Animal rescue is hard. There’s no way around that. But what the biggest problems in rescue are and how to solve them, well that’s more of a debate. Let’s explore some of the challenges and best practices starting with the lack of structure and organization in rescue.
It’s hard to run an animal rescue. There’s no getting around that. So what’s the solution? How do these well-intentioned small businesses thrive and what is the secret to success? How come some animal rescues grow year over year while thousands startup and shutdown in the same year? As you might expect there is no magic formula, but let’s explore three ideas.
- Idea 1 – Operate your rescue like a small business. The most successful rescues operate like the small businesses that they are. They’re structured formally with defined roles, codes of conduct, and bylaws for their board members and volunteers, they recognize that they must have positive cash flow to thrive, they scrutinize every expense to maximize it’s value, and most importantly, they leverage the power of the product they possess knowing that they are adding value to their society and community. Successful rescue organizations organize their rescue just like they organize their households; everything gets accounted for, everything has it’s place, and everyone has to contribute to the success of the organization. They organize their volunteers, their social media, their fundraising, their groups’ calendar, their finances…nothing is left to chance. It’s easy to spot these types of organizations because everything about them is structured. From their website, to the roles that volunteers play, to the facilitated process by which applications are processed for adoptions, nothing is left to chance or handled laissez faire. If only they would write an owners manual on how they operate day to day, than other rescues could learn from their best practices. These businesses recognize their weaknesses in addition to their strength. They’re not afraid to hire a bookkeeper, accountant and web designer, if these skills are not readily available within their volunteer team. Knowing what you’re good at and what your not is key to being a successful business. BTW the ASPCA site has a good comparison of shelter software functionality that may be helpful to consider as you figure out how to manage your organization effectively. https://pro.petfinder.com/shelter-software-guide/ Personally we’d recommend http://shelterexchange.org which is a charitable organization providing no-cost software. But hey…we’re biased.
- Idea Two – Leadership in promoting animal welfare. Strength in leadership does not stop in the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies. People inherently want to be successful and they gravitate towards leaders the exude a positive energy and successful attitude. Successful rescues with consistent funding have leaders that are running the tight ship and setting the bar high to promote the overall mission and objective of the rescue in advocating for animals. Much like successful CEOs of companies, leaders of rescue organizations are the key to the organizations’ success or failure over time. Just having the idea of starting a rescue to save animals will not guarantee your success. Nor will having a hefty bank account, although that will certainly prolong the inevitable. Successful rescue organizations have strong leaders who are not afraid to make decisions in the best interest of the long term success of the organization, even if it means having to not act to save an individual animal because it may risk the longer term viability of the rescue. These leaders recognize that funding isn’t going to just appear because they started a rescue, but rather because they exude the strength and confidence about making a positive impact that others want to follow. These strong leaders send a message to those that they interact with, that they are not just finding a place for these animals, they are finding forever homes. They are not just looking for a roof over the animal’s heads, they are seeking a mutually agreeable match between the animal and their potential future owner. They are not begging for just anyone to take the animal, they are seeking the right match for the animal; someone who will be willing to pay a fair price for this valuable life that will bring purpose and unconditional love to their lives for many years to come. These leaders are not afraid to set the bar high and promote best practices like requiring home visits and transparent adoption applications knowing that the right match is the more important than the convenient match.
- Idea Three – Value your product. Recognizing the value of their product is the third way that successful rescue organizations differentiate themselves. While the organization might be legally structured as a charity providing a tax benefit to those that contribute, that does not mean that a rescue organization is not providing a valuable product that is worth paying for and successful rescues know that. These organizations are not meek in marketing their animals, hoping someone will take pity on them. They are proud of their product, promoting it with pride and care, knowing that there is a market for them that is interested and willing to pay. Their website and Facebook is full of vibrant photos of animals that are available, and the site is easy to navigate and follow. Valuing your product means asking yourself, “Would I buy from this company if I came across it?” For example, a friend of mine runs a rescue called “Fluffy Dog Rescue.” She adopts out 20-30 animals every month and has an army of volunteers and foster homes that she has built over the years. She works very hard, and spends countless hours focusing on the animals, but she also realizes the value in the brand that she’s built. Her website exudes happiness with almost all of the pictures of the animals having full grins on their face in cheerful looking locations. They look so happy. Who wouldn’t want to purchase an animal from her? She must have the happiest dogs in the world! Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself (http://fluffydog.net/) and be sure to click on the Happy Tails section as well to see what I mean. She values her product which means that people that are considering her product value it as well. You pay more for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes than the generic brand don’t you? They value their product more by focusing on quality, marketing, branding, and your experience. Successful rescues recognize that although their product is a living creature, it’s still a product that people want to feel good about buying.