How To Approach Animal Shelters for Successful Cross-Promotions

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Have you been wondering how your business might work together with your local animal shelter?

At ‘cause Digital Marketing, we have over three decades of animal welfare experience and have created successful cross-promotions for both largest and smallest animal welfare groups and businesses. We know you want your business to succeed AND to change the world for the better. We’re here to help you do just that.

As a pet business, partnering with a local animal shelter or rescue for a cross-promotion is a bundle of big wins for you, the shelter, and your customer. But while donation-dependent animal shelters love partnerships, too often what’s proposed by the business can be difficult for a time-strapped animal organization to implement.

So, what gives if you get a reluctant “no” instead of an enthusiastic “YES” (or, worse, no reply at all)? Today I’m going through the top ways you can build a successful cross-promotion with your local animal shelter. I’ll also share some lesser-known reasons shelters may have to turn your offer down.

First, let’s look at the benefits of cross-promotion with animal welfare groups. Why do it in the first place?

  • Your product or service will reach new eyes and new customers
  • The BIG ONE: Because of you, pets find homes or funds are raised to help them
  • Your customers get a real feel-good bonus when they adopt a pet and ALSO get a discount or a valuable sample of your product.
  • Your network gets bigger and stronger. Influential community leaders are often shelter supporters. You can be sure they’ll take note when you promote the shelter, too.
  • Best of all, you’ll feel great when you help homeless animals and your community will see you as a hero for pets.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to brainstorming creative cross-promotions, no matter what type of business you have. What can you come up with?

  • Pet-friendly bars and restaurants? Think Yappy Hour to match animal-loving new customers with shelter pets!
  • Are you a pet photographer? Go for a pet portrait booth at a local pet-friendly festival. Knowing the shelter gets a portion of each quick package is just the nudge pup-parents need to splurge on a session for their canine superstar.
  • How about bakeries! Give names (Biscuit, Muffin or Chewy!), to some pet-shaped dog or people cookies, and put them up for “adoption” as a shelter fundraiser. Your effort will generate adoption awareness and your creativity and love for animals will intrigue new customers.
  • Veterinarians, how about a microchip clinic? You can generate revenue, introduce your business to new clients, and share the shelter’s mission to get lost pets home. A portion of each chip sale goes to your local shelter!. 
  • Of course, any pet-friendly business can hold a pet adoption event. They generate foot-traffic, sales, social buzz for your business, and you can offer a discount on future purchases with each adoption.
  • How about covering the adoption fee for hard-to-place shelter animals? Share it on social channels and announce it with a sign on the pet’s cage or run door. What kind of pet tugs at your heartstrings—a senior pet or the longest shelter resident? You can be sure it will touch the heart of your customers as well. They’ll remember your business for sure!

While the above sounds like a win-win-win, why might your local shelter take pause? (pun intended)

When it comes to pitching a promotion, keep the big picture of animal welfare in mind. Finding homes for pets isn’t a shelter’s only job. Here are four ways to help your local animal organization give a hearty thumbs-up to your offer of a cross-promotion.

1. Help them keep their mission clear. Shelters are about helping animals, and sometimes that means more than just dogs and cats. Your shelter may or may not be uncomfortable if your product is made of leather or the event also features a chicken barbeque. If you receive an unexpected refusal when you pitch your invite, reply with understanding (and perhaps ask them for an alternate idea) to strengthen your future relationship.

2. Space and time have limits. Shelters LOVE donations to help their pets or to stuff their adoption packs with perks. But they don’t always have the ability to use everything that’s offered to them. Before offering something, find out:

