Updated December 23, 2020
Operating an animal sanctuary and providing compassionate lifelong care to every resident requires a significant amount of financial resources. With often tight budgets and a commitment not to profit from the residents, what fundraising channels can a sanctuary use to keep the lights on and the hayloft stocked without promoting harm to the residents or other animals?
Although fundraising might seem daunting, and it might even seem like the pool of givers is insurmountably small, consider that in 2016, in the United States, contributions made to charities focused on the environment and animals rose to an all-time peak of $10.6 billion! There’s a lot of folks out there who are willing to help!
First, Determine Your Needs
Prior to taking any steps to raise money for your animal sanctuary, you should evaluate your sanctuary’s budget (or make a budget if you don’t have one yet) and see where your needs lie. Sometimes you may need to fundraise for a particular resident, event, or piece of equipment. Other times, you may decide to raise money to establish or contribute to an emergency fund if there are no major shortfalls to address. By having a detailed budget, you can determine accurate costs of different endeavors (including less obvious additional costs like outside services and materials), so you can decide what fundraising channels to employ and what successful fundraising might look like. A fundraising plan is an important tool to use both prior to your money raising activities and at the end of your fiscal year to help reflect upon what was effective and what needs to be reconsidered.
Why Give? Why Your Organization?
Whenever considering fundraising at your organization, first ask yourself why an individual would give to your organization- what is it that your organization excels at? How can givers come to understand and believe in your organization, its mission, and its values?
It’s important to think about fundraising as a partnership between you and a potential giver. Folks want to be a part of a solution that aligns with their values, and by asking them to give, you’re giving them an opportunity to help!
When Appropriate, Make It Specific For Your Supporters
Regardless of which fundraising tactics or channels you employ for your sanctuary, try to pinpoint your exact needs and why you’re asking for the funding now, be it for individual residents whose stories you can share, or by giving the reason why you need a new structure or piece of equipment. People are more likely to support well-explained time-sensitive and specific initiatives than a more generalized call for support that might seem less immediately critical to the organization.
The Effective Fundraising Toolkit
The following are some general considerations of the common fundraising channels employed at animal sanctuaries. There’s quite a bit of additional information for each of these channels that should be researched and considered before putting any of them into use! If any of these channels seem interesting, be sure to read up on them to learn the most effective way to set up and manage them.
For all types of fundraising, it’s important to keep a few key tools in mind to maximize repeat donations and make your efforts more successful:
- Acknowledgements: It’s crucial to appropriately thank your donors, both immediately (generally, within 48 hours a donation should be acknowledged in some way) and throughout the year as appropriate. Showing your genuine appreciation goes a long way in getting repeat donations! Some organizations host scheduled “thank-a-thons”, where a member of the organization calls and thanks every giver from a certain window of time in order to connect and show personalized appreciation.
- Stewardship: Keeping your donors updated on how your sanctuary is doing, especially how specific initiatives that they’ve supported are turning out, is highly important for maintaining donor relations. Stewardship is particularly important for major donors, who may have their own preferences in how they receive updates and metrics of how major projects at your sanctuary are going. More prominent donors may also wish to be involved more closely in some decisions at your sanctuary.
- CRM Tools: Finding an appropriate system for managing your database of donors and supporters, big and small, is a lifesaver for tracking patterns in giving, seeing who might be more likely to help out in the future, and track relationships as they progress. A CRM tool can be as simple as a spreadsheet, or a more specialized CRM service or piece of software.
- A Clear Message: Make sure that all your fundraising avenues have a strong, clear, unified message! If you aren’t consistent about what your organization is all about and what you’re hoping for, folks will typically feel less inclined to contribute.
- Positivity: This might seem simple, but focusing on positives and organization successes rather than guilt-based messaging or negative outlooks tends to result in better, more consistent fundraising! Folks like to feel like things are working and that they can help be part of a success story!
Effective Fundraising Channels, From Easy To Advanced
The following are a collection of tried and true fundraising methods for animal sanctuaries, starting from those that can be accomplished by founders alone or a few volunteers, up to suggestions for organizations with a larger personnel and supporter base.
