rumors.
Address each rumor directly, refute them and finish by emphasizing a strong future for the organization and apologizing for any time wasted by rumors and interpersonal conflicts that have spilled into volunteers’ lives outside the group. When people feel as if their favorite non-profit organization is communicating openly and honestly, drama disappears as quickly as it arrived.