Biggest problems in animal rescue: 2) recurring funding

Biggest problems in animal rescue.  We need money.

We’ve been discussing the challenges that animal rescue volunteers and organizations face, and we would be remiss not to discuss the challenge of recurring revenue which is a constant challenge in rescue.  How do you run a business when it’s difficult to predict what your revenues and profits will be versus your cash outlay every month?  How can you ensure continuity of your operations when it seems like there’s always an expense you can’t predict?  Local animal shelters and animal rescues need recurring revenue to survive and thrive.

Rescue organizations are historically organizations that rely on kind-hearted people adopting their animals in order to make the organization viable on an ongoing basis.  So why is this?  Aren’t these organization providing a valuable service to their community?  Isn’t that worth something of value?  Doesn’t the product they provide bring a lifetime of happiness that should be worth a reasonable fee?

It’s first important to understand the operating model that many rescues run under, to determine the best way to thrive and manage cash flow.  There is a lot of confusion with the terms “nonprofit,” “not-for-profit,” and “charitable.”  It’s important to understand the differences and this blog from a law office in Indiana does a terrific job of explaining the differences.

In any case, there is nothing that says a rescue organization cannot maintain a bank account with a balance year over year.  There is often a common misconception that being a rescue means you have to run a $0 balance in the bank on a regular basis lest you be considered making a profit.   This is simply not true.  Let’s pursue some ideas for how rescues can better maintain their financial viability on an ongoing basis.

Concept 1 – track your cost of goods sold.

Any business must be able to track what their expenses are to know whether they are bringing in more money than they are sending out in building their product.  Applying this to a rescue, do you know what the cost of each individual animal that you have processed through your organization was?  Some animals you may have gotten without paying fees or vet bills, others were more costly.  Do you keep track of these costs and associate them with that animal so that you can be sure to recover them when adopting that animal out?  Many rescues charge a standard adoption fee and pray that the revenue that’s brought in from those fees covers the costs that they pay to acquire and keep the animals.  But if you are looking at your bank balance and paying out vet bills or food bills, how do you know that the adoption fees will cover these expenses?  Start keeping track by animal, of the costs that your organization incurs.  Whether this is through a spreadsheet or using online software like which provides the ability to track expenses within the animal’s profile (yes I am plugging my own site!) it is important for you to know how much was expended for each animal in order to know whether you will make or lose money when you adopt the animal out.  Why can’t you vary the pricing and adoption fees for animals just like other products?  Every car isn’t sold at the same price so why are you selling every animal at the same price?  A potential adopter that falls in love with one of your rescued animals surely would be willing to at least pay to cover the costs that you expended in acquiring the animal.  The trouble is that usually rescues cannot show this so it’s easier to just charge a flat rate.  But this sends the perception that every product is the same and they are not.

Concept 2 – subscriptions for donations.

As rescues, we are often excited when we are able to get a donation from a person or company because good donors are hard to come by.  The problem is that this is a one-time event and you probably had to work pretty hard to get it.  So ask yourself, how do big organizations like the ASPCA, and the Humane Society of the US manage to get donations to sustain their operations?  Well one concept they use is a subscription model.  Would you rather get $100 donation, or a monthly $10 donation for a year or more?  Many rescues would say they’d gladly take the $100 over the recurring because money in the hand is what they need.  But this is a short-term view when long-term viability is what you’re really seeking.  When you do a fundraiser, typically you’re asking people to just give you money to help your rescue.  What do they get in return?  Perhaps a feeling of pride that they helped you.  So why not give them that feeling of pride on a regular basis and keep them connected to you?  Could you describe for a donor how $10/month will benefit your organization?  Do you have a way to let them know how their specific donation is benefiting?  Many rescues use PayPal to process their online donations given its strong brand and ease of use but did you know that PayPal allows you to set up subscriptions for recurring amounts?  Maybe at your next fundraising event, bring your laptop or tablet and have your PayPal account at the ready.  When someone is willing to make a donation, ask them if they would be willing to make that donation on a regular basis or break their donation into a lesser amount and ask them to make it recurring.  They can of course cancel the subscription donation at any time through their PayPal account so they have full control, but more than likely they’ll continue to donate on a recurring basis.  Now it will be up to you to keep them engaged in your rescue’s operations so when they see that recurring payment, they still feel connected to your organization.

Concept 3 – bring your customers to other businesses.

In a previous post we discussed valuing the product that you’re selling so let’s build on that concept a little more.  Stop for a moment and think about who would benefit from reaching the customers of your rescue.  Think about all of the locally based businesses in your area that cater to people with pets.  People who got their pets from your rescue.  These businesses are seeking new customers just like you are seeking new customers and they have money set aside for marketing their business much like you do.  Likely, these businesses want to be seen as “rescue friendly” and they want to be associated with your rescue because it helps them as well.  So how do you do this?  Back in the day, (and maybe it still exists today) there used to be a concept called the Welcome Wagon.  When you moved into a new house in a neighborhood the Welcome Wagon would come bring you a basket of goodies to welcome you to the community.  This basket contained samples and coupons and information about businesses in the area that may be of interest to you.  Think about when you adopted your first pet.  You had to find a vet, groomer, pet store, and a variety of other services.  Where did you start?  You probably asked family and friends or maybe the people that you adopted the animal from for recommendations.  Does your rescue have a list of businesses they would recommend?  Do you get any benefit out of recommending these businesses to your customers?  What if these animal businesses that you approve of, gave you a welcome gift to give to your new customers and at the same time made a recurring donation to your rescue for this service?  You’d get more revenue, and they’d get new customers.  Sure it may not work in every circumstance, but isn’t there potential there?

What’s your creative recurring funding idea for local animal shelters?