Donation Jars At Your Sanctuary
Donation jars for cash or checks are highly popular for a reason: it’s easy and affordable to leave a donation jar out at your sanctuary, especially in strategic locations such as near the exit of visitation areas, or at major sanctuary gatherings and activities. Network For Good has a unique perspective on maximizing gifts through the humble donation box that you may not have considered before!
One potential downside of donation jars is that you can’t get donor information associated with each gift, which can be particularly important when seeking recurring givers. If you have an individual nearby the donation jar, it can be good practice to ask for the general contact information from any generous individuals who put in a larger cash donation.
Donation Jars Off-Site
In addition to keeping donation jars onsite and during events, consider finding areas in your community to leave donation jars! Grocery stores, restaurants, and independent establishments of all kinds can be a great place to leave a jar with a small sign and a resident photo to get some spare change from a checkout. All you need to do is ask the establishment for permission and assign someone (such as an intrepid volunteer) to collect the donations on a scheduled basis!
Digital Additions To The Donation Jar
In order to capture donations from folks who may not have a dollar on their person, there are some services that offer a digital alternative to the donation jar. There are text-to-give services that allow anyone to send a quick donation via a text message, and there are services like DipJar, which for a fixed fee, offer a device that securely accepts a set credit card payment when a card is inserted. This way, if you’re manning a donation jar and someone laments that they only have credit cards on their person, you have a solution waiting for them!
Many sanctuaries have found success by tabling at community events such as farmer’s markets, nonprofit conferences, and festivals that promote compassionate living. Having staff or volunteers show pictures or videos of the residents, offer merchandise or promotional materials, and keeping a donation box prominently displayed can provide a decent revenue source, depending on the crowd size and disposition. Tabling is also a good way to increase awareness of your organization in the community, either for bringing in new visitors or potential volunteers. All tabling events should include a signup list for emails, which is an extremely important element of online fundraising. Just remember to leave the residents at their home!
Fundraising On Social Media
Many major social media platforms have fundraising tools built into their services, or an easy ability to link to a crowdfunding or donation platform. Social media fundraising can be an effective tool (if not used too frequently in a short span of time) because your supporters can share your appeal easily with their communities. Social media fundraising tends to be more effective if you have a specific, detailed reason for your fundraising, such as improvements to your sanctuary, resident medical care, or a need for funds to facilitate a necessary rescue. Impactful photos and videos and transparent updates are also very important elements of social media fundraising.
The potential downsides of social media fundraising include a lack of donor information and CRM tracking built into most social media systems. Those who give on social media are not as likely to become recurring givers compared to other methods, and tend to give based on an emotional response to critical need requests like rescues or veterinary treatment.
Donations Via Your Sanctuary’s Website
Your animal sanctuary’s website should include a donation appeal and an accompanying donate button that is always easily accessible across the site to facilitate donations whenever a visitor may feel compelled to give. Pinning the button to the top of your website’s menu bar is an excellent place for it! If it is harder it is to find a donate link or work through the donation process (especially through a complicated form), you will receive significantly fewer online donations.
To increase the likelihood of donations, you can change your donation appeal text based on the information being provided on specific pages, such as to garner support for individual residents, projects, or other initiatives.
Some sanctuaries employ crowdfunding websites such as GoFundMe and others more specifically geared towards nonprofits in order to raise funds for major projects, rescues, or during emergencies. As mentioned in social media fundraising, it’s important to be specific as to why you’re trying to raise the funds, providing transparent updates during and after the fundraising, and it’s also important not to oversaturate your community with crowdfunding requests! In addition, you should be aware of whether each platform allows your supporter to claim a donation as a tax-deductible gift. When using any crowdfunding website, be sure to research the costs that they deduct from each donation before opting to go with one service over another; some services’ fees are as high as 10%!
Online or physically-mailed newsletters of a sanctuary’s updates and events are a good platform to raise some funds. All sanctuary newsletters should include a request for financial support, especially to help out with the residents, activities, and updates outlined in the publication.
