Good recordkeeping is crucial for the operation and growth of a rescue group. Having the ability to review what you have done in the past is the best way to make adjustments and plan where to concentrate your resources in the future. If you are not getting enough adopters or are receiving too many returns, perhaps it is time to change your adoption procedure and policies. Noticing a trend that you have a dip in intake in December but an overload in May? Start shifting your marketing efforts and promotions to get as many animals as possible adopted by April. Is that foster provider really trying to adopt out her charges or is this animal that is taking a year to place a particularly difficult case? Are you taking in more animals with severe medical issues than you realize? Is there a particular type of animal that you are having difficulty adopting out? Are there common reasons why people are returning pets? You will not have this valuable information without keeping good records. Moreover, keeping good records is crucial when applying for grants because funders want to know about your organization through data and demonstrated outcomes and grant reporting will also likely require this type of information.
What types of records should you keep? For the animals in your care, keep records of their name; microchip number; species; physical description (e.g., breed, color, identifying marks); age; gender; source; medical history including sterilization, rabies certificate and vaccine history; behavior issues; location within your organization; adoption applications and contracts; outcomes (e.g., fostered, adopted, returned); and a full body, side and close-up facial photograph. Monthly adoption reports will help you determine adoption trends as well as pinpoint why some animals are returned. Once you know why people are returning pets, it will be much easier to devise solutions to stop returns for common reasons.
Software will help you track the number of foster providers in your network along with the average length of time animals stay in foster care until they are adopted. You can also determine if you are taking in too many severe medical or behavioral cases, as well as the average amount spent per animal. All of these statistics can help you plan your fundraising efforts and convince your board when it is time to change course.
It is also important to maintain up-to-date records on your volunteers, foster providers and donors. Having current contact information on file will make communication quicker and easier when you want to send out a call-to-action such as finding a foster for an animal in need or asking people to attend a fundraiser. And keeping notes on which foster providers can handle specific types of medical or behavioral issues will make it that much easier to make good matches. It is also essential to keep track of your funds—where they are coming from and where they are going. This will help you plan your budget, as well as determine where you spend the majority of your funds and where you can cut costs.
You can find more information on data collection at shelteranimalscount.org. There are also many software programs available that will help you track the different types of data. Join the Rescue Central forum to ask other rescuers for advice on which software program might best fit your organization’s needs.