Animal rescue fundraising seems like it should be easy, doesn’t it? You just show some cute pictures of kittens and puppies and the public is sure to donate, right?
It’s true that animal rescues have good fodder for fundraising. But it’s certainly not easy. In fact, there are some pretty huge challenges in animal rescue fundraising. It can be a tightrope act of balancing different messages. You need the public to see some of the sadder cases you deal with, but you don’t want to make them too sad. You have a responsibility to show the reality of pet overpopulation, while also making adopting a rescue pet look like an attractive option. And, in most cases, you’re fundraising on a shoestring budget and your only staff members are volunteers.
At Mightycause, we know the challenges of animal rescue fundraising because our staff comes from a nonprofit background. And we’ve worked in many different sectors, including animal welfare and rescue. These 10 tips will help your animal rescue fundraise better, fundraise smarter, and have a bigger impact.
1. Develop your messaging
It’s easy to get lost in the weeds with animal rescue fundraising. After all, most animal rescues address a lot of issues. From pet overpopulation, to puppy mills and community cats, to abuse and neglect, to housing issues, to affordable veterinary care and spay/neuter services … it can feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. And it’s tempting to want to talk about all of the things you see and do and want to change.
That’s exactly why it’s so important to plan ahead and develop a communications plan to support your animal rescue fundraising.
Get down to the root
The first step to effective nonprofit messaging is understanding what you want to say. And, of course, there’s a lot you want to say! But it’s easy to veer off-message when you lose sight of your core values. That’s why you need to pare these issues into something simpler. You need to focus on your why. And that’s what your supporters will connect to as well. People choose to donate with their hearts instead of their heads, and they tend to choose charities based on how well their values match their own. That’s where key messages will support your animal rescue fundraising efforts. .
What’s a key message?
Simply put, key messages are your values as a nonprofit. They are your why. Key messages are ideas, values and beliefs you inject into all of your communications. They are the roots from which all of your programs and efforts branch out. Key messages help ground things people may not understand (say, breed-specific housing policies that result in displaced pets) in things they can easily understand (the belief that all pets deserve a home).
Why do they work?
They help people emotionally connect to the work your animal rescue does. They cut through all the jargon and inside baseball talk, and bring your communications back to the values at the center of what you do. The truth is, people don’t care as much about what you do as why you do it.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to dumb down your communications. You’re just re-centering your communications on your why. In animal rescue fundraising, this is so vitally important because people need to grasp and support your why to be driven to contribute. And, when you’ve got that connection, you can move people into supporting specific programs, initiatives and build an army of advocates. Your key messages are bells you ring over and over again. They make your message sticky, whether you’re talking about adoption or spay/neuter or even a specific ordinance in your town.
And, most importantly, they keep your communications focused. With a focused message, you don’t lose people along the way.
Communications planning made easy
At Mightycause, we’ve devised a seven-step communications planning process that will help you find the messaging that works and keep you on track. Read more about the process and download the worksheet to get started!
2. Position your animal rescue as a place of hope
This is the trickiest thing about animal rescue fundraising. You want to pull at people’s heartstrings and share those tough cases with them. Not only do they get a big response and move people to donate, they help drive home the idea that your work is important and saves lives. But here’s where it gets tricky. Those tough cases that inspire people to donate can also keep them away from adopting a pet from your rescue.
That’s because the idea that rescue pets are all from terrible situations is pervasive. According to the ASPCA, only about 27% of dogs and 31% of cats are adopted from shelters or rescues while approximately 1.5 million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters each year. The trope of the hard-luck dog or cat who has been abused and neglected and then brought to a shelter or rescue is a tale as old as time. But, as you know, most animals in shelters and rescues end up there through no fault of their own. (The most common reasons? Moving and landlords saying “no pets.”) And they’re perfectly normal animals that make wonderful pets. But the story many animal rescues weave for themselves can often bring in donation dollars while keeping away potential adopters who fear finding only frail, traumatized pets at shelters.