Many sanctuaries have sponsorship programs for individual residents, allowing donors to support those that they may particularly resonate with. Sanctuaries who have resident sponsorship programs often provide perks for individual sponsors, such as special updates, photos, videos, and visits with the supported resident. Because there is a specific individual associated with this form of fundraising, stewardship of sponsorship donors is much simpler than that of other fundraising channels.
Get your community to help out by letting them raise money for your sanctuary! Some supporters might ask for donations to a sanctuary in lieu of birthday or holiday gifts, or to help celebrate big events in their life. Or, they could even setup their own off-site event to host for their friends to help spread the word about your organization. If someone wishes to host an event for your organization, it’s best to create guidelines and talking points that they can follow, or to have a representative attend and do all the talking, in order to ensure that all the right things are said!
Another valuable form of community support can come from attending other organizations’ events (with their prior permission, of course!) and tabling or speaking. This can help folks sympathetic to similar causes learn about your mission and the complimentary solutions it brings to the community!
Sometimes, individuals or companies may not be able to provide a cash donation, but would still like to contribute to your sanctuary’s mission. Asking for in-kind donations, such as supplies, food for residents or visitors, tools, or other resources, can be a highly valuable way to free up some of your sanctuary’s budget, and if your organization is a United States 501(c)(3) nonprofit, you can offer tax-deductible donation receipts as an in-kind giving incentive. Many larger organizations have budgets set aside each year to give products out to nonprofit organizations, and are just waiting to be asked! There are effective ways that your organization can even facilitate the in-kind giving of cars and trucks!
If given in-kind food, you must make sure that it’s appropriate for your residents’ needs prior to feeding it to anyone.
If you have a specific task that needs to get done at your sanctuary, such as professional photos or video taken for an event, or if you need help painting, or even post-digging, consider soliciting for in-kind services by professionals or companies. It never hurts to ask!
Unfortunately, services (in contrast to physical goods) are typically not tax-deductible in the United States, even if you’re a nonprofit.
Wish lists are a handy way to get in-kind donations from your community. It can be helpful to post lists of needed materials and supplies in your newsletter, in visible places at your sanctuary, or on your website. This way, folks who want to give specific things rather than money can contribute.
Another wish list solution is to bring them directly to potential supporters! With a store’s permission, you can print out “wish lists” of needed items for your organization or residents and table or stand outside of a store that carries the supplies you’re looking for. Then you can gently ask shoppers if they’d be willing to pick up one or two small items (with a tax-deductible receipt ready!) to help your residents or sanctuary.
Corporate Support & Sponsorships
Some companies, especially those who serve populations who may be more sympathetic to your sanctuary’s mission, may be interested in providing one-time or ongoing financial support to your organization. Some sanctuaries have obtained corporate sponsorships in exchange for displaying the sponsor’s name or logo on events, sanctuary merchandise, or even in the naming of certain structures on property. Some businesses may even create products or dishes that publicly guarantee a percentage of sale back to a specific organization!
When soliciting for corporate sponsorship or support, it’s important to tell the business what they get out of it, other than good cheer. Who is your supporter base? Will you help the business out by telling your supporters about them?
Many companies (especially larger ones) offer matching gifts to certain organizations as a perk to their employees. Although it’s not necessarily simple to discover which individual givers to your sanctuary could make use of these programs, you can always include it in your informational materials about supporting the sanctuary to remind those who might be able to take advantage of workplace giving programs, as well as in acknowledgement of donation letters to existing givers. Double The Donation provides an easy set of tools to determine whether a business participates in workplace giving programs.
Part of the critical responsibilities of an organization’s board is to aid in fundraising. Many sanctuaries make it each board member’s responsibility to contribute a predetermined amount to the organization, either through a donation or through fundraising efforts. Well-crafted boards should be able to assist you in exploring, executing, and reviewing different fundraising channels throughout the year.
Sanctuaries can get a boost in their fundraising if specific events or campaigns receive matching gift commitments from generous individuals or organizations. Matching gifts tend to incentivize donors of all giving levels to dig a little deeper to help meet the matching goal and stretch their donation a little further! These can be essential during end-of-year giving campaigns when other organizations also tout matching gift campaigns.
Visits & Tours
Many sanctuaries offer visitations and tours as a way to spread their mission and garner additional financial support from compassionate members of the public. If you wish to charge a fee for visitations or tours, we’d recommend offering them on a suggested donation basis rather than a fixed cost; this way, anybody who wants to hear your organization’s message but may not be able to afford the cost of the visit can still attend. Visits and tours should include a gentle request for funding at some point of the experience; you never know who might be in attendance!
Always keep in mind that a sanctuary visit should never be treated like a petting zoo!
Some sanctuaries use physically mailed requests for donations and support. Although this can be an expensive and regulation-heavy way to solicit for funds, many individuals still prefer to receive communications and give donations through mailed campaigns. In fact, in the nonprofit fundraising space, Direct Mail is still considered the best channel for revenue! This is likely due to the immediate, physical reminder to give that internet based requests lack.
Direct Mail can be particularly effective if you can obtain or develop a mailing list of households who are demographically or statistically more likely to support organizations such as yours. Many postal services will offer nonprofit organizations a greatly reduced postage cost.
The creation of a direct mail communication’s design and content is both an art and a science, and there’s a good deal of research about successful practices available online. Be sure to include a self-addressed envelope to make it simple for interested individuals to donate upon opening the mail.
Just keep in mind that even “successful” response rates to direct mail campaigns tend to be much lower than you might think! A 1-2% response rate is typically considered successful.
Many animal sanctuaries have found success in the form of merchandise that they can offer to the public. Merchandise that does typically well includes t-shirts and other apparel, stickers and other small items with the sanctuary’s logo, and even artwork of the residents. This has the dual benefit of generating some revenue as well as getting an organization’s name and message out into the wider community. And folks tend to feel good paying for merchandise if they know it’s supporting a good cause! When considering creating merchandise to sell, it’s important to seek out vendors that will produce high quality ethical items at a low enough cost that the margins make sense for the effort involved!
Many sanctuaries create annual (or even 365 day) calendars that feature their organization and residents. These calendars can be a great way both to raise money for the organization based on their sale, as well as serving as an appealing visual for others to see and subsequently desire to learn more about an organization! One way to maximize calendar revenue is to see if you can find a volunteer to find and arrange the calendar layouts, and then to see if you can’t find a print shop willing to discount or even waive the cost of printing! Local shops are far more likely to strike a deal than an online-only printer.
Sanctuaries can raise a significant amount of revenue through special events, held either at the sanctuary or held off site as a benefit for the organization. These are a great opportunity to combine many fundraising avenues in one place, to help maximize giving by all attendees in whichever way they feel most comfortable. It’s also important to use events as an opportunity to collect more contact information (especially from first time guests) for future fundraising down the line.
When considering events, you should carefully monitor the budget and projected expenditures of each event, because if you end up spending more on the event setup than what you raise, that event wouldn’t exactly be ideal for fundraising purposes!
Sanctuary events can be as unique as the organizations hosting them, though there are many successful categories of sanctuary events:
- Annual major fundraising events: Many sanctuaries have a big annual event to provide updates about the organization and residents, thank supporters and volunteers, and to help raise significant funds for the upcoming year. These events can be formal or casual, include activities like silent and live auctions, telethons, and include elements like live music and popular speakers.
- Holiday or seasonal events and potlucks: Many sanctuaries have events to commemorate the beginning of spring, (especially if it coincides with the beginning of their visiting season) as well as family-friendly events that fall on major holidays, such as Farm Sanctuary’s Thanksgiving Celebration For The Turkeys. Some of these events could include giving appropriate special food for honored residents, which is a major perk for many attendees.
- Speaker events: Some sanctuaries have found success bringing in speakers for the public, especially well-regarded professionals that can speak to the benefits of compassionate living choices beyond helping animals.
- Benefit runs: A number of sanctuaries have family fun runs (some of which also serve as sanctioned qualifiers for competitive athletes) as a way of raising funds and awareness of the sanctuary’s residents and others like them. Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary has a fun run that sanctuaries could look to as a potential model. Just be aware that events such as these take a tremendous amount of coordination and might ultimately not raise much revenue once costs are factored in. Strong volunteerism and donated goods are important elements to making benefit runs a success!
- Workshops: Many sanctuaries have held successful workshops on all kinds of topics, from cooking demonstrations and compassionate living events to zero waste activities and workshops on microsanctuary basics.
- Bake sales or Craft sales: A tried-and-true method to raise funds and spread the gospel of good food done compassionately! If interested, sanctuaries can also participate in the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale, which gets a good deal of national attention. If food isn’t your forte, a craft sale is another way to raise funds using donated goods!
- Camps: Some sanctuaries host day or overnight camps for kids, with activities and education about the residents. This typically requires heavy coordination and volunteer involvement, but for the right sanctuary, it can be a signature part of how they present themselves in the community and raise some revenue.
- Car washes or Dog washes: A simple event- all you need is a hose, some safe suds, (and some intrepid qualified volunteers!) and you can easily set a suggested donation!
- Yard sales: Ask your community if they have unwanted items they’d be willing to donate, and host a yard sale with these items (in addition to other items your organization may have on hand that aren’t being put to good use). A yard sale takes some coordination, but it can be an easy way to get members of your community who might not know about you or your mission to show up and support your organization! If you do host a yard sale, think carefully about all the details, including pricing, how to easily help facilitate payment, advertising the event, and how you can promote your mission! Planning is integral to a successful fundraising event like this!
- Online events: Some sanctuaries occasionally hold events entirely online (such as using a video streaming service to host), or will digitally host portions of their events so folks who can’t be physically present can still feel involved and contribute.
When planning your sanctuary’s events calendar, keep in mind that you need to schedule events sparingly– if you hold too many events in a short span of time, or if your events are very similar to one another, it’s common for your supporters to begin to feel fatigued by event overwhelm and not show up as often as you may hope!
Getting grants for your animal sanctuary, either for a specific purpose or to bolster your overall budget, is typically more challenging than grant-searching for other types of nonprofit organizations. A sanctuary must do some diligent searches on grant databases, as well as seek out region-specific opportunities, in order to find applicable grants that they may be eligible for. Although local grants may be less lucrative, many sanctuaries have had good luck getting them.
Some organizations that occasionally distribute grants to certain sanctuaries or microsanctuaries include The Microsanctuary Resource Center’s micro-grant program, the ASCPA’s grant opportunities, A Well-Fed World, and The Pollination Project.
The Foundation Center has a paid subscription service to help find grants your organization might be eligible for, and many libraries have subscriptions to the service and similar grant-finding organizations that you can use at no cost. Even if you aren’t fully sure that your sanctuary will fit a grant’s requirements, it never hurts to apply!
When writing grants, it’s important to apply for an amount of funding that they’re interested in providing, and crafting your message to fit whatever area of interest they’re looking to provide resources to. Be creative in fitting your needs into their requirements! In addition, it’s important to keep careful track of all metrics and accounting requested of a grant, as foundations can be quite specific in what they are looking for!
Memberships can be an excellent way to reward recurring givers, or those who give a predefined amount of donations in a certain span of time, or even those who donate a certain amount of time volunteering for your organization. Some sanctuaries allow members certain perks, such as special updates, discounted sanctuary events, preferential access to activities, or even private visits. Other sanctuaries have set up membership programs that grant individuals discounts through businesses who wish to support the sanctuary, such as Woodstock Farm Sanctuary’s membership program. Although this requires a fair bit of coordination, it can be an excellent tool for widening your organization’s appeal to potential donors in your community.
Some organizations utilize Patreon as a digital membership model. This allows the sanctuary to easily distribute special rewards or perks at different monthly giving levels (while providing an intuitive interface that identifies who’s giving what amount), and if the organization is a United States 501(c)(3) nonprofit, supporters can claim their monthly gifts given through Patreon as tax-deductible.
