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Marketing joy

Nonprofit offers creative campaign ideas and free marketing materials for shelters and rescues

From Web Exclusives

Find instructions on how to build a collapsible kissing booth at picturemeathome.org.Download Picture Me @ Home’s sharegraphics, designed to be shared on social media, to add your own photos and text. This one encourages volunteers to help socialize and exercise shelter dogs.Fairfax County Animal Shelter’s Shelter Story Time promotions are wildly popular.

In Virginia, Fairfax County Animal Shelter’s adoption promotions don’t always go off without a hitch—but they’re always a positive experience, says Amanda Novotny, communications and outreach manager. During the shelter’s holiday adoption campaign, staffers dressed as elves deliver newly adopted animals. One man adopted a kitten, but—oops—Santa's helpers accidentally delivered the kitten’s mother, instead. After a few days with mom over the holidays, the man returned to the shelter. “Can I please have the kitten I adopted?” he said. “[But] I want to keep the mom cat.”

As a sheltering professional, you likely already know the value of “interesting and exciting and new and unique” adoption promotions that get your community involved and inspired, says Novotny. But if your creative juices are running dry or you lack design skills, For All Animals—a nonprofit founded in 2014 by Baltimore residents Elizabeth Putsché and her husband, Jason Putsché—can help.

The nonprofit’s programs include Attorney at Paw (legal guidance for animal advocates), Photographers for Animals (a registry of volunteer photographers) and Picture Me @ Home (marketing ideas and materials for shelters and rescues).

For its Picture Me @ Home program, For All Animals partnered with Paws PR in New York City and Fairfax County Animal Shelter to create and bring to life seasonal and year-round campaigns, including ideas like Meet Your Match: Shelter Speed Dating, Shelter Story Time, Seniors for Seniors and Smooches for Pooches: Kissing Booth. Jason, a professional photographer, snapped sample photos for the campaigns; shelters and rescues can go to picturemeathome.org to find these photos and action steps for implementing each campaign, plus free, editable promotional materials like design templates for flyers, social media sharegraphics, posters and press releases.

Picture Me @ Home helps shelters with “marketing adoptable animals, community engagement, fundraising, increasing foot traffic, positioning themselves as experts on animal issues for the media, and more,” says Elizabeth.

Novotny and Elizabeth worked together at another shelter before teaming up to brainstorm shelter promotions. Fairfax County was already “marketing joy and marketing happiness,” says Novotny, but the shelter has been able to use and expand on Picture Me @ Home promotions to outstanding effect.

Fairfax County was “a testing ground” for the campaigns, she says. “We were using some of the ideas without a clear concept of how to make a campaign out of them, and that was the thing that Picture Me @ Home helped us to do—to really formalize the marketing materials.”

Shelter Story Time is Fairfax County’s biggest hit. Kids wear pajamas, sip hot chocolate and read to adoptable pets; what started as a yearly holiday event is now so in-demand that the shelter holds Shelter Story Time throughout the year.

“There are more people who want to do it than there are hours in the day,” she says. “We’re not waiting for people to just happen into our shelter and see an animal they want to adopt. We’re offering these fun, creative programs aimed at kids, as a fun thing for kids and families to do together, and it brings people in the shelter when they might not have otherwise come into a shelter.”

Despite Picture Me @ Home’s always-expanding array of materials, “our biggest obstacle is reaching the shelters who could benefit from the program,” says Elizabeth.

Thankfully, “I think more [sheltering professionals] are catching on that this is working,” says Novotny. “Social media works. Telling happy stories, using good photographs, having these singular campaigns and events … helps to bring people in your door. They might not adopt. They might not donate. But you have to generate that community involvement and engagement to build your audience long term.” 

About the Author

Bethany Wynn Adams is an editor at Animal Sheltering, a quarterly magazine for anyone who cares about the health and happiness of animals and their people, and animalsheltering.org. From tales of shelter mascots to guidance on backyard chickens, Bethany works with experts from across the country and within The Humane Society of the United States to bring wide-ranging, engaging print and web news to the animal welfare community. Winner of the Cat Writers' Association's MUSE Medallion, she lives in Maryland with her husband and two naughty rescue dogs.