So, how do you find the balance between an effective fundraising message and portraying a positive message about your animal rescue?
Focus on second chances
If your animal rescue fundraising is to help in a hoarding or abuse situation, or for the medical costs of an animal who has experienced trauma, position your rescue as a place of hope. You can tell a sad story … with your rescue as the happy ending.
While transparency and honesty is wonderful, be careful with the language you use, the photos and videos you share to tell the story of a tough case. Tough-to-read descriptions of animals in pain and shaking in fear can help reinforce harmful stereotypes about rescue animals. Instead, try focusing on the animal’s personality and perseverance. Discuss your work with this animal to gain their trust, treat their wounds, make them feel safe, and most importantly, find a home.
For an example of this at work, look at Mightycause users Homeward Trails Animal Rescue’s fundraising efforts for a dog named Huggles. Huggles suffered horrific abuse, and Homeward Trails managed to share this awful story in a way that reinforced that Huggles was a sweet, normal dog, inspired people to help and focused on their rescue as a place of hope.
Close the loop
Homeward Trails’ post about Huggles got local media attention and raised more than double their goal. Huggles’ care was paid for, and then some. The Facebook post above went viral, getting nearly 250 shares. Support for Huggles was enormous. And then Homeward Trails made a point of keeping their supporters updated about Huggles. They closed the loop by notifying everyone that not only had Huggles recovered, she found a loving new home.
Because they were sure to update their followers on Huggles’ recovery and eventual adoption, they gave closure to the donors who were heartbroken by her story. They turned one of the most tragic fundraisers we’ve ever seen at Mightycause into a perfect example of how to fundraise for tough cases without losing sight of their mission and messaging.
3. Utilize volunteers to support your animal rescue fundraising
Animal rescues are often volunteer-run operations, or if you’re lucky, you might have a few full-time staff members. But while animal rescues are usually quick to rally foster or transport volunteers, and often have no problem finding volunteers to help out at adoption events, they can be afraid to ask for volunteers to help with fundraising. Whether it’s because running a fundraising campaign isn’t what most people have in mind when they volunteer for an animal rescue, or a desire to keep fundraising inside a trusted inner circle, animal rescues usually under-utilize their volunteer base in their fundraising efforts.
But your rescue can often find lots of fundraising help from skilled volunteers. A skilled volunteer photographer can be a game-changer for both adoptions and fundraising. And both professional photographers and hobbyists are more than willing to help animal rescues. You might have skilled digital marketing professionals in your volunteer base, or web designers, or photo editors. You may even have professional fundraisers in your volunteer base! (How do we know? Most of Mightycause’s employees are also nonprofit volunteers!) You might be able to connect with experienced business men and women who can help you put together a solid business or marketing plan.
So when you’re facing down a funding crisis, or gearing up for a fundraiser, ask your volunteers for help! And now, Mightycause has made finding volunteer help even easier with our new Calls to Action tool. You can post volunteer opportunities on your Mightycause page with a Premium subscription. And, as always, you can turn to social media, email appeals and networking with your volunteers to find the help you need. You don’t need to be a social media manager and fundraising expert and email marketing guru any more than you need to personally provide a home to every animal that comes to your rescue. Ask for help!
4. Develop a fundraising plan
In animal rescue fundraising, it’s hard to avoid being reactionary. The work itself is reactionary. You get a call or an email with a request to help, or find an animal in need in your community, and leap into action. You take in a dog who has been hit by a car, or a cat in need of specialized veterinary care, and you take to Mightycause to fundraise.
But animal rescue fundraising doesn’t need to be reactionary – at least not all the time. A fundraising plan can keep the till full year-round so you spend less time frantically fundraising and more time focusing on the work of saving lives.
