The 4 ‘E’ tenets for a successful community based approach:

  • Education – One of the most common ways that organizations reach out to their community is through education.  Whether a shelter or a rescue, imparting their knowledge and facts within the community helps to raise awareness to the issues around animal welfare and separate the fact from fiction.  But if you want to be effective, break down your education approach to be more specific.

    • Objective – Yes your objective is education, but what is the underlying objective?  Do you want them to be aware, take action, change a behavior?  Starting with defining the end in mind will help you to quickly identify the objective for your education approach.  If you want someone to donate pet food your message should not be about spay and neuter health benefits.

    • Audience – Start by defining the audience you want to reach.  Yes you can say everyone but this will water down your message and approach and make it more difficult to have an impact.  Are you trying to reach pet owners?  Children?  Teens?  Under-served community members?  You can and should have multiple messages depending on the audience you’re trying to receive.  Kids will most likely enagage with your messaging on Instagram long before they will with your Facebook post.  Meet your audience where they are.

    • Messaging – If you are trying to engage community church members you will likely have more success talking about the importance of taking care of God’s creatures than the importance of spay/neuter.  Think about the number of messages and things you see in a day.  What sticks with you and what just floats past you in your subconscious?  Which is more effective: telling people that 4 million animals are euthanized yearly, or that 1 animal is euthanized every 16 seconds…of every minute…every hour…all day long?  Think about the message you are trying to communicate to your selected audience and then think about how to spin the approach to something more memorable.  People remember statistics (sometimes even when they’re not true) so taking a focus on tangible numbers helps them put it in perspective.  This is why saying 1 animal every 16 seconds is more impactful than 4 million every year.  Taking it one step further, associate that message with something so every time they do it, they’ll think of your message:  

      • “For every cup of Kuerig coffee you brew an animal is euthanized.”
        – The average Kuerig coffee brew cycle is around 16 seconds.
      • “In the time it takes you to brush your teeth, 8 animals will lose their lives.”
        – Dentists recommend brushing for 2 minutes.  120 seconds or ~8, 16 second cycles.
      • “While you wait for the light to turn green, 2 animals will be euthanized.”
        – The average stoplight cycle is 30 seconds.
    • Venue – It’s hard to think about where your educational message will have the best reach so people default to the easiest methods like social media.  But is your Facebook post really going to reach your local community in an impactful way?  Just tweeting about a fact does not make people take action.  How can you think outside the box?  Ever driven by a church with a sign out front that had an interesting message?  Seen any interesting billboards lately that caused you to take a second look?  In the age of social media and technology everything, sometimes going back to the traditional venues will allow your message to stand out.  If you’re trying to reach kids, you should look to partner with schools to either do a special assembly or perhaps provide materials and stickers that are fun and engaging while getting your message across.  Want to get people to donate more pet food?  Why not partner with local pet stores with a “Buy a bag, give a bag” campaign?  The pet store could keep smaller bags of food by the cash register and suggest that people donate.  People are more likely to donate at the time of their purchase.

    • Tracking & Measurement – If you do not have a plan for how you will track and measure the impact of your educational messaging, you could be throwing good money after bad.  Businesses of all types (both profit based and non-profit ones) focus on KPIs or Key Performance Indicators, to track and measure results.  Your education program should be no different.  Is there a unique website your messaging drives people to visit?  You can track the number of visitors to get an insight into what % of your message gets through.  If you post XX flyers and YY number of people visit you can see how impactful your messaging was.

  • Engagement – There is a big difference between awareness and engagement.  Engagement means that the people you reach are taking action to do something.  Knowing what action you want them to take and then crafting your message around that action is important to drive engagement.  Think tweet (140 characters) and not blog post (300+ words) for driving engagement.  Let’s say we were trying to drive up pet food donations at a local pet food pantry or maybe to your organization.  How can you get people to take action and donate pet food?  How do you communicate, educate and make it easy at same time?  Remember the SSMM method.  Make your engagement opportunity: 

    • Specific – When you use phrases like “Help us” or “Support us” or “Consider a donation” you are putting the burden on the receiver of the message to determine the action to take.  People are often afraid they will lose engagement if they are too specific.  But you can measure the impact of your various messages to tweak and adjust.  So instead give them a specific action to take and a resulting action from their action.  Example: “Donate $10 and we can feed 5 animals for a day”.  

    • Simple – Complicated asks and messages cause internal personal turmoil.  Try simplifying an action that they can do without research or major time investment.  If you’ve ever been to a grocery store where they have a “Round up for the hungry” program where the cashier can round up your total to the next dollar, you’re seeing this in action.  How can you simplify your request to get them to engage and show them the impact all while keeping things simple?  “Volunteering 10 hours in the next month will save us $200 in costs”  

    • Meaningful – When people care, they share.  We’ve all heard this before.  But did you know that people are more likely to share what makes them MAD instead of what makes them SAD?  There have been numerous studies that have shown this.  So how can you make your message meaningful to drive the requested engagement?  Take it out of the stratosphere and make it something tangible that they can understand.  How can you make someone MAD so they are more moved to take action?  

