Unless you’re running a private organization, it’s very likely that your animal sanctuary will depend on the support of the public in order to achieve financial stability and thrive well into the future for your residents and those you’ve yet to rescue. Getting public support means being publicly discoverable, which in this day and age means having a robust internet presence. Although it’s important to have a steady social media presence, you should also prioritize the creation and management of your own website. Having a website gives you the flexibility to tell your story on your own terms in your own design, as well as legitimizing your organization in a way that a social media landing page does not.
That being said, your sanctuary’s website needn’t be overly complicated or expensive as long as it accomplishes what you set out to do with it!
Elements To Consider Putting On Your Website
An Appeal To Donate
It should be very simple for visitors to find a donate link on your website, including one-time, recurring, memberships, sponsorships, and whatever other ways that people can give to your sanctuary. A giving appeal should never be far away from any content on your site, so that if a visitor is compelled to give in the spur of the moment, they can do so. The harder it is to find donation information or work through the donation process, the less likely you’ll get donations.
One of the most important aspects of donation appeals is to be very clear as to why the donation is necessary, be it the cost of food for residents, veterinary care, new living spaces, or whatever else needs to be taken care of at your sanctuary. Many people have no idea how much it takes to keep a sanctuary running!
(Speaking of a donation appeal, have you considered donating to The Open Sanctuary Project?)
Your history and mission: You could include some information about the background of your organization and what it specifically does. Do your founders have a compelling story that brought them to this work? What makes your sanctuary a special place?
The people behind your sanctuary: You don’t necessarily have to list your founders and staff, but is a nice way to recognize those who do the hard daily work of operating your sanctuary! Some sanctuaries also include information about their board members.
Frequently Asked Questions: Having a well-written FAQ with helpful links where appropriate can help reduce repeat inquiries that have simple answers.
An opt-in link for your newsletter: If you send out a regular newsletter (which can be a great way to keep people engaged with your sanctuary), it’s good to include a prominent link to sign up for it on your website.
Links to social media: If you have a social media presence, it’s nice to link to all the places where people online can find your content outside of your website.
A link to your store: If you sell shirts or merchandise to help fund your sanctuary, it’s good to have an easily accessible link to your online store or online ordering. It’s doubly nice to post updates when you have new designs or things for people to purchase in support of your residents!
Nonprofit information: If your organization has been granted nonprofit status, it’s good practice to display this information as well as your tax deductible status. This is likely to encourage many potential givers to donate. Because the IRS requires that the annual Form 990 be publicly accessible, it’s a good practice in transparency to keep a public-facing version of the form somewhere on your website.
Contact information: It’s good practice to have a part of your website reserved for basic contact information, including hours of operation, your address, emails to relevant people at your sanctuary, and phone numbers if appropriate.
Your residents’ stories: It’s good to include the rescue (and rehabilitation) stories of the residents at your sanctuary, both living and passed on, especially ambassador residents and those who are a prominent part of your sanctuary’s history. Showing the level of consideration you give to the individuals at your sanctuary can help the public understand how much the residents and your mission means to your organization. Some organizations have hundreds of residents, so individual stories for everyone may not be feasible, but it’s still important to include special stories whenever possible!
Photos and video of residents: People will want to see the high quality of life and contentment afforded to your residents. Photos and videos are a great way to share your sanctuary’s successes!
Resident sponsorship opportunities: Including a link to sponsor individual residents (sometimes referred to as “adopting” them- financially rather than physically!) can be very effective alongside their story if their plight has inspired a reader!
Things your residents need: Many people like to give in-kind donations of food, toys, and other useful things to sanctuaries. It’s good to keep a list available of what your sanctuary could use!
Your rescue philosophy: You could share your sanctuary’s rescue philosophy if you deem it appropriate. This can help defer rescue inquiries that are outside of the scope of your sanctuary’s mission. Some sanctuaries are very clear in listing their rescue policies online, others prefer to make all rescue decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Your adoption policy: If you adopt residents from your sanctuary to responsible homes (or help facilitate adoptions between homes), it’s good to have online information about it, including applications.
Visiting information: If you regularly provide public or private tours, it’s good to keep this information easy to find and up-to-date. If you schedule private group or corporate tours, what do prospective groups need to know? Is there a dress code or closed toe shoe policy that people should know about? A plant-based foods policy on site? This is a good place to include information about the accessibility of your facilities and tours. You could also include directions to your sanctuary as well as a map if it’s hard to find!
Programs and events: If you host non-tour events at your sanctuary, it’s good to have an events page with a calendar and descriptions so that visitors know when to come! You can also post recaps and photos of successful past events. Events should also be promoted on social media pages in order to get extra interest.
How To Get Involved
Volunteer opportunities: If you offer volunteer opportunities to the public, you should create a page that describes the work that volunteers do, the hours, and any orientation, training, or forms required to get started. It’s good to be upfront about the type of activities volunteers do in different parts of your organization as well as the age and ability requirements for volunteers. You could also include testimonials of some of your volunteers to get people excited!
Group volunteering opportunities: If you offer volunteer opportunities to groups of people (or companies doing volunteer days), you should make this information and requirements prominently available as well.
Internship opportunities: If you offer internship opportunities, you should include a description of the different internships offered at your sanctuary, compensation (if any), as well as an internship application form. You can also offer testimonials of past interns to show what a great experience it is for prospective applicants!
Additional Resources: Some sanctuaries like to post information on how visitors can help out in other ways, such as compassionate living guides, local plant-based eateries, or species fact sheets. Other sanctuaries prefer to leave this information to other organizations. It’s up to you whether you want to include this information on your sanctuary’s website!
Some people like to see sanctuary updates on the sanctuary’s website in addition to the updates on social media. This could include new residents, new appeals, successes, press releases for the media, or whatever is buzzing at your sanctuary.
See How Others Do It
An easy way to evaluate what you want (and don’t want!) out of your sanctuary’s website is to review many other sanctuary sites for yourself. Check out the diverse sites for sanctuaries like Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, or Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary. What do you like about their design and content? What isn’t right for your sanctuary? Once you’ve compiled your wishlist, start plugging in your own details, and start small! You can always revise and update your website as your organization grows!