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Pencil drawing of two black and white cats lying together

Virtual Fundraising Efforts Prove Successful for Network Partners

Back in March, when shutdowns from the pandemic were first getting started, there was a lot of fear about how the inability to have in-person events was going to impact fundraising. We hosted the COVID-19: Fundraising During a Crisis webinar and asked Julie Barger from Lynchburg Humane Society (LHS) in Virginia; Kim Kamins from Fearless Kitty Rescue (FKR) in Fountain Hills, Arizona; Jackie Roach from Taysia Blue Rescue (TBR) in Bentonville, Arkansas; and Patricia Tolbert from Best Friends to share their ideas about how to attract donations through virtual efforts instead.  

Now that we have been grappling with the impact of COVID-19 for more than three months, we checked in with Network partners to see how fundraising efforts have been going. They were eager to share their successes, so we gathered the results of our informal survey below. Hopefully, some of these ideas will inspire your organization to stretch beyond your usual asks and give something new a try! 

Pet portraits  

Pet portraits were by far the most popular fundraiser in our survey. Numerous partners drafted staff members, volunteers, tattooists, local artists and kids to create the portraits, which could be purchased for donations ranging from $10 to $25 apiece. These fundraisers were practically effortless to put on, as they were promoted entirely through social media and required zero outlay of cash.   

Some groups went with professional artists, such as New York-based Muddy Paws Rescue, whose “A Pawtrait For Good” campaign raised $17,000. The SPCA of Fredericksburg in Virginia also used pros for its “Operation: Real Actual Professional Pet Portraits” and raised $1,600.  

But “bad” portraits were just as popular as professional-quality ones. The SPCA of Fredericksburg raised an additional $2,700 with a “Not-so-Pro Pet Portraits” campaign. Salt Lake County Animal Services (SLCAS) raised $1,600 through the “Turn Your Pet into Art!” event, which had a disclaimer that said, “You may get a masterpiece or something more comparable to a toddler’s stick figure drawing, but we guarantee it will be timeless and make you laugh!” 

The level of engagement with donors was another benefit. The Sacramento SPCA’s event brought in just under $4,000 in less than 48 hours, and more than 40 volunteers signed up to serve as portraitists for Pennsylvania-based Providence Animal Center (PAC). PAC raised more than $2,200 with its event, and at least one donor donated again because they were so happy with their portrait.   

New York’s Dutchess County SPCA did not raise a ton of money—just under $1,000—but since many submissions were alumni of the shelter, it was a chance to hear happy updates from the adopters.  

Osceola County Animal Services in Florida also found the fun factor to be high, because it relied on local children ages five to 15 to create the works of art. The shelter made $1,260 and plans to do a modified version next year. 

Virtual auctions and events  

PAC’s big fundraiser this year was the two-week-long online auction “Sit. Stay. At Home.” The May event, which ended on #GivingTuesdayNow, generated an impressive $72,000.  The auction featured items from the postponed formal spring fundraisers; people could also donate toward operational costs like spay and neuter surgeries and food. 

Boone Area Humane Society (BAHS) in Iowa hosted a “$5 Fridays” virtual raffle during the month of May using the gift baskets from its cancelled “Pawty 4 Paws” gala. BAHS raised $1,500 and used the Facebook Live event to promote the raffle and to plug upcoming events and pets for adoption. It plans to continue the Facebook Live updates weekly.  

SPCA Florida attracted 169 walkers to its virtual “Walk for Animals” and raised $65,000, more than half of the ambitious $120,000 goal. The event featured other online activities and prizes for people who were quarantined at home.  

Foster Dogs NYC raised more than $2,100 with its “Feel Good Foster Club Fundraiser,” which live-streamed 12 adoptable dogs from 11 different rescue groups across the country. For a donation, people could send a message and see their note on screen within minutes.  

FKR’s virtual Kitten Shower let people name a kitten for $10 and a litter for $25, pick up raffle tickets for $5 each or shop on the organization’s Amazon wish list. The group raised $2,000 plus more than $800 in in-kind donations. The group also raised $3,000 in a separate event selling masks at its adoption location, selling out in 12 minutes. 

Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester in New York did not limit its Kitten Cam to a single event, instead kittens are featured for two hours daily on a live stream. The community is encouraged to play trivia games to learn more about kitten season, and, of course, donate cash or in-kind items. So far Lollypop Farms’ YouTube channel has had 12,000 views and raised $3,685 for the organization in addition to donations of formula, kitten food and other supplies. Lollypop Farms was also able to secure corporate sponsorship for the page. 

Direct pleas for support 

When LHS cancelled its annual Best Friend Ball, the group asked sponsors to donate their sponsorships towards a $45,000 Match Challenge and asked members for “a gift towards our pets despite the lack of open bar.” By June 1st—and with another month of fundraising to go—LHS had raised $113,645 with no expenses other than the $600 mailing. The normal budget for this event is $25,000 and the gross is typically $85,000. 

For Belleville Area Humane Society (BAHS) in Illinois, the most effective fundraiser has been an “old-fashioned, one-page, black-and-white mailer with a membership request.” This year BAHS sent the request a month earlier than normal and offered membership benefits like naming an animal and getting a private tour of the shelter. In the first week this year, it raised almost $14,000—$10,000 more than in the first week last year.  

New Jersey-based Tabby's Place has historically avoided making appeals that imply the group’s solvency is in jeopardy without donations. This year, however, Tabby’s Place felt a unique plea was in order. The organization created a special video message from its executive director explaining how Tabby's Place is doing under the lockdown conditions and making a gentle but honest appeal for much-needed funds. The email went out to 11,000 email subscribers and raised more than $69,000. 

Lessons learned 

Jackie from Taysia Blue Rescue also circled back with us. Her organization has raised a steady stream of funds by participating in a 24-hour giving day for Omaha, hosting a virtual bingo night and asking for a “virtual cover charge” of $10 along with the cancellation announcement of the Huskies Rock, Mallies Roll spring event. Overall, she has been happy with these efforts, which have met budget goals and exceeded last year’s numbers.   

“What we’ve found is that, just because times are challenging for people, it doesn’t change the fact that they want to help,” she says. “Any event gives people an opportunity to do something, anything, that is positive.  We are all feeling helpless and not in control but giving to a cause that you love helps us feel needed.” 

You can find more resources in our COVID-19 fundraising resources  or in our lifesaving library

Liz Finch
Senior Writer, Best Friends Network
Best Friends Animal Society