Developing a transfer program for your organization can seem overwhelming at first.  Who do you contact?  What should you know about them and they about you?  What paperwork and approvals are required?  Not to worry, we’re here to help you get the right relationship established for both of you.

In this article we will focus specifically on partnerships for animal transfer programs but we wanted to point out some other resources that may help you as well as you think through your approach to this special situation.
1.  Establishing partnerships and networking (  In our Partnering & Networking section you can find step-by-step resources and best practices that show you how to establish formal partnerships.  While these are not required for an effective animal transfer program, they provide some insights and references that may help you broaden your relationship with other organizations.
2.  SAWA Transfer Program Tools (  The SAWA website has some links to tools and examples that may be helpful to you.  They reference the National Federation of Humane Societies best practices for animal transfer programs ( as well as some examples for rescue groups.  (Note:  The National Federation of Humane Societies is run by the Humane Society of the US and not SAWA)
Animal transfer programs are growing exponentially as organizations recognize the value of getting the supply and demand for animals balanced across the country.  Let’s walk through how to establish a program to make you successful
  1. Identify YOUR needs – It is always good to start with an identification of your organization’s needs before you start reaching out to find trading partners.  If you are a destination organization looking to acquire animals from a source, put down on paper what you are looking for.  Focus on what you are looking for instead of what you don’t want (i.e. cats or pit bulls) to ensure you are able to clearly articulate your needs to another organization.  Do you only need dogs or also cats, rabbits, reptiles or something else?  What breeds or sizes of animals are you looking for?  What are the most common attributes of animals adopted in your community?  What do you have a lot of and not enough of?  It’s best to write these things down and to brainstorm with your staff to ensure you are all clear on your needs for the relationship.
  2. What can you offer – Once you have a clear idea of what you are looking for, turn the tables around.  What can you offer to a potential partner?  This could be in the form of other animals or particular breeds of animals that are easier for you to acquire, or it could be extra food, treats and other supplies that you’ve accumulated due to your strong community support.  Think about the skills of your team:  could you offer a mentoring type program with staff at your organization serving as a mentor, guide or support for other organization team members?  What about cross-promotion on social media or through joint fundraisers?  When you put yourself in THEIR shoes, you start to think about what you might have to offer that could be valuable to another organization in a different city or state or part of the country.  Their problems might be very different than yours.  Again, write these things down so you have a list of what you need, and what you can offer side by side.
  3. Find your match – Now comes the part that many people dread.  Doing the reach outs to find a potential partner.  But this will be easier than you might think because you’ve already done the heavy lifting of identifying your needs and what you can offer.  There are a couple of ways and tools to start a list of potentials and we recommend tracking your reach outs in a Google Doc or Excel so you remember who you’ve contacted:
    1. Pick a state or region that you’d like to target that is most likely to be needing what you can offer, and vice versa.  Use a search engine like Google to find organizations to reach out to and start a list.
    2. Use online tools like which allows approved organizations to search for partner organizations to send or receive from.  It’s free and each organization sets up a profile and indicates whether they are able to send or receive particular types of animals.  Then other organizations can search and contact each other.
  4. Establish first contact – Now that you have your list of potentials, it’s time for first contact.  This can be either through an introductory email or a phone call.  Many people opt for email but think for a minute about how many emails you or your organization get in a day. You might find that it’s more effective to place a phone call to find the right person to connect with.  If you go the phone call route, try and find a time when you think they’d be least busy and able to accept a call.  Remember that just because it’s convenient for you, doesn’t mean it’s convenient for them.  If you’re going the email route, consider what your subject line and first sentence are going to say.  What would grab your attention?  How can you identify for them quickly that they want to read your email?  Use subjects like “We’d like to establish an animal transfer program with you” instead of “Animal transfer” to get more attention.  Then in your first sentence get straight to the point.  “Hi, this is XXX from YYY organization and I’m reaching out to see if you’d be interested in discussing an animal transfer program between our organizations.”  If you beat around the bush you might lose their attention.  Trust us, if they’re interested, they’ll be researching your organization to learn more so giving them a chronological history straight from the get go is likely not necessary.  List out in bullet form what you are looking for and what you are able to provide as that will help answer their questions and save you both time.  If it’s a match, make it easy for them to get a hold of you so you can continue the conversation.  We recommend picking a state or region and contacting 5 organizations a day for 5 days to see what kind of response you get.  This will help you to hone your message to get a better effect.
  5. Don’t overthink it – Ok so now you found an organization that is interested in working with you based upon what YOU want and what THEY want.  Congratulations.  Before you jump straight into legal documentation, formal collaboration documents or partnership charters, step back and take a breath for a minute.  It is at this stage that many organizations make the mistake of getting too bogged down in things before they even know whether they can make this work.  Our recommendation is to do a Skype or Google Hangout call with your potential partner, to see each other face-to-face and get to know one another.  Discuss those items that you put in your WANT columns and those things that you can OFFER to them.  Make sure there wasn’t a misunderstanding as to what is or is not included in each of those things.  Talk through things like costs and will the animals be spayed/neutered, vaccinated against heartworm and other things, and temperament tested.  Discuss what your options are for transport.  Will you be going the rescue relay transport approach using sites like, or will you opt for paid transport or your organizations vehicles?  Just through a conversation between the two of you, you can work out your questions, get a comfort level, and determine whether this is something worth pursuing further or not.  The best part is that you can TRY IT OUT before you spend time (and money) formalizing things.  Try a handful of transfers and see if this is the relationship you want.  It’s like dating before you get married!
  6. Grow and evolve – The final step is to grow and evolve your relationship.  This is where you can formalize your partnership with agreements, documentation and further expectations.  How can you increase your throughput?  How can you expand your program to include other organizations?  What are your future goals?  How can you jointly market your program to raise more awareness?  What else can you do besides transfers together?
While it may seem arduous initially, establishing an animal transfer program with another organization is an effective and simple process that helps not only the animals, but both organizations that are participating in the partnership.