’Tis the season: As giving to animal charities increases, so does impact

Terrier type dog lying next to a red sign that says JOY and a small silver holiday tree

This is the time of year known by many of us as the season of giving, with holidays associated with gift giving and deep discounts to capitalize on that. Eight of the 10 busiest shopping days of the year typically fall in December, which is the biggest time of year for retail sales.

It’s not so different for those of us who work in the not-for-profit space. December is a critical time of year for the animals, for Best Friends, and for our 3,500 shelter and rescue partners across the country doing meaningful work in their communities.

Nonprofit organizations typically raise about 36% of their annual donations during the holiday or year-end season, with 20% of donations in December alone, according to the Blackbaud Institute Index.

The good news is that giving has been growing every year, thanks to the generosity of individuals, who make up about 70% of all donations, and giving to animal charities has increased over the last three years.

There seems to be a trend in generosity and in passionate individuals digging deep to contribute in so many ways to making the world a better place. As more and more individuals invest in causes that they care about and giving trends continue to rise, so does the impact of those investments. Because these gifts are, in fact, investments, and our data is showing a growing return on those investments each year.

Over the last five years, since Best Friends declared the goal to take the country to no-kill by 2025, the number of dogs and cats being killed in U.S. shelters has dropped by 76%. That means an additional 3.4 million cats and dogs have been saved since 2016.

Like any successful business, Best Friends has a strategic plan to accomplish our goal. It outlines our priorities for achieving the greatest impact, and in our world, impact equates to saving the lives of dogs and cats in our nation’s shelters. These priorities include supporting our sanctuary and lifesaving centers across the country to help the animals in our care and to build community programs that put lifesaving directly into the hands of the public.

We know that we can’t get to our 2025 goal alone, so we are prioritizing and building programs through the lens of collaboration. We are investing in and building out programs that support shelters across the country through training, coaching and mentoring.

Through our national shelter programs, in which Best Friends staff work hand-in-hand with shelter partners on direct programming, those shelters improved lifesaving for cats by 73% in 2020.

Our shelter collaborative program helps leading shelter organizations to share their expertise in really strategic ways by serving as mentors to shelters that are working toward no-kill but aren’t there yet. This program is an important way of getting the nearly 50% of shelters that are already no-kill engaged in supporting even more lifesaving work beyond their walls. We are scaling it up to ultimately create 135 more matches of shelter peer mentors and fellows before 2025.

Of course, the reason that numbers mean anything beyond simple statistics or trends on a spreadsheet is that each number represents an individual animal with a life worth saving.

In general, the growing generosity and attention we’re seeing from the public is helping animal welfare as a field to modernize, innovate and ultimately save more animals’ lives. Many shelters, even the ones with government contracts, need additional funding for staff and the animals in their care so that they can do even more lifesaving.

Helping animals helps the people who love them. This is work that matters and that makes our world a better place.

December is a season of giving. It’s a time for big business, too. The business of Best Friends and our network partners is to continue growing the lifesaving impact in shelters and ensuring a happy holiday season for homeless pets across the country who are still waiting for homes of their own. That’s something we can all feel good about.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society