Hilary Hager is the director of the Volunteer Center, a new initiative at The Humane Society of the United States and shares her perspective on volunteering. Hager spoke with us in Washington, D.C., where she lives with her two rescue dogs, Stella and Kellan. Her four rescue kitties, Cheddar, Hambone, Triscuit, and Sunshine, remain with her husband in her home in Washington state.
Q: What types of volunteer opportunities do you have at The HSUS?
A. We have people who help animals in disasters, people who provide information and referrals to pet owners, and people who do community education and outreach. We have volunteers at our six animal care centers helping to rehabilitate wildlife and care for sanctuary animals. We also have grassroots activists who operate as a network, responding to action alerts and writing letters, and visiting their state capitols on Humane Lobby Day.
The National Volunteer Center allows us to have a central touch point for people looking to engage in the work of The HSUS. The Center also serves as a resource for the coordinators of these programs.
Q: What would you say to someone who just doesn't think they have the time?
A. It is important for people to identify how much time they have available before they make the commitment to volunteer, and they need to make sure it's a good match. Thinking about what you want from your experience and what you're hoping to achieve is essential.
When people go into a job interview, they go in with a list of requirements that they want-the hours they will work, time off, salary, things like that. Too many times, when people are making a commitment to volunteer, they aren't really thinking about what they want from the experience, and get frustrated when it turns out the opportunity isn't able to offer them what they hoped to gain.
Q: What skills are needed for volunteers?
A. That's where it is great working at an organization of the size and scope of The HSUS. We have opportunities for a range of talents and skills. It's just a matter of finding the right way for a given person to plug into the work we do for animals.
I also want people to realize that even if there are no volunteer opportunities at The HSUS that are a good fit, there are meaningful ways to get involved in their own communities; they just have to find the right fit for them. The local listings on VolunteerMatch.org offer more opportunities.
Q: What do people tell you about their experiences as volunteers?
A. We are a part of an incredible community of people who love animals, and there are all kinds of ways to help-not just with dogs, cats, and other companion animals, but with farm animals and wildlife as well. When we're able to connect people with work they find meaningful, people feel grateful. Taking action on any scale feels important and is gratifying. We want to be of service-it's human nature. There is a profound sense of satisfaction in making a difference in an animal's life.
Q: How did you get involved with animal issues?
A. After serving in the Peace Corps in Mongolia, I came to volunteer management at an agency that serves the blind. Then, I had the opportunity to manage volunteers at animal shelters in Washington state, and felt it was a perfect blend of my love for animals and my love of volunteer management. I started teaching classes in volunteer management for Humane Society University in 2005.
In addition to managing volunteer programs, I've been a volunteer myself, both on the board of directors for a chimpanzee sanctuary and as a wildlife rehabilitator. I feel strongly that it's important to be a part of the solution, and volunteering allows me-and others-to act on my values and beliefs, and I love it.
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For more information, please visit humanesociety.org/volunteer.