  • Does the shelter or rescue have space to store it until it is given out or used? Would a coupon or certificate be a better option for their adoption swag bag than an actual product? What size would be most eye-catching but also fit their folders or bags?
  • Does it expire?  If the dog treat you’ve offered for adoption-day bags has a short best-used date, or your coupon expires within a month or so, you risk adopters excitedly discovering your promo but then being disappointed when they can’t use it. If you have short-term promos, create a postcard that sends the adopter to your website’s promo page to find a current offer, or that invites them to your retail space to pick up their gift.
  • Do they have time? Shelter staff are busy and often rely on volunteers. Offer to deliver donations to the shelter when your donation box or money jar gets full. When it comes to providing representatives to cover special events, the shelter also needs to be sure they have people to staff their shelter hours as well. Out-of-shelter events are booked well in advance to arrange for volunteers. If you are slow in your planning, you may discover the shelter is already committed to another event. Ask the shelter what weekends are best for them before setting a date.
  • Resources vary widely from organization to organization, so when pitching your idea, issue your invitation and ask “How can we make this easiest for you?”

3. Events need to have value for both of you

Because shelters and rescues need to find homes for pets quickly and volunteers can be in short supply, they’ll often stick to events with a proven track record of scoring homes, donations, or where their educational mission can be right in the spotlight. They may turn down an offer of booth space at an event that hasn’t been particularly successful for them in the past, even if it’s a fun and friendly venue. Don’t take that personally!

If they say “thanks, but no,” does the shelter even need to be present for a successful cross-promotion? For example, a photographer can be a shelter advocate at a special event by talking up the shelter’s need for volunteer photographers. If you are the shelter photographer, display your best shelter-pet glamour shots and make sure a donation jar is close by. Have the shelter’s adoption app open on your phone to show off your images of pets who still need homes. You will showcase both the shelter and your talent.

4. Animals (and humans) need to be comfortable and safe

While it’s fun for the public to mingle with pets, remember that sometimes it’s just not safe. Shelters don’t always have event-appropriate animals who will do well at an event. Other times, the event just isn’t right for animals. Shelters will be reluctant to commit to outdoor events during hot months. At any time of year, they’ll want to be assured shade and water will be available, with space for dogs to get a potty break and other pets to get a time-out from crowds. The shelter will want to be warned about live music or equipment (chainsaw artists are a big “yikes!” for pets) so they can get dibs on a quiet spot that is still highly visible to the public. If the event is pet-friendly, shelter pets and pet-dogs will need to be safely distanced. Your shelter might feel they need to turn down an event if they are uncertain their pets will be comfortable, even though they are glad you asked.

“Simple” and “safe” are key when pitching a promotion. Every shelter or rescue has experienced at least one event that ended up costing far more in headaches than it reaped in adoptions or donations. Make it easy for them.

  • For adoption events, assure the shelter that the event location will be clearly marked and that it will be easy to reach, set up, and care for their pets. If the promotion is at your retail location, be sure they know where to unload, to park, and whether tables and chairs will already be provided. Set-up time, start time, and break-down time should be clear.
  • For online, bag-stuffers, advertising exchanges, or shelter store promotions, be clear at the get-go how long the promotion will last, what products are involved, and how you each will be represented. When the end-date of the promotion approaches, remind the shelter so they can give it one last big push. It’s easy for shelter directors to get distracted with other issues.
  • All promotions should be simple for the customer to understand and for the shelter to market. Provide social media designs or table signage–unless the shelter offers because they have a kick-ass marketer. And share, share, share, so the shelter can see you are as committed as they are to this promotion.

If you’re just getting to know your local shelter, there are lots of really simple ways to forge a friendship until you’re ready to pitch a cross-promotion. Follow their social media channels and give them a tag when you share their events and celebrations over to your own. Feature your own adopted pet in your business marketing whenever you can. Providing some unsolicited exposure for your shelter in your e-newsletter can open the door to a larger advertising cross-promotion down the road.

Here’s a really easy one: wear your shelter’s swag (when you aren’t wearing your own), especially if there’s a video op. You can be sure shelter staff and volunteers will be happily surprised: “Look at that! She’s wearing OUR shirt!” There’s no simpler gesture of love and support.

At ‘cause Digital Marketing, we’re specialists at helping businesses create a rapport with animal welfare organizations, to meet their goals and yours!  If you’re interested in learning more, consider this our invitation to schedule a free 15-minute brainstorming session with us! 

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