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ShelterSpeak: Creative Outreach and Fundraising Events

ShelterSpeak: Can you describe a creative outreach and/or fundraising event you would recommend to other organizations? How successful was it? What did you like about it? Why would you recommend that others try it?

ShelterSpeak: Can you describe a creative outreach and/or fundraising event you would recommend to other organizations? How successful was it? What did you like about it? Why would you recommend that others try it?

Kristina Vourax
Communications Manager
Dumb Friends League
Denver, Colorado

In an effort to attract media attention and generate community awareness of your shelter building project/capital campaign, you may want to consider holding a media event to mark the beginning and completion of construction. Instead of doing a traditional groundbreaking ceremony, spice it up by having a couple of trained dogs (we don’t recommend using shelter dogs) do a ground “digging” ceremony. You may find little hard hats and tool belts to fit the dogs, as well as bury a tasty treat in the dirt to encourage the dogs to dig on command. In addition to media, you may want to invite special donors, community friends, politicians, and board members to the event.

Once your new/renovated shelter has reached completion, you may want to have another media event to mark the grand opening. Instead of doing a traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony, you might consider having a rib-“bone” cutting event using trained dogs that will chew through a string of biscuits on command. (We recommend doing a trial run with this first to ensure that the dogs are interested in the treats and are not food-aggressive.) You might even rent a red carpet that leads up to your front door and have a parade of shelter dogs walk up the red carpet and into their new “home.”

By creatively promoting the great work you’re doing to help the animals, you will encourage community support and may create future donors and volunteers. Media are attracted to fun visuals, and you have the greatest props of all—animals!

Jane McCall
Executive Director
Dubuque Humane Society
Dubuque, Iowa

We do a lot of the same things many organizations do—pledge walk, dinner and silent auction, Christmas appeal, a non-event appeal. The one “different” thing we do is actually something a local car dealership does for us. During the month of June, Richardson Motors asks customers to bring in a bag of dog food. If the customers buy a car, $100 of the final price is donated to the humane society.

We have gotten smarter and set up a display of dog food for sale in the showroom with one of the local feed stores. Last year we received a check for over $10,000 along with gift certificates for over $1,000 at the feed store. We wanted to be able to get the supplies we wanted from the feed store, not just what people donated.

The best part of this is that we do very little work—just a little promotion on the radio shows I do weekly and on some TV spots. We have a great promoter in one of the guys at the dealership.

Peggy Bender
Humane Education Specialist
Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control
Fort Wayne, Indiana

Ribbon-cutting ceremonies don’t have to involve men in suits with scissors. Mark the grand opening of a new shelter—or even just an addition to an old shelter—with a rib-”bone” cutting event that allows trained dogs to chew through a string of biscuits on command.
We place much importance on bite prevention education throughout Fort Wayne and Allen County. This year we teamed with Summit Plastic Surgery Associates for a weeklong community awareness campaign during Bite Prevention Week. We held our news conference at an inner-city school, where children and the media were invited to ask questions of our panel of experts. Fort Wayne Mayor Graham Richard read a proclamation declaring the week Bite Prevention Week, and we provided schools with copies of “Beware the Bite” bookmarks available at Schools were asked to display the dates for Bite Prevention Week on their schoolyard signs.

An important goal of our campaign was to saturate our community with copies of the video “Bite Free,” available from the British Columbia SPCA in Canada. Using fundraised money, we placed the videos in local public libraries, local elementary school libraries, pediatricians’ offices, and veterinary clinics. We scheduled a spokesperson from the shelter along with a plastic surgeon for interviews on several morning radio talk shows, on our shelter cable show that plays in the schools, and on local network news. We feel that bite prevention is a critical component of community safety education, and our goal is to keep it at the top of the list of safety programs for children and adults.

Christine A.Titus
Volunteer Programs Coordinator
Seattle Animal Shelter
Seattle, Washington

At our annual Furry 5K Fun Run and Walk, we have around 2,300 participants and 1,000 dogs. It is a competitive road race, and many walkers attend as well. Prizes are awarded to dogs and their guardians. While it is a fundraiser, it is also a “feel good” event. This event really creates community SPIRIT! You have to feel it to appreciate it.

We are known for our fancy graphics, and the Furry 5K t-shirts are spectacular. Each dog receives a bandana as well. About 45 animal (and non-animal) vendors participate.

Organized by our volunteer program, this event saves the lives of hundreds of animals each year—all proceeds go to veterinary care for sick, injured, immature, and abused animals who come into the shelter.

Running (exercise) is an important/healthy activity for dogs and their guardians. We have a volunteer/dog running program here at the shelter, and it is extremely successful and popular. The dogs just love these events.

For more details on our Furry 5K, go to

Christie Smith
Executive Director
Potter League for Animals
Middletown, Rhode Island

I suspect that if you are reading this column, you are looking for quick ideas to raise money and find funds for critical current expenses or projects. My advice would be to also think to the future—to your organization’s long-term “savings” and endowment. Because of our day-to-day financial needs, it is very easy to forget about planning for bequests and gifts that might not arrive for 20 or more years. Planting the seeds now for these future donations is critical.

