How Can Pet Bloggers Help?
How to make engaging with nonprofit animal groups a win-win for everyone.
Pet Bloggers supporting nonprofit animal welfare groups would seem like a no-brainer, right? I mean bloggers have some mad skills when it comes to creating and managing an online presence in order to reach a wide audience. Many bloggers are expert writers, photographers, website developers, and/or social media mavens. These are all skills that could benefit animal welfare groups. Most importantly, bloggers have an audience and a relationship with that audience that can often translate into action – even if that action is simply creating awareness. As animal welfare groups often struggle to get their messages out in an effective manner, you would think pet bloggers and animal welfare groups would be a perfect match.
Then why is it often so difficult to engage with an animal welfