Many animal sanctuaries occasionally host large events on sanctuary grounds, especially to connect with folks who may not have previously connected with the sanctuary’s mission or residents before. Events can be an excellent way to spread awareness of your sanctuary in your community, and can also provide opportunities for garnering additional volunteer or financial support in the future. But don’t be fooled by seemingly carefree social media photos or video recaps of other organizations; a ton of work goes into planning a successful large event at a sanctuary! Many elements and policies must be considered and put into practice to ensure your sanctuary’s event is a good time for everyone involved, and that your residents are always honored and protected throughout the experience.
Long before the event begins at your sanctuary, there will be a good deal of considering, checking, and discussions ahead for your organization!
Double Check Your Area’s Zoning And Regulations
Before conducting any major event planning, be sure to review the zoning laws and regional regulations of your sanctuary’s property to learn whether there are any restrictions you must abide by or permits that you may need to acquire. Some properties, for instance, may prohibit a certain number of folks congregating or parking on property; others may require a special permit for vending, or for food and beverage service on site. Some regions may even require the hiring of off-duty traffic safety officers if a large enough crowd (or a certain threshold of traffic) is expected to show up in certain areas. Be sure to follow all of the regulations in your area, because the consequences could be significant if you’re caught bending the rules! If your sanctuary property is too confined by the rules governing it, consider hosting large events off-site.
Inspect Your Insurance
When planning a large event on your sanctuary’s grounds, you should comb over your sanctuary’s insurance policy and be aware of any limitations or exclusions in coverage that may exist for event purposes. Some insurance, for instance, may not cover special events or vendors onsite (or even public visitors at all), other insurance may have a number of exemptions for guest vehicles. If necessary, consider purchasing supplementary event insurance as extra protection! Typically one day’s worth of supplemental insurance is not too costly, especially compared to the alternative in the event of trouble.
Consider Your Neighbors
If your sanctuary is nearby others, it’s good courtesy to inform your neighbors of your coming event, inviting them if it seems appropriate, and being mindful of the noise generated (especially if the event is early in the morning or later in the afternoon). You should also give them your organization’s contact information, such as a staff member’s phone number, so they can get in touch if they have any concerns during the event that can be peacefully resolved. Although your neighbors might not entirely understand your organization’s mission or philosophy, creating friction or hostility with them is never productive in the long run!
Think About Your Staffing And Volunteer Needs
Hosting a large event, especially with many members of the public who might not be aware of your mission and policies, means that you will need to rely heavily on extra folks to ensure that your residents and facilities are safe, to facilitate respectful interactions with residents at all times, to help coordinate parking and check-ins, and to make sure all sanctuary policies are maintained during the event. You will likely need quite a few more folks to help out than you might have first envisioned if you have never done a big event on property before! Think carefully about your estimated crowd size and your specific needs when soliciting for help from your community. Volunteers may also need specific training before the event and guidance to ensure that the activities go smoothly and safely! If you are frequently relying upon large volunteer pools for events throughout the year, consider looking into hiring a volunteer manager down the line.
Even if your event is completely free to the public, it can be very helpful to encourage interested visitors to sign up for your event, either via an email RSVP or a free web service. This way, you can have at least a rough idea of how many folks you can expect to have on your sanctuary grounds, or in order to cap visitor registration early if space is limited. RSVPs can also be useful if you are serving food, beverages, or have vendors providing food onsite to ensure that an appropriate amount of staffing and supplies are on-hand to make the experience positive for everyone.
Make Some Marketing Materials
Nobody will come to your event if nobody knows about it! Consider making a memorable theme and name for your event and be sure to find a few different methods to tell the public about it. Your event’s advertising should include some basic features of the event, including what they might expect during the festivities, as well as the event’s rules and policies, such as a closed-toed shoe policy or a plant-based food policy.
You’ll want to use a number of marketing channels to help folks find out about your event, including:
- Colorful flyers posted around your community in approved areas
- Social media event invitations and updates leading up to the event date
- Advertising the event prominently on your sanctuary’s website
- Sharing the details of the event via word-of-mouth throughout your volunteer community
Be sure to keep RSVP’d attendees updated if anything about your event changes or if the event happens to gets postponed!
Unless you’re planning to run a shuttle bus system to and from your sanctuary event, you’ll likely have to make room on your property for additional parking than what you’re used to providing if expecting big crowds at your sanctuary. Often, this can be a huge undertaking in itself! Making an appropriate system (usually manned by helpful volunteers) of parking management is critical to prevent bottlenecks, traffic, and frustrated visitors. Take a good look at your available property and try to identify the best place to fit more vehicles in a way that won’t negatively impact sanctuary operations, or tear up pasture too significantly while centering your residents’ safety, if pasture space is the only option. Traffic cones and caution tape will become top allies in managing your visitors’ vehicles!
