Updated November 10, 2021
Unless you’re running a private organization, it’s very likely that your animal sanctuary will depend on the financial support of the public in order to sustain itself. 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. It also gives credibility to your organization in a way that a social media platform does not. That being said, your sanctuary’s website does not need to be overly complicated or costly to build 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. The harder it is for visitors to find donation information or move through the donation process, the less likely they will donate. The link can direct them to different donation offerings: one-time, recurring, memberships, sponsorships, etc.
One of the most important aspects of donation appeals is clarity 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?)
The Way You Ask Matters
Appeals to donate and donation systems themselves both have a lot of impact as to whether folks are likely to follow through with a donation system or not. Check out this video from Dave at Vegan Web Design demonstrating a donation implementation that has been quite successful for organizations:
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 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 can find your content online that is 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. It’s also nice to post updates when you have new designs or merchandise for people to purchase in support of your residents!
Nonprofit information: If your organization has been granted nonprofit status, it’s good to display this information along with your tax deductible status. This will help encourage people to donate to your sanctuary. Because the IRS requires the annual Form 990 to be publicly accessible, it’s also good idea to make this form publicly available to view on your website. Transparency is important!
Contact information: Allocate space on your website for basic contact information, including hours of operation, your physical address, pertinent email addresses and phone numbers if appropriate.
Your residents’ stories: It’s good to include the rescue (and rehabilitation) stories of the residents at your sanctuary, especially those of your ambassador residents and those who are a prominent part of your sanctuary’s history (either current or past). 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 videos of residents: People will want to see the high quality of life and contentment your residents enjoy in sanctuary. Photos and videos are a great way to share your sanctuary’s standards and success.
Resident sponsorship opportunities: Consider giving visitors the opportunity to financially sponsor or “adopt” a resident on your website. This can be a very effective way to inspire and garner more financial support from your visitors.
Things your residents need: Many people like to give in-kind donations to sanctuaries: food, toys, equipment, and other useful things. Keep an easily accessible list of what your sanctuary could use so visitors can consider donating them to you!
Your rescue philosophy: You could share your sanctuary’s rescue philosophy if you think it’s appropriate. This can help defer rescue inquiries that are outside the scope of your sanctuary’s mission. Some sanctuaries are very clear about their rescue policies online, while others prefer to make each rescue decision on a case-by-case basis.
Your adoption policy: If you adopt out residents from your sanctuary to responsible homes or help facilitate adoptions between homes, it’s good to have online information and applications to help facilitate this process.
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 as well. You can 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 of events and event 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 garner more 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 (i.e. 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’s, as well as information regarding compensation (if any) and the application process. 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 other ways visitors can learn more and get involved, such as compassionate living guides, local plant-based eateries, or species fact sheets. Other sanctuaries prefer to direct folks to other organizations that specialize in these offerings. 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 donation appeals, successes, press releases for the media, or whatever else is buzzing at your sanctuary.
See How Others Do It
An easy way to evaluate what you want (and don’t want!) to include on your sanctuary’s website is to review other sanctuary sites! Check out the variety of offerings at sanctuary websites like Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, or Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary. What do you like and dislike about their design and content? Once you’ve compiled your wishlist, start plugging in your own details, but don’t be afraid to go slowly and start small. You can always revise and update your website as your organization grows!