    • Memorable – Successful engagement is one where the message is memorable.  Think pictures and images that tell a memorable story without you having to explain what’s happening.  What kind of image will stick in their brain or remind them that they need to take action?  Pair this with the making them mad and not sad and you’ll create memorable engagement that causes them to share with friends and family and drive even more engagement.

  • Enrichment – Generally when we use the word enrichment in the animal welfare industry we are talking about the enrichment of the animals in our care.  So think about how you can enrich your community with your community outreach.  Historically groups were reaching out trying to hammer home messages like “Always spay/neuter”, and “Don’t shop.  Adopt!” and they were not necessarily enriching the lives of the community members that they were trying to influence.  They were so focused on getting their message across they did not focus on how their objective/message/education was being received and applied by the community members.  Do you want members of your community thinking that animal rescues and animal shelters are judgmental organizations looking to point out everything they are doing wrong?  Or rather that you are passionate, animal-loving professionals that understand how the human/animal bond can influence our lives in a positive manner.  Here are a few programs that can help you enrich your community to allow your message to be more thoughtfully received:

    • Community cat education Sometimes still referred as ‘feral’ or ‘homeless’ cats, the term ‘community cats’ is more frequently used to describe the relationship the cats have with the community.  Starting a program focused on educating your community on the role that these cats can play in providing organic pest control, how local TNR operations support the cause of reducing overpopulation, and how community cat caretakers are responsibile volunteers working to support the animals while reducing the population through spay/neuter programs, is a proactive way to enrich their knowledge while working to dispell myths often perpetuated in the media.  How many of your community members understand that an eartipped cat has been spayed/neutered and can no longer reproduce?  Sometimes our ‘curse of knowledge’ gets in our way and we cannot unlearn what we already know so we assume others know what we know.  

    • Provide community cat managementTake your education program one step further and be the focal point for managing the community cat operations.  Reach out proactively to the apartment complex administrators, homeowners’ associations and chambers of commerce in your community to proactively explain how your program works.  TNR sometimes has a back alley connotation with many TNR volunteers feeling they have to hide their work for fear of retribution by their own community.  But combining your education program with proactive management and communications on the approach for effectively managing your community cats can go a long way to show your community leaders how you are adding value to the community as a whole.

    • Host a Pet fair – No not to just sell products but instead to engage people that already have pets.  People love opportunities to bring their pets to events and with a small budget you can setup a lure course, a free pet wash, pet trick contest, costume contests and much more.  And, you can pair this with a low cost vaccination clinic where you educate your community on the benefits of vaccination while they have fun.  This type of engagement enriches their lives and the lives of their pets through fun activities, and provides proactive health education and vaccines which benefits the community as a whole.

    • Engage other organizations – If you were not in a group like the boy scouts or girl scouts or you do not have children of your own, you may not know of the community service requirements that these organizations require to attain certain rankings (i.e. Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America).  These organizations are often looking to partner with groups needing projects managed and completed.  So whether it’s adding a small addition to a facility, conducting a pet food drive, or educating a neighborhood on vaccination opportunities, partnering with other organizations shows that you are a part of the community and doubles the impact you can have.

  • Empowerment – The best way to continue the programs you build to engage with your community is by providing ways for your community members to be empowered to make a difference.  Whether this is through volunteering through animal rescue volunteer services like or providing dog walking services for animals at your local shelter, empowering your community to make positive change will energize them to do even more.  To the general public, the animal welfare industry may be overwhelming.  They may be thinking that they cannot have an impact unless they start a rescue or participate regularly at a shelter.  They might be thinking how do I start a rescue?  How can I prevent euthanasia?  How do I support the cause without just sending money?  Consider developing community program toolkits that allow your community members to manage their own program which supports the overall cause.  Here’s a few examples:

    • Pet Food drive – Whether in their neighborhood, at their children’s school, through their church or as a ‘lemonade stand’ concept, providing community members with a kit that helps them know how to do a pet food drive can be a simple way to empower them to support the mission.  Given them the facts, some templates and turn them loose to see what they can collect.

    • Foster home recruiting – Many organizations are constantly looking for new foster homes but they do not always have the time to do the recruiting necessary to fill their pipeline.  Why not engage the community to do the recruting for you?  With some simple guidance about what’s required, an online portal or website where applicants can sign up, and a tracking mechanism and leaderboard to track who gets the most sign-ups, you could have a very successful campaign.

Do you have ideas for programs that have worked for you?  Tell us and we’ll share with the community!