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Building a wall

“Wall of Love” raises big bucks for the Asheville Humane Society

From Animal Sheltering magazine January/February 2012

On Sept. 14, 2010—the opening day of the Asheville Humane Society’s new adoption and education center—a wide-eyed young boy approached the reception desk and asked, “Are those dogs available for adoption?”

Mounted on the walls behind the reception area, groups of tiles picturing a variety of dogs had caught his eye.

“No, they aren’t available for adoption,” the receptionist explained with a smile. “Those pets belong to people who love them so much, they created our ‘Wall of Love’ to help all the animals find homes.”

Known to Asheville Humane Society (AHS) staff as the “bricks-and-tiles project,” the “Wall of Love” effort began as a fundraising initiative to help complete the adoption center capital campaign, giving donors the opportunity to pay tribute to pets, individuals, and organizations. The wall now provides a cheerful, colorful visual for anyone who comes to visit our shelter.

Donors could purchase a photo tile in two sizes: 4 inches square for $250, or 8 inches square for $500. Bricks, which were placed on the exterior walkway entrance, could be inscribed with the name of a person, a pet, or an organization. Bricks were priced at $100, or $110 for those who wanted a paw print added.

We found that the $100 bricks were the most popular format with donors, due to the more affordable cost and the ability to gift a brick to friends or family. Of the two tiles, donors preferred the larger 8-by-8 versions. Both bricks and tiles were produced by local vendors at modest costs, resulting in nearly 80 percent of the purchase price directly benefitting AHS.

Local volunteers donated professional copywriting, illustration, design, and photography to produce brochures advertising the project. We reminded people that “A puppy can’t be saddled with a mortgage,” (making the connection between their donations and the costs of building our new facility). We also had some brochures specific to the wall: “All the top dogs in town will be there,” “All the cool cats in town will be there,” and “Honor thy Animal (or Animal Lover).

”We targeted a list of area pet-related businesses for distribution of our brochures, including veterinarians, groomers, pet boutiques, and doggy day care establishments. We recruited board members, staff, and volunteers to deliver brochures, ready for display in acrylic holders. A veterinary practice agreed to staple the brochure to its receipts, and several businesses that aren’t pet-related displayed them as well.

Project publicity included email blasts to more than 4,000 supporters, print and electronic newsletter coverage, and a website link to the brochures. The most effective advertising proved to be word-of-mouth, or through personalized notes sent with a brochure to friends. One of those resulted in a $100,000 contribution to the campaign, in addition to the nearly $100,000 raised by sales of bricks and tiles.

Meticulous planning and record-keeping were crucial to the project’s success; donors were paying to honor their pets or other important people, so making sure that everyone was accounted for and names were spelled correctly was critical. As construction progressed, staff and board members developed a schematic for tile placement throughout the adoption center’s public areas. As a result, groups of tiles spell out the words to denote dog, puppy, and cat areas in an attractive and engaging manner.

For any group wanting to try this, we advise deciding early how much text and what kind of images will be acceptable, and not to make exceptions. While the project required painstaking record-keeping, it was worthwhile; it’s a visually appealing part of the new facility, and donors who ordered a brick or tile really love seeing it.

“The tiles range from really great shots taken by a professional down to little faded snapshots that you can tell are 20 years old,” says Jim Fulton, director of programs. The wall even includes at least one fictitious beast: “There’s even a drawing of a unicorn. I always tell kids that whoever finds the unicorn wins.”

AHS continues to promote the purchase of bricks and tiles for additional areas of the adoption center. A donor appreciation event in September 2011 gave donors the opportunity to view their brick or tile in place.

“These tiles are magical,” says Katherine McGowan Shenar, the shelter’s president and CEO. “I’ve watched as folks have located their beloved pet’s tile on the wall, and tears fill their eyes. I wish that every homeless animal in our care finds a home where they feel this depth of love.”

About the Author

Laurel Hunt is the author of Angel Pawprints: Reflections on Loving and Losing a Canine Companion and Angel Whiskers: Reflections on Loving and Losing a Feline Companion. She serves on the board of AHS and volunteers with Paws on a Mission’s pet therapy program. Her blog, Bark Wag Love, includes fundraising ideas for shelter and pet therapy programs, pet loss resources, and human-animal bond stories at laurelhuntbooks.com.