Develop a plan for engaging donors
There is never any point where a nonprofit can just stop focusing on fundraising. Fundraising is an ongoing process. And, sorry to say, it’ll never end. At best, you will get better at it, it will become easier, and you will have more sustaining supporters to count on as you grow. But none of that can happen unless you have a solid plan for keeping people engaged in your rescue after they make their first donation.
Donor retention basics
The whole nonprofit sector has a donor retention problem, not just animal rescues. And a huge part of that is the focus on donor acquisition (that is, the process of picking up new donors) as opposed to donor retention (which is just keeping the donors you already have). Less than half of nonprofits get donors to come back to make another donation.
But donor retention is often as simple as saying thank you. Little things go a long way: Picking up the phone and calling donors. Taking the time to send a personalized, handwritten thank you card. Sending new donors a welcome packet, or welcome series of emails. Making a point of inviting donors to events, so you can get to know them face-to-face. Donor retention is all about relationship-building. And, yes, it does take time and effort. But it’s so worth the time investment because when you work on building relationships, people will be there to support your rescue time and again.
Check out the Mightycause Guide to Donor Engagement and Retention for great tips that will help you develop your donor retention plan.
A follow-up plan should be created for every campaign, every even and you should have a standing plan to follow-up year-round. Don’t let a warm donor become frigid because you got too busy to follow up!
Aim to diversify your funding sources
When you’re first starting out, you may look to one funding source to stay in operation. For instance, grant funding is a great way to start and run a specific program. Or, perhaps you’re comfortable with crowdfunding and rely on that to bring in funds. But in order to survive and grow, you’ll need a diverse fundraising plan. There’s no “one trick” to staying funded as a rescue. The only foolproof way to fundraise is explore different funding sources and avoid leaning too heavily on one method.
So, when creating your fundraising plan, consider all of your options! From major gift donors, grants, events, crowdfunding, in-kind donations … create a plan that incorporates it all.
5. Invest in the right tools … and be resourceful
It may run contrary to popular sentiment, but the key to running a successful animal rescue is running it like a business. A compassionate, mission-driven business. But, still, a business. If you’re feeling a bit squeamish thinking about spending donor money on fundraising tools, watch Dan Palotta’s TED Talk, “The way we think about charity is dead wrong,” for a little pep talk. It’s important to invest in your animal rescue’s fundraising efforts. Because without investing where it counts, you can’t grow. And if you can’t grow, you’ll ultimately help fewer animals.
Animal rescue fundraising on Mightycause
Mightycause is proud to serve animal rescues from all across the country. In fact, “animals” is one of our biggest categories on Mightycause. And we’ve designed our product to offer affordable fundraising options at all stages in your rescue’s growth.
- Free: This is the Mightycause you know and love. You get access to your nonprofit’s page, back-office management tools, basic donor tracking to help you build up your list, and the ability to create fundraisers and teams for your rescue. There’s no upfront cost to use Mightycause, and several options for paying platform fees based on what works best for your rescue. And, as a bonus, we manage issuing tax receipts to your donors.
- Premium Plus: As your rescue grows, you will likely need access to more powerful fundraising tools. And that’s what Mightycause Premium Plus gives you access to. For $99 per month, you’ll get priority customer support, advanced analytics, essential CRM tools, branded donation pages, volunteer management, and more. And best of all, a subscription frees your rescue from platform fees.
- Premium Pro: This is the most affordable and powerful fundraising software on the market. With a Premium Pro subscription, you get access to all of the tools available to Premium Plus subscribers, plus advanced CRM tools, email messaging, a custom subdomain, advanced white label controls, enhanced branding, and more.
- Premium Enterprise: This is the Cadillac of Mightycause plans for nonprofits hitting their stride. With this plan, you get all the benefits of Premium Pro, plus a dedicated project manager, domain masking custom events, and more.
So, Mightycause is designed to help you grow and accompany your animal rescue as you get bigger, do more, and reach more people. Contact us to find a plan that fits your goals, needs and budget!
