Animal Fundraising Ideas: Boost Your Doggie Dollars and Kitty Cash

Because money is essential to achieving our goals for the animals, organizations need to continuously bring in revenue. Fundraising doesn’t have to be difficult or intimidating, but it does require planning. Effective marketing and fundraising, done well and consistently, will give your organization a sound financial foundation. Your staff and volunteers can do their good work knowing that you have the resources in place to fund it.

Table of contents

1.) Developing a plan
2.) Incorporating sound business practices
3.) Developing a donor base
4.) Keys to successful fundraising appeals
5.) Social media
6.) In-kind donations
7.) Special fundraising events
8.) Grant-writing basics
9.) Capital campaigns
10.) Major gifts fundraising
11.) The forgotten fundraising tool
12.) Assigning tasks

Developing a plan

As the saying goes, “If you don’t have a target, you’ll hit it every time.” So, annual fundraising goals are important. Remember the SMART standard: Your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.

Your annual fundraising goal might be measured in dollars raised or a specific increase in donations over the previous year. Other gauges might work for you as well, such as an increase in the number of donors. It’s up to your organization to determine the details of your annual fundraising plan. Remember to factor in capacity and capability. If you have a part-time volunteer doing all your marketing, fundraising and social media, your capacity to raise funds will be different from an organization with a full-time development director.

Many factors influence your ability to raise funds, including your donors’ loyalty, the methods used to solicit donations and their effectiveness, and how well you’ve supported first-time donors so that they become more frequent givers. Of course, you can’t ignore outside influences — an economic downturn, a large employer leaving your area or competition from other nonprofits. Don’t let those influences become excuses for a lack of success in fundraising. You have to plan to work through them.

A useful tool is a gift range calculator, such as the one found here through Blackbaud. It allows you to plug in a target fundraising amount, and it will generate the number and size of the donations or gifts you’ll need to hit that goal. Whether you use this tool or a similar one, it will give you the broad strokes for a fundraising plan.

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Incorporating sound business practices

Good intentions, hard work, and adorable puppies and kittens alone will not automatically result in successful fundraising. Although your organization has a charitable purpose, you’ll need to employ sound management principles and good business practices to achieve your goals. Bring the passion that drives you and your staff to rescue and care for animals to your financial practices. Whether we like it or not, money enables us to do that noble work.

Just as businesses track sales and gather information about customers, nonprofits should track and analyze donor data. Idealware has a great rundown of donor management systems suitable for both smaller organizations and mammoth institutions.

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Developing a donor base

You’ll need to develop a plan to bring in revenue on an ongoing basis. Donations from individual donors, usually the result of fundraising appeal letters, newsletters, e-newsletters or social media campaigns, are the primary source of funding for most successful organizations. While regular communication with donors and potential donors should be the foundation of your fundraising strategy, it’s best to develop a plan that incorporates many different avenues.

Your plan should include several different fundraising strategies that seek resources from several groups of potential donors:

  • Members and volunteers (who support you through annual dues, pledges, sponsorship programs, in-kind donations and volunteer services)
  • Like-minded people (who show an interest in your work through social media, stop at your table or booth when you do community outreach, read your resources and direct mail pieces, or respond to news articles about your work)
  • The public at large (who support you by participating in your special events, paying fees for services you supply, or purchasing goods sold by your organization)
  • Businesses and foundations (which support you through grants, matching gifts, in-kind donations, sponsorships and cause marketing partnerships)

Cause marketing (partnerships between businesses and nonprofits) benefits both companies, which want to generate goodwill and support quality organizations, and nonprofits, which can get both revenue and increased exposure about their cause. For more about whether cause marketing is right for your organization, read this post on GettingAttention.org.

You’ll want to collect contact information from potential donors in a database, and plan to continually add to it and keep it updated. Remember to gather contact information for every person and business your organization connects with through events, public meetings, adoption days or anywhere else your organization has a public presence. Follow up with new contacts and ask them to join your email distribution list. And make sure your emails and e-newsletter are optimized for delivery to mobile devices.

Once you’ve developed a list of people who are donating to your organization, you’ll want to nurture those relationships. Cultivating a relationship with people who give to your cause is called donor stewardship, and it’s not rocket science. It’s the careful, consistent practice of connecting with donors, educating them about your work, soliciting their opinions and input, and making them feel valued. Ask about your donors’ interests and backgrounds, and try to cater to those interests. If you know a donor is especially fond of tuxedo cats, for example, send the donor a picture of one of yours in the arms of a new adopter.

Make sure you thank your donors, tailoring your thank-you efforts to the donor level. For those at your top tier, provide a breakfast or happy-hour event with a behind-the-scenes tour if you have a facility. If you don’t have a facility, you can still create a donor-centered event that makes them feel special. For other tiers, consider sending a collateral item, such as a T-shirt. Everyone should get at least a thank-you email or a phone call. For more about thanking donors, see “The forgotten fundraising tool.”

Remember, good stewardship makes good sense, since it’s much easier to ask existing donors to increase their contributions than it is to find new donors.

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Keys to successful fundraising appeals

The following are some tips to help you make your fundraising appeals as successful as possible.

Know your mission statement. Your organization’s objectives and goals should guide your fundraising appeals.

Know what motivates donors to give. Common responses to the question of why people donate include: “It feels good,” “tax reasons,” “to serve the community,” “to gain recognition,” “a sense of duty,” “I wanted to help out,” and “to gain a sense of belonging.”

Focus on the beneficiaries of your work. People give money to help animals and people — not to help organizations. Donors care about making a difference for the animals. In your communications, stay upbeat and positive, and avoid dwelling on problems or grousing about how difficult your work is. No one wants to donate to a sinking ship. Convince people that giving will make them a part of a winning team.

Tell compelling, inspiring stories. Storytelling is vital to nonprofit fundraising. Engaging stories generate emotional reactions that motivate people to donate to your cause and share your stories with friends. The following resources can provide inspiration:

Relate one-to-one. People can identify with another individual, a person or an animal who needs help, but it’s difficult to relate to hundreds or thousands. Personalize things, and tell the story of one animal as a unique individual, deserving of attention and care. People will remember the emotional connection they feel.

Keep this old adage in mind: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Good images and graphics make a world of difference in conveying your message effectively. The look of your materials (e.g., brochure, website, newsletter) is also important. If you don’t have someone on staff who can take and publish good quality digital images, find a volunteer who can do it, consider getting training through a community college, or ask a professional to teach someone on staff.

Keep it simple. Write in clear, simple, direct language. Avoid using jargon and acronyms people might not know.

Educate and inspire. Don’t assume that people know about the problems you’re working to solve or about your organization’s work. Give them the information they need to be inspired to donate to your cause.

Make a specific request. People need to know exactly what you want them to do to help. In fact, donors give more when you suggest specific amounts and indicate what each amount can accomplish. For example: “Your $100 donation buys formula, bedding and medical care for five newborn kittens, helping them to thrive and get ready for adoption.”

Make it easy to give. Be sure that your website has a donate button on every page that takes the viewer to an uncluttered, easy-to-use donation page. Get your donate button on Facebook and any other social media platforms used by your organization. If you send out a newsletter via regular mail, include a donation form and return envelope.

Have information and materials to back up your appeals on your website and in social media. Never miss a chance to tell a good story or share a good photo. Maintain both physical and digital files of news mentions about your organization, statistics and information about the problem and your solution, brief bios of your directors and staff, and summaries of your accomplishments.

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Social media

Animal welfare organizations have different approaches to social media. Some embrace it and use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms effectively. Some are late bloomers and shy away from such technology. We all need to recognize, though, that social media is here to stay and it’s a powerful way to spread your message. The GuideStar blog offers a few tips and here are some more:

  • Develop a social media strategy. For each platform, create goals and design a schedule and a process to help meet these goals. Subscribe to nonprofit social media fundraising blogs to stay up-to-date on the changes to these platforms, which can greatly affect your organization’s reach. Good blogs include those from Beth Kanter, John Haydon and Emily Garman.
  • Maintain control of your website and social media accounts. There should always be multiple administrators who have access and can make changes to your accounts, with at least two of them being employees. For all-volunteer organizations without paid staff, it’s important to ensure that your organization speaks in a unified voice. The key is to make sure that all of those responsible for your public image are well-versed in your policies and procedures. Don’t put these important tools in the hands of people who are unresponsive.
  • Make sure you have an effective, reasonably priced payment system for online donations. Ensure that a donate button linking to that system is on every page of your website and appears on all your social media accounts. People won’t respond to even the best story if they can’t donate with just a couple of clicks.
  • Borrow ideas. Research other successful nonprofit campaigns on social media to see if some of their ideas would work for your organization.
  • Post frequently. But don’t do it just for the sake of throwing something up there. Incorporate your mission statement, message, a call to action and a good story into your posts. Monitor your accounts, and make sure that staff are responding to comments and thanking people for viewing your posts.
  • Analyze your website and social media traffic. Make adjustments based on what you find. There are a ton of tools to help nonprofits do this easily, such as Google Analytics.
  • Take advantage of peer-to-peer online fundraising opportunities. Use tools that allow donors to easily share stories about their passion for your organization and solicit others to support your mission. Idealware.org can help you get in the game.

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In-kind donations

If you can get what you need donated, that’s as good as raising the money to buy it. In-kind (non-cash) contributions can include donations of office equipment, printing services, accounting services, veterinary care, office supplies, pet food, animal handling equipment, mailing lists, training, meeting space, refreshments for meetings and events, furniture, free advertising space (e.g., for adoption ads in newspapers), legal advice, land, billboard space, vaccines and medical supplies. Sources of in-kind donations include your members, the public, corporations, retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and local small businesses.

To publicize the need for donations, maintain a wish list of needed items and services and share it with your members. If you haven’t already done so, create wish lists for your organization with popular online retailers. Publicize the wish list on your website and social media pages and provide links directly to your list.

Another good strategy is to contact your local civic groups, such as the Rotary Club. Ask to speak at an upcoming meeting, and be prepared with lots of business cards. Convince these business leaders that no matter what type of business they’re in, they can help their community by supporting your organization. Even if they don’t have a product that is useful to you, they can encourage their employees to volunteer, sponsor adoption events for your organization and promote your mission in other ways. At the meeting, collect their contact information and follow up with phone calls.

Other ways to encourage in-kind giving or reduce expenses include setting up pet food donation bins in local markets, using volunteers rather than paid staff for some functions, borrowing equipment, sharing facilities and purchasing items in bulk.

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Special fundraising events

Special events not only raise money for your organization, they also increase public awareness and help to engender a feeling of cohesiveness among the volunteers. What type of event is right for your organization? There are many different types, such as an auction, a bingo night, a walk for the animals or a gala dinner. Consider these factors in your decision about which kind of event to hold:

  • Focus on maximizing your profits. Which event makes the most business sense? In other words, what type of event will provide the most bang for your buck? Estimate all the potential expenses — everything you may need to purchase or rent, as well as the possible need for insurance. Don’t forget the price of services such as printing and postage. Estimate the number of people who will probably attend and multiply that by the average amount of money you expect to get from each person. Plan carefully because it’s possible to lose money on a special event.
  • Will the community respond? Is it right for them? Remember, this is not about a project that appeals to you or your board members personally. It’s about creating an experience that the community will embrace, and an experience that fits your mission statement.
  • Find an appropriate theme for the event, something that will inspire people to participate. (Hint: It should be fun!)
  • Decide whether you can piggyback other fundraisers onto the event, such as a raffle or silent auction. Can you sell refreshments, put out donation canisters or sell merchandise? Again, think of ways to maximize profits.

Check out grantspace.org for more information, articles, ideas and tips for success.

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Grant-writing basics

If you haven’t done it before, writing a grant to get funds can seem like an intimidating task. But there are ways to break it down. First, do research to select funders that may be interested in your project. Sources of granting organizations include Animal Grantmakers and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Grants Information Collection. When you decide which organization you’ll solicit a grant from, obtain the organization’s grant guidelines and follow the instructions carefully and completely.

Don’t forget to look beyond the major national corporate foundations in the animal welfare field. Community foundations are also great resources, but they may require you to register in advance to participate in their programming. Use the community foundation locator to find foundations in your region.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Get to know the funder and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Talk with the administrator to gain insights into the organization’s goals and selection process.
  • Give it the personal touch. Your proposal must be tailored to each foundation.
  • Clearly state the goals of the project and include measurable results.
  • Use a positive, active voice in your writing.
  • Brevity is usually appreciated. Keep the grant proposal concise and factual.
  • Avoid using jargon or technical terms.
  • Make the proposal appealing to look at and easy to read. Use a clear, logical format. Bulleted lists are often effective for outlining plans or conveying a list of facts. Include photos when they support your case. Have at least two people proofread your grant proposal before you submit it.
  • Double check those numbers! Be sure that your budget is accurate and realistic, and meets the criteria established by the funder.
  • Explain how you will fund your program after the initial grant. Funders want to know that you have other support and resources. Plan carefully, especially when seeking funding for a new project. If you only receive some of the requested money, how else will you fund the project?
  • When you receive funding, be sure to say thank you. You should thank the donor in a variety of ways: send a note, mention the donor in your newsletter, write a news release.
  • Follow up with complete, accurate and timely reporting of the results of the project and the use of the funds.

For Best Friends’ Save Them All grants, the No More Homeless Pets Network team offers grant mentoring. Be sure to contact your specialist before submitting your final application. We can review your proposal with an objective eye and suggest tweaks that might increase your chance of being funded.

For training in grant writing and budgeting, consider the courses offered at Grantspace. Many of the courses are free.

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Capital campaigns

A capital campaign is a fundraising project for a specific goal over a certain period of time. In animal welfare, such efforts are usually conducted for a major facility renovation, the purchase of land to expand or move operations, or the construction of a new shelter. Because of the magnitude of a capital campaign, experts advise that an extensive feasibility study be conducted prior to launch.

A capital campaign is more structured than other types of fundraising, with emphasis on very large contributions that will provide much of the funding. For a full outline and summary of the capital campaign process, read The Basics of a Capital Campaign from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

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Major gifts fundraising

The definition of “major gift” varies. For some organizations, it might be $5,000; for others, it might be $50,000. It takes some analysis of giving history to decide where your organization will draw that line. Raising major gifts for your organization takes commitment and buy-in from your board of directors and chief officers. Guidestar compares the process to running a marathon. Check out “Stay the Course to Raise Major Gifts” for some tips.

How do you find prospects for major gifts? It takes a bit of detective work. Here are a few ideas:

  • Start with your existing donors and think about which ones are candidates to give more substantially.
  • Read and follow local media and online forums in your community, including the society news. Watch for the names of people who contribute to charities and may be interested in yours.
  • Scan the newsletters or annual reports of other organizations for donor names.
  • Check out smaller family foundations, which may often be overlooked.
  • Ask your board of directors if they know anyone with corporate connections.
  • Try local civic clubs and professional organizations.

Once you have a prospect list, talk with people to find connections to those on your list. If you talk to the right person, that person might put you in touch with someone else, who can help you contact someone else who will introduce you to the CEO of the corporation. You could theoretically end up chatting with the next Warren Buffett or Bill Gates! The point is that it’s not impossible to meet that wealthy mover-and-shaker and tell him or her about your cause. Finding the right connections is time-consuming and takes patience, but don’t give up. Remember, it’s like running a marathon.

Before you approach a prospect:

  • Make a contribution to the organization yourself.
  • Research your prospect and learn about his or her particular passions, pets and interests.
  • Prepare and practice what you’ll say; know your case and have data to back it up.
  • Always ask in person. Make an appointment to meet the prospect.

When you meet, remember to:

  • Bring evidence with you. Provide a summary of your organization’s accomplishments, in visual form, if possible, using appropriate charts and graphs. High-quality pictures don’t hurt either.
  • Avoid using guilt as a way of pushing your cause.
  • Stress the cause, not the organization. Ask for the animals and the people who care about them.
  • Ask for a specific amount of money.
  • Keep it short and sweet. Don’t overstay your welcome.

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The forgotten fundraising tool

If there was a simple way to motivate people, to keep them interested, to make them feel involved and encourage them to keep on giving, you’d gladly use it, wouldn’t you? This tool does exist. It’s the thank-you note! The words “thank you” have magical powers.

Thanking donors is key to building long-term relationships, both with volunteers and supporters. A thank-you can help convert an occasional donor into a regular donor and a small donor into a big one. If people give to make a difference, to feel involved, to be appreciated or acknowledged, or to feel good, your thanks is the best way to keep them in a generous mood.

Make your thank-you notes as personal as possible, specifically mentioning what donors did, what was so special about the way they did it, and how it has helped. For many creative ways to thank donors and volunteers, check out this slide show, called “Volunteer Recognition from A-Z.

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Assigning tasks

Once you have selected the components of your fundraising strategy, you’ll need to assign tasks to specific individuals and set deadlines. Create written job descriptions and a timeline for accomplishing essential tasks.

These steps will make it easier to get effective volunteers on board, train new people and measure performance. A job description should include the person’s function or purpose and a list of the tasks he or she is expected to manage or complete. The job descriptions should also clarify whom the person reports to and is supervising.

Take care to plan events and tasks in doable amounts. You don’t want to overextend your volunteers and staff. The key to successful fundraising is to do your tasks well, not just barely get it pulled together with everyone exhausted from the effort.

Another important element of fundraising is evaluating your progress. What’s working? What isn’t? Keeping written records of your evaluations allows you to make adjustments to your fundraising plan as you go along. Don’t forget to share your progress with staff and volunteers. Finally, everyone needs to feel appreciated. Remember to recognize the contributions of volunteers and staff.

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