The category of “major gifts” means different things to different organizations, depending on their overall operating budget and their community support. Generally, a sanctuary administrator will be able to think of what a constitutes a major gift to their sanctuary fairly quickly. Major gifts can be a huge part of a sanctuary’s financial planning. Many nonprofit experts consider a 50-50 distribution of revenue coming from major and smaller gifts to be a sustainable fundraising mix. Due to their importance, larger organizations might have someone fully assigned to soliciting major gifts and providing stewardship to major donors. Major gifts can also be distributed as planned giving or legacy gifts, depending on how and when a major donor would like to give their generous contributions. For those interested in dipping their feet into soliciting major gifts, the Veritus Group blog has many free resources on major gift cultivation and best practices.
It is not uncommon for it to take up to a year of developing a relationship with a potential major donor before they feel prepared to give, so it’s important to treat these relationships with care.
While it can involve quite a bit of setup (especially in terms of legal acceptance), it’s highly valuable to consider setting up planned giving opportunities for those looking to give after they’ve passed away. Planned giving could look like your organization being added to a will or bequest, into folks’ insurance policies, gift annuities, endowments, and managed trusts. For folks who have supported your cause for a long time, this can be a beautiful legacy for them to leave.
Plaques, Bricks, Benches, and More
Some organizations incentivize giving at certain levels by offering donors the opportunity to have their name or even a statement inscribed somewhere on the sanctuary grounds. What these donor honors look like is up to each organization! Some organizations have donor walls, plaques, names on benches, donor brick paths, or even names emblazoned on stakes in tranquility gardens. Just make sure that your organization has room for growth in the future, as you may decide as your organization matures that you’d like to offer more, but you’ve run out of plaque or bench space on property!
If you do offer honors like these and have a very large property, you may want to keep a log of donor honors and a map of where they are on your grounds, in case someone in the future wishes to see a family member’s plaque and you’ve been issuing similar honors for many years!
Some organizations solve the donor honor space issue by offering it as a perk that must be renewed with additional giving on a set schedule, rather than a permanent honor.
Some organizations honor those who fund at least 50% of the construction of a new building or improvement with naming rights for a building. You can also offer naming rights at other levels for smaller things, like gardens, common areas, or anything else a donor might feel connected to. You’d may be surprised at what someone might want to add their name to!
Open A Thrift Store
Some animal organizations have found tremendous success fundraising by operating a thrift store in a nearby community whose revenue directly supports the sanctuary. Because thrift stores sell donated items, once the overhead costs of operating the location are covered, quite a substantial amount of income can be generated. Of course, operating a thrift store is a huge commitment in terms of setup, personnel, and policies, so this may not be realistic for organizations still finding their footing.
Track Your Metrics And Reflect
When using any of the above fundraising channels, make sure to keep good records of the pertinent details:
- What was the cost of the activity or tactic? How much revenue was earned?
- How resource-intensive was the activity or tactic, in terms of time, staff involved, and outside help?
- What would you do differently if you were to do it again? This is best discussed directly after an activity concludes.
Tracking these metrics is crucial for figuring out what is a valuable use of your organization’s limited bandwidth, and what your community may be more receptive to in the future.
Plug It All Back Into Your Fundraising Plan
All of these fundraising channels should make it into your sanctuary’s annual fundraising plan, so you can have a full picture of what your organization is doing, when it must get things done, and what a successful year of fundraising might look like for your sanctuary. Check out our article on creating a fundraising plan here!
Consider A Development Director In Your Future
Having someone dedicated to fundraising and donor stewardship at an animal sanctuary can provide Founders and Executive Directors with more bandwidth to focus on other critical responsibilities at their organization, while increasing the utility and value of each fundraising channel. Larger organizations may have an entire division of staff specifically focused on development needs, all specializing in different fundraising channels and programs. Although it may not be immediately feasible for sanctuaries to bring on a Development Director, they can be a valuable team member to integrate into future growth plans for the sanctuary! Learn more about Development Directors here.
Video Resource: A Few Fundraising Strategies- Webinar Excerpt
The staff of The Open Sanctuary Project gave a webinar in 2020 as part of P.E.A.C.E. Canada’s Speaker Series, and we briefly covered a few fundraising strategies discussed in the rest of this resource. Check it out below!