Once you have a good idea of how many folks are expected to show up to your event, you’ll certainly want to ensure that you’re providing an adequate number of restrooms on property, especially if there will be any food or beverages served on site. Depending on your location, there may be a local company that could drop off and pick up portable restrooms for special events. If you are expecting a very large amount of people over a long period of time, you can use a porta potty chart to determine exactly how many portable restrooms to provide to keep visitors happy! If you are expecting a small crowd and have existing restroom facilities, you may be able to get away without renting additional restrooms, but make sure your restrooms are well-stocked and clean for the duration of the event.
If your event is likely to generate waste, for instance, if you will be serving food or beverages in disposable containers, make sure to have a plan in place. Some waste disposal or recycling companies offer temporary trash, recycling, and even compost stations that you can pick up and drop off for a nominal fee, which can be a great way to manage waste at a big event without having a big cleanup at the end of the day. Separating recyclables and compostables can be a great way to reduce your event’s environmental impact, though you will likely need to station a volunteer or staff member near these waste sorting stations to help visitors put the right waste type in the right bins! Also keep in mind that many compostable containers cannot be put into a home or sanctuary compost pile and must be sent to a commercial compost facility. Ideally, any way to reduce waste from being generated in the first place will always be the most environmentally-friendly practice. For more information on eco-friendly practices for your animal sanctuary, check out our resource here!
Your event could potentially include vendors of many kinds, be it plant-based food trucks, a restaurant providing catering, a musician, or even a compassionate apparel shop! When working with vendors, it’s important to agree upon (with a signed contract, ideally) the scope of their services, what will be expected of them, and the policies they must follow onsite at your sanctuary. Some sanctuaries may require that all food vendors utilize compostable or recyclable containers to reduce waste, others might request that vendors split a percentage of revenue with the sanctuary as a fundraising opportunity. Regardless of what agreement you come to with your vendors, make sure that everything is well-communicated long before the event begins! It can also be helpful to keep vendors updated on the estimated crowd size so they can have an appropriate amount of supplies on hand.
You should have plans in place for different common weather scenarios in your region; for instance, if your sanctuary is prone to high winds, have tie-down straps, sandbags, or other heavy objects at the ready on the day of the event to keep any tents or canopies from going flying, including stocking some extra sandbags for any vendors with tents. If there’s a possibility for rain or snow, is there an adequate amount of shelter to protect guests? If nothing else, you should relay to potential guests how the event will be impacted by unexpected weather! Many sanctuaries host events rain or shine, and suggest guests bring appropriate clothing.
In anticipation of possible poor weather, conduct a weather safety check, making sure that you have de-icing materials and snow shovels at the ready, or that mud won’t pool where you planned on parking visitor vehicles, and that any tree branches that could potentially break off in a windstorm are appropriately trimmed.
Assess Your Accessibility
When bringing many guests onto your property, think about how you can accommodate attendees who may have disabilities. If your organization is incorporated in the United States, you’ll have to follow the Americans With Disabilities Act, but regardless of your need to follow that specific law, accessibility considerations can make everyone’s experiences more pleasant! Consider reserving some disability-accessible parking spaces near the entrance to the event, making paths as smooth and rock-free as possible (and marking them as more accessible if appropriate), and ensuring that some, if not all restrooms onsite will be accessible.
Visitors who have service animals in the United States must have their needs accommodated per the Americans With Disabilities Act. Think about how you’ll accommodate these visitors and their service animals while considering your residents’ needs.
Whatever the accessibility status of your event or activities are, it can be helpful to list the accommodations and accessibility barriers that potential visitors may face somewhere in your event’s marketing materials or on your website to help everyone make an informed decision of whether they would feel comfortable attending.
Check out our sanctuary accessibility resource here for additional service animal considerations and other ways to create more accessibility at your sanctuary!
Companion Animal Considerations
Non-service companion animals should be addressed in your event policies. Most sanctuaries typically prohibit companion animals on their grounds to keep both companion animals and residents safe and comfortable.
Check Your Contingencies
Pre-event planning is a good time to review your organization’s contingency policies (especially as they pertain to members of the public), and make all of them clear to those involved in the operation of the event. Think about specific things that could possibly go wrong in the course of the activities as planned, and have a plan to address these issues. Events can be hectic, and it’s always better to have an accessible plan that never gets used instead of having to manage a problem on the fly! Check out our resource on sanctuary contingency planning here.
Go Over Your Grounds
The day or morning before any visitors set foot on your sanctuary’s grounds, you should conduct a thorough sweep of any parts of the property that visitors may end up at. All fences, gates, and latches should be secure and checked for operability, and anywhere that may be off-limits for visitors should either be stationed by a volunteer or staff member, or should have clear signage stating that visitors cannot go there. All tools, equipment, and supplies that could potentially pose a hazard should be safely locked away. If you are using a digital or web-based check-in system onsite, be sure to check all technology prior to visitors arriving to make sure that there won’t be any headaches if a large crowd tries to check-in simultaneously!
During The Event
You Always Need Waivers
Whenever anyone is onsite at your animal sanctuary, but especially at more hectic times like large events, you’ll want to ensure that everyone on property signs a visitor waiver, including a prominently-worded and displayed photo and video release if you wish to share an event recap later with your supporters! A waiver could be signed either beforehand (some event sign-up websites include a system to facilitate signing a waiver), or onsite before guests enter any sensitive areas. It can be valuable to ask for contact information during the check-in process so you can reach these new visitors in the future or have them sign up for your organization’s newsletter, though collecting this additional information onsite as a line forms could potentially slow down the check-in process.
Keep The Water Flowing
Generally, you should plan to have at least one water station available for visitors, especially on warmer or sunnier days at a big sanctuary event. Keeping potable water easily accessible can greatly improve a visitor’s experience and minimize chances of dehydration or sunstroke. You can ask visitors to bring their own water bottles to minimize event waste.
Hand sanitizer or handwashing stations should be available in any area where food is served, as well as in any resident living spaces that the public may have access to. There could potentially be serious liabilities if anyone at the event was to fall ill! Also consider providing sunscreen as a courtesy if guests ask for it, and always keep all areas stocked with first aid kits whose locations volunteers are aware of.
Center Resident Safety
Because a large event may include far more folks than usual on sanctuary grounds, you may want to modify how much resident interaction the public is granted. Perhaps you may limit visitors to only a few areas, and prevent anyone from actually entering any resident living spaces. Perhaps you’ll make the decision to disallow any resident observation or contact whatsoever! Just make sure to clearly communicate your policies to ensure public understanding of what’s acceptable on the day of the event, especially if they’re markedly different than typical tour days.
During the event, if food is served on property, you’ll need to find a way to make sure that no human food or beverages make it near the residents (and especially that no visitors feed any kind of food to residents unsupervised), and you’ll need to ensure that biosecurity protocols are respected, especially keeping humans away from sensitive quarantine or isolation areas. Volunteers and staff will be critical for maintaining resident and biosecurity safety at all times during the event!
Event Tour Techniques
Some sanctuaries create modified tours for events that feature specific species or residents, especially if the event is centered around a holiday or occasion that would correlate with their stories (like meeting cow residents on Mother’s Day, or honoring turkey residents on Thanksgiving). These tours are typically structured in a way that simplifies safe management for staff, and may be shorter so many small groups of visitors can safely attend throughout the event.
Keep Clear Communication
During the event, make sure that communication channels are open at all times among staff and volunteers, using walkie talkies or phones to ensure that everyone is aware of what’s going on, what needs to be modified, and what areas of operation might need more support. If an event is running for a long period of time, volunteers and staff should frequently be given the opportunity to take bathroom and hydration breaks and switch positions if necessary and appropriate.
Consider A Survey
It can be helpful to consider providing a brief, event-specific visitor survey for those who are willing to complete one, perhaps distributed on clipboards if visitors are in line for food or beverages, or at the end of a tour experience. Surveys are an excellent tool for making future events stronger, refining your sanctuary’s programming, and measuring your event’s impact on the community (especially when seeking grants or larger donors). Targeted event surveys especially can help you determine if an event’s specific focus was successfully conveyed to the public, or if improvements could be made in the future. Surveys are most likely to be completed onsite rather than in a follow-up email request after the event! For more information on the subject, check out our resource on crafting visitor surveys here!
Ask For Support
When many folks are at your sanctuary, it’s a good time to ask for support! Consider having volunteers supervise a few different donation boxes (especially at the end of a tour or in other strategic areas), or selling merchandise, or suggesting that visitors join your membership program, or promote sponsorships of residents that visitors may respectfully meet! Big events can be a great occasion to fundraise and gain new supporters. For other ways to raise money that you could incorporate into your event, check out our resource here!
After The Event
Once the event is over and the sanctuary is cleaned and quiet, it can be valuable to reflect upon the event. Schedule a time to discuss how the event went with staff and volunteer leadership, preferably within a few days of the event’s conclusion. Discussions and feedback will help you refine your large event practices and policies and ensure that the next one is even bigger and better! And don’t forget to express your gratitude to staff and volunteers for a job well done!