4 Mantras for Messaging Your Community About COVID-19

Written for the COVID-19 Shelter Kit by Katherine Shenar and Kim Alboum

Keeping your supporters in the know is one of the most important roles you can play in this ever-changing situation. They need to hear from you what you are doing to keep the community’s animals safe, and what they can do to help. Here are some smart suggestions and examples from your colleagues in the field.

Be transparent
Let your community know the actions you are taking, clearly and concisely. If you are limiting your intake, say so and say why. If you are suspending certain services, say so and say why. Here is a great example from Charleston Animal Society in this video message from President and CEO Joe Elmore.


Be proactive
In this simple but powerful infographic, Dallas Animal Services and Adoption Center calls for adopters and fosters and addresses potential concerns or barriers about animals contracting or spreading the virus. The more specific the ask, the more effective—in this case, the agency is focusing on large dogs AND they’ve explained why. Now that’s an all-in-one message!

Be positive
Yes, it is important to impart the severity of the situation and reinforce local, statewide and federal mandates and recommendations. But your communications can also serve to inspire and mitigate some of the panic. How might you promote that we-can-do-it spirit of community?

If you’ve got good news, say it loud! Animal Care Centers of New York City, for example, has been posting slide shows of animals who have gone out to emergency fosters (and using the hashtag #WashYourHandsAndFoster—LOVE IT!).

And RU4Me Pet Rescue got a lot of attention when they posted this image:

Ask for help when you need it
Take a look at this recent post from Wisconsin Humane Society. It clearly states the situation, how the agency is meeting those challenges and what they need from their community. The message is urgent, yet respectful, succinct and clear in direction on next steps as a community: 

Like many others, we’re in a tough situation right now with staff and volunteer shortages due to the coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic. And we provide a critical service to animals that must continue. We have more than 250 animals, especially cats, in our shelters today (WHS operates five shelters in Milwaukee, Saukville, Racine, Green Bay, and Door County). In order to ensure that we have enough staff and volunteers to care for the animals, we need your help

Take care with your communications, and please email news@theaawa.org and share what’s worked for you.

About the Authors

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Katherine M. Shenar brings 25 years of experience to her role as the executive vice president for The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement. She often speaks on leadership development, organization culture, coalition building, marketing communications, fundraising, and emerging trends in animal welfare. 

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As shelter outreach and policy engagement director at the Humane Society of the United States, Kim Alboum works to create nationwide partnerships, resulting in the placement of thousands of animals who were victims of animal cruelty and natural disasters. Kim also works with HSUS state directors to strengthen relationships between community animal shelters and animal advocates. 

The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.

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