Find free tools to help fill the gaps
The great thing about the internet is that a lot of the tools you had to pay for in the past are now free. While you can still work with a Photoshop expert volunteer for key images and graphics for your Mightycause page and website, you can also utilize programs like Canva and GIMP to get the job done quickly, at no cost. There are also countless free photo editing apps you can download that will help you clean up those priceless images you have of animals in your care on your phone. You can utilize YouTube’s video editor (which is free for all users) to start creating slick, high-impact videos to share.
Using Google’s suite of tools (Docs, Sheets, Drive, Keep, etc.) can also keep your operating costs lower.
There are some tools (like donor management software) you’re probably going to need to bite the bullet and pay for. But you can maximize your cost-effectiveness and efficiency by making the most of the free tools you have available to you online.
6. Embrace social media
One thing animal rescue groups must to do grow and reach more people is get good at using social media. When you don’t have the budget for direct mail marketing, or a full staff of fundraisers, social media can be a godsend that helps you connect with your supporters. And we won’t lie, social media (particularly Facebook) has gotten trickier to navigate as an organization, and you’re competing for attention in a very crowded place. But it’s one of the best ways to build your brand, share your message, connect with people in your community who love animals, and mobilize your supporters.
Promote your social media accounts
Social media is not the field of dreams. If you build a Facebook page, there’s no guarantee that people will come. So that’s why you need to invite them! Have a social media sign-up sheet at your events, include links to your social media at the bottom of your emails, connect your social media accounts to your Mightycause page, make sure your social media is linked on your website. Social media follows are something you can promote nearly everywhere your rescue group interacts with people. And it’s an easy “ask” — it’s not a donation, a time commitment, but can be a great gateway into greater involvement in your rescue. And don’t forget to promote your social media accounts to adopters, too!
Post often, post with love, cultivate your community
Creating social media accounts and getting some followers isn’t enough. You’ll need to post often, and keep your followers engaged. Thankfully, animal rescues have great content all around them — the animals you help! Post pictures, let your followers get to know the animals you help, celebrate adoptions, let them get to know your key staff and volunteers, and get them involved in the story of your rescue. Even a video of a neonatal kitten in a foster home, or pictures of one of your dogs enjoying an afternoon walk, or an update with a picture and story from one of your adopters, can get people emotionally involved and invested in your work. You should aim to post at least 3-4 times per week.
And make sure to interact with your followers. Respond to comments and questions! Retweet people tweeting pictures of an animal adopted from your rescue! Get involved in conversations! Build relationships! It’s not just busy work — it’s cultivating your community of supporters.
Pull back the curtain
Animal rescue is a world that can seem very mysterious to people outside of it. It doesn’t help that sometimes animal shelters and rescues have woven that shroud of secrecy themselves. Transparency is important to building trust with people in your community, and building support. Social media can be a great way to show your community, and your followers, what running an animal rescue is all about.
Pull back the curtain! Show them the reality: it’s a job with lots of highs and lots of lows. You sometimes get to cuddle puppies and kittens, and you also have to deal with some tough cases. You also probably have lots of laundry and dishes and cleaning to contend with. Believe it or not, your job is fascinating to the average person. So show the truth! Be real, be authentic, and you will not only produce great content but you’ll build trust.
7. Find your animal rescue fundraising niche
As we talked about with messaging, its easy to get lost in the weeds. You do a lot! And it can be hard to answer a simple question like, “What does your animal rescue do?” But there are a lot of animal rescues, so it’s important to be able to differentiate yourself.
“What do you do?”
So, most animal rescues do some basic things: they help animals and conduct adoptions. But when it comes to animal rescue, there are countless ways you help animals. You might run a breed-specific rescue (like Save-A-Bull on Mightycause), focus on transport (like Homeward Trails Animal Rescue), help community cats, provide behavior help for pet owners, focus on small animals like guinea pigs and gerbils … Really, “animal rescue” is a phrase that encompasses a lot!
Paring down the question of what you do and what problems you solve helps supporters wrap their heads around your work. This not only helps you build your rescue’s brand, but it helps you fundraise better.
8. Become a presence in your community
Animal rescue fundraising can be done online, but it is community-oriented work at its core. You’re helping animals in your community, connecting people to pets in their community, and trying to make your community a better place for animals. So, naturally, it’s important to actually get out and mingle in your community!
Form community partnerships
Having allies in your community is essential. Whether you’re partnering with a like-minded business, hosting adoption events at a local pet supply store, or partnering with a local shelter, those relationships can help you further your mission and amplify your message. You might think, “Oh no, I hate networking!” But you’ll be finding like-minded people and businesses, and talking about stuff you love and know a lot about (animals), so don’t be afraid to network!
When you’re first getting established as an animal rescue, try setting up meetings, dropping by businesses to say hello, and showing up to community events. Sending emails and making calls can help you get the ball rolling, and checking in periodically, scheduling meetings, and inviting your partners to events will help build the relationship. Down the line, some of these partners may even be able to help you out by becoming major gift donors, setting up philanthropic partnerships, or sitting on your board of directors.
Show up for community events
One of the most common questions we get from fledgling nonprofits is, “How do I get people to support my nonprofit?” Well, community events are a great way to spread the word and have valuable in-person contact with your community! Check out your local events calendar. Reserving booth space at a farmer’s market, attending town hall meetings, joining community festivals, and so on can help familiarize people in the community with your animal rescue.
Focus on collaboration
Mightycause was founded on the idea of collaborative impact, and we’re big fans of the idea that working together can create bigger change. Look for ways to partner up with other nonprofits in your community! For instance, one of the most common reasons pets are brought to shelters is because of landlord conflicts. Imagine how much good you could do by signing up to act as a pet retention resource with a local housing advocacy group! Or, if your rescue focuses primarily on dogs, why not join forces with a cat rescue doing great work in your community? Develop positive relationships with local animal shelters so you can work together to help more animals. Working with other local nonprofits can help you reach more people, and help even more animals!
9. Keep tabs on other animal rescues
One of the best things you can do to improve your animal rescue fundraising is also the easiest: check out the competition. Now, we know you’re not actually directly competing with other animal rescues, but follow what others are doing. Do you have another rescue in your community that’s doing a great job of getting people interested? Is there a rescue you keep hearing good things about on social media? Does another rescue have an annual event that’s always a huge success? What are the big guys like the ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society and The Humane Society of the United States doing? Follow them on social media, sign up for their emails and take notes! There’s absolutely no shame in learning from your peers on how to improve and advance your animal rescue fundraising.
10. Talk to other rescuers
All animal rescues had to start somewhere. And many of them started out with one tenacious person working day and night to help animals. So, odds are, most other animal rescuers have been right where your rescue is right now … even the big dogs. That’s why building relationships with other animal rescuers is so important. Not only can they share tips on the ins and out of running your rescue, they can pass on animal rescue fundraising tips too.
Animal rescue fundraising isn’t easy, but being willing to reach out to others in the field for help and advice can help your rescue grow and help even more animals.
Why Mightycause works for animal rescue fundraising
Mightycause offers a diverse selection of fundraising tools for animal rescue groups of all sizes. We were built to help small nonprofits, and as we’ve grown, we’ve created more powerful tools to help as your rescue grows. Our subscriptions are the most competitively priced fundraising suites on the market … and you can still access our time-tested basic tools for free.
But, beyond that, Mightycause works so well for so many nonprofits because we have tools to help you build sustaining, year-round support and respond quickly and easily to any time-sensitive needs that pop up. You can use us for your everyday animal rescue fundraising, and you can also use Mightycause to get your supporters to quickly circle the wagons when an animal is in need of emergency fundraising.
We’re also here to help. We have fundraising experts on staff, ready to help you plan out your next campaign, respond to questions from donors (so you canRAZ focus on helping animals), and help with your animal rescue fundraising strategy.