The best way I have found to describe Planned Giving is simply that it is the cultivation of donors for the purpose of receiving major gifts. Because these gifts are of such a size that they generally are not given spontaneously, they require “planning” and often are transferred to a nonprofit organization through a legal instrument such as a will or trust.

Planned Giving is very different from annual giving, direct mail appeals, special events, memorial funds that raise money yearly for an organization’s operations and programs. Planned Gifts traditionally support endowments to be used in perpetuity by the organization. Another key difference is that annual gifts come from a person’s disposable income while Planned Gifts are made from their assets. Planned Giving represents the long-range component of raising financial support rather than the day-to-day fundraising efforts for operating expenses.

The Potter League recently (okay, we are a little slow to practice what I am preaching!) established a bequest society or club to recognize those donors who have included us in their wills and estate plans. An interesting statistic is that 75 percent of people who name charities in their wills have not told the charity!! How sad that we are unable to thank our best and most loyal donors. A bequest society is therefore a natural way to recognize benefactors during their lifetime—even though they have made a deferred gift that may not be realized for years to come. By promoting the society, we encourage donors to tell us they have made a planned gift. This is the only requirement to become a member of the society. With a bequest society a charity can then hold events, have special mailings, or provide recognition for its best donors. It is also a wonderful opportunity to hear what is important to these special donors and to meet some really wonderful animal lovers.

Susan Asher
Executive Director
Nevada Humane Society
Sparks, Nevada

A treat buried in the dirt is all it will take to get this pooch to “break ground” on the construction of a new facility. Dumb Friends League communications manager Kristina Vourax recommends using trained dogs for this attention-grabbing activity.
Our most successful fundraising event has been our annual telethon, which first aired in 1982. We just produced our 22nd show, raising a total of $207,196 in seven hours. I like the telethon because it is basically an extended infomercial about our mission and operations. It allows us to focus on programs and services to a degree not served by PSAs and articles in the newspapers. We produce videos on cruelty investigation, animal rescue, our Puppies Up for Parole program, successful adoptions, wildlife rehabilitation, and spay/neuter/vaccination services—which alternate with staff and hosts talking live about statistics, available adoption pets, and incentive gifts. We feature local VIPs on the phones and in host positions—and we throw a live entertainment in also. I’ve found that the telethon is the single largest generator of bequest information requests for us.

We also hold our “Community Animal Protection Awards Banquet & Entertainment Auction” in the fall. It gives us a chance, in a formal setting, to say thank you to individuals, groups, and businesses that advance the cause of animal welfare and protection in our community. The “entertainment auction” is the fundraiser portion of the evening, offering auction packages for sports, travel, dining, arts, beauty, home, etc. The proceeds fund our emergency care program for pet owners who can’t afford veterinary service for illness or injury. We hold several “feel good” events throughout the year, which are aimed more at public awareness and participation than fund-raising. “Mutt Strut” is our dog walk (we aspire to the Dumb Friends League’s success in Denver!); “Kennel Caper” targets spay/neuter awareness; and our household pet cat shows make stars of feline alumni.

However, our direct mail campaigns are our biggest source of donation dollars. Through the use of current donor and acquisition lists, Newport Creative Communications has been able to vastly expand our database and help us generate a steady income stream.

Nicky Ratliff
Executive Director
Humane Society of Carroll County
Westminster, Maryland

We don’t do much formal fundraising since we contract with the county to run their facility and enforce the county and state laws pertaining to animals. The county government pays for the vast majority of our expenses. Any fundraising we do is pretty traditional, not anything I would describe as creative.

However, outreach doesn’t have to go with formal fundraising. I do try and get as involved as possible with other committees and groups within our county and state. The more diverse these groups, the better. Our county commissioners have a “cabinet” of county department heads, and the cabinet also includes department heads from outside agencies like the health department, state’s attorney’s office, social services, etc.—and now animal control (humane society). They had never thought of inviting me, so I decided to pursue this committee, and I invited myself.

I joined the Domestic Violence Council several years ago and have served on the county agriculture commission for about eight years now. I have just requested that my chief ACO be on the Emergency Preparedness Operations/Response Committee with all the fire and rescue, police, Red Cross, and hospital personnel (among others).

The point is that you need to have as many connections as is humanly possible within your community. You can learn so much from groups like this. The contacts that are made are priceless. When the time comes that they need you or you need them, you already have a personal relationship, and cooperation will be much enhanced and responses more timely.

Additionally, community leaders and the others you will meet at these meetings will now have a better understanding (probably a whole new view) of who you are and what your organization actually does. Your reputation and the respect that you hopefully deserve will be greatly enhanced. As the new acquaintances begin to know you and work with you and discover what you have to offer, you will see new opportunities begin to unveil themselves. The meeting discussions typically lead to more discussions, and then, lo and behold, one day you have a terrific idea no one else had thought of on a matter that has nothing to do with animals. (Not hard to think outside the box if you aren’t inside.) When you can contribute time, energy, and ideas to efforts these people care about (other than animal-related ones), then you, in my experience, will reap the benefits in spades.


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