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5-month countdown to hosting a free clinic


This step-by-step checklist will help you give back to your community by hosting a free clinic for pets in need.

You compassionately care for paying clients every day. But what about pet owners who can't afford your services? A growing number need financial assistance for veterinary care. So I organized the Helping Hearts Clinic to offer free vaccinations and routine care at Ottawa Animal Hospital, in Holland, Mich., where I'm practice manager. If you see a similar need in your community, follow this checklist to hold your own free clinic. And click here to download five sample forms from my free clinic.

4 to 5 months before the anticipated date

> Pitch the idea to your practice owner. Focus on the boost to morale from giving back to pets, positive word-of-mouth marketing, and the chance to gain some loyal clients in the future when they're back on their feet.

> Hold a team meeting. Share the reasons for the clinic and the plan. Ask for volunteers and team member input, and choose the date. Also, name the event and lay out the ground rules. Be prepared to discuss the following details:

Client eligibility: You can take pet owners at their word, or you can set a maximum income level and verify income with documents. (You'll be responsible for the security of this personal information.)

Services: I suggest you provide regular wellness care, such as vaccinations, intestinal parasite tests, heartworm tests, nail trims, and feline leukemia tests.

Scheduling: Dedicate the date to the event. Don't take regular appointments.

Location: Your practice is the easiest.

Supplies: Make a list of everything you'll need, then contact vendors, suppliers, and pet stores to collect donations. Ask local businesses for such things as disposable cameras, bagels, and pizza for the staff and volunteers.

2 to 3 months before the event

> Advertise. You're offering a valuable service, so get the word out. Promote your event on your practice's website, Twitter, and Facebook. Distribute fliers to local businesses, send a press release to local media outlets, and be available for interviews on local TV and radio programs.

> Create forms. Write an application, volunteer registration form if you'll use non-staff volunteers, and liability release. Be ready to hand out applications at the reception desk when pet owners come in asking about the event. Ask your insurance agent or attorney to look over the application for legal issues. For sample forms, click here.

> Set up your appointment book. Expect applications to start coming in immediately, so get ready to assign specific appointment times to all applicants.

1 to 2 months before the event

> Verify applications and schedule appointments.

> Contact vendors who haven't responded to your request for donations.

> Itemize the donations you've received so you know what you still need.

> Follow up with team members who haven't volunteered. Be sure to ­include non-staff volunteers in pre-event meetings.

> Decide how to invoice the services. Even though they'll be free, you still need medical records. In your software, create new codes and enter pet owners as free-clinic clients.

> Create a list of job assignments. They may include assigning veterinarians and technicians to exam rooms, checking clients in and out, invoicing, cleaning exam rooms, taking photos, and distributing educational information.

> Ask volunteers to arrive one hour before the clinic. Clients started lining up outside our hospital 30 minutes before the free clinic opened.

Event day

> Set up the clinic. Put donated supplies in a makeshift pharmacy so team members can easily access them. Set up the night before; if you don't, ask volunteers to arrive two hours early.

Designate someone to take photos, meet with press, and keep the traffic flow going.

After the event

> Follow up to ensure medical notes are in records.

> Send thank-yous to vendors and volunteers who donated supplies and time.

> Recognize donors by listing them on your practice's website.

> Post photos of the final event in your practice waiting area, on your website, and on Facebook.

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