Animal Welfare Fundraising During Coronavirus and Economic Uncertainty

Written by Jim Tedford, President & CEO of The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, and Trish Dewald, Executive Vice President, Phoenix Innovate

Please welcome first-time guest blogger, Trish Dewald. The Association is pleased to announce our new partnership with Phoenix Innovate, a Detroit-based provider of innovative communications and fundraising services.  Even as we continue to work through the new-normal in terms of shelter operations, it seems critical to also talk out the sustainability of our sector. In this post we’ll share with you a few tips for staying the course during this unprecedented crisis.

There is no question that all of us who raise funds for animal welfare organizations are in unchartered waters with the coronavirus and the economic uncertainty it is causing. Organizations are juggling countless priorities to make sure their staffs and volunteers are safe and that the animals continue to receive optimal care. And, they are struggling to make decisions around business continuity, including fundraising plans. Events are being cancelled or postponed resulting in a significant loss of revenue.

The near-term will bring unplanned changes to the way we all do business.  Organizations face certain operational disruptions and closures, likely staff and volunteer shortages, and increased demand for services.  One thing is clear–animals and people in our communities will continue to depend upon their local animal welfare organizations.  This means, of course, that the animals and people served are also counting on donors to continue to give.For organizations to remain true to their missions, active fundraising must continue.

History has proven that economic downturns can be survived. Giving may decrease, but it won’t stop altogether and some animal welfare organizations may even experience Increased giving during this time of crisis. 

Professionals who have dedicated their careers to protecting animals must manage in the now, but also must look beyond this crisis toward the future. The following recommendations will help traverse this stormy period and not just survive–but arrive safely on the other side with even stronger donor relations and engagement. 

Keep fundraising. Just like in good times, retention is key. It costs more to get a gift from a lapsed donor than one who has given recently, so it’s critical that you stay in the hearts and minds of your current donors. Giving has NEVER ceased completely, even during the recession in 2008-2009. In the aftermath of the 911 terrorist attacks some organizations saw a spike in charitable giving.  But, as always, the only way to get the gift is to ask. So, keep asking.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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Source: The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, Giving USA 2019

Tell your story and detail the need. Be honest with your current donors. Outline the impact the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn are having on your shelter. If you’re taking in more animals, let them know. If you’re doing everything you always do and with fewer people, let them know. If you have seen a great surge In support from foster homes to help lighten the load, share that good news with your donors. Take a storytelling approach, feature animals you are serving to give donors the opportunity to connect emotionally with you during this time of need.

Explore your lapsed donors for reactivation. If you’re experiencing unusually high demand for your services, now may be a perfect time to ask donors to re-engage. 

Reach out to major gift donors personally. Find out if they will be able to continue their support at prior levels. They may be able to move annual gifts to earlier in the year to help offset canceled events or other face-to-face fundraising activities.  Look at this crisis as an opportunity to engage with your most important donors on a more personal level.

Evaluate your acquisition efforts. It could be a great time to introduce new donors to your mission. Especially if you’re experiencing increased demand for your services or investing in new ways to deliver on your mission. Be more strategic and selective about the new audiences you solicit during the crisis. If you are soliciting event goers or using outside lists in your acquisition appeals, consider adding more data points to gain insights on the most likely responders to manage your expense. Evaluate channels (direct mail, digital media, social media, email) for their ability to leverage these data insights to reach new audiences who look like current donors, have the capacity to give and have demonstrated an affinity for animal welfare. 

Brainstorm ways to engage with donors online. If possible, stay top-of-mind by using video to illustrate that your organization is continuing to pursue interventions, accept, shelter and feed animals and provide essential veterinary care even with reduced staff and volunteer support.

Articulate your financial responsibility. When the economy is slow, donors are especially anxious to know that their funds are being used wisely. 

Plan for the future. This crisis will pass, so start planning now for that day and be ready to maximize the return to normal. Think of ways to show gratitude to those who stepped up during this challenge. Make personal phone calls, schedule recognition activities or plan thank-you mailings.  Share with them the impact of their support during the crisis and you may just find your next major donors. 

Don’t forget fundraising basics. Make your appeals personal, emphasize the importance of the donor and their direct impact on the animals you’re serving, thank the donor repeatedly, and ASK FOR THE GIFT!

Keep Calm and Carry On! Keep your mission at the forefront of your decision-making and your eye on the future and you will find yourself with a healthy fundraising program that’s ready to take on the next challenge. 

About Jim Tedford
Jim Tedford, CAWA, is the President & CEO of The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement

About Trish Dewald and Phoenix Innovate
Trish Dewald is the Executive Vice President, Phoenix Innovate. Founded in 1987, Phoenix Innovate is Detroit’s only marketing firm guaranteeing results. We focus on understanding, finding and keeping audiences. The results are transformative and sustainable. Our immersive approach harnesses a powerful combination of research, data, vision and creativity to build emotionally-engaged, lasting relationships for our non-profit and for- clients. We call this Authentic Marketing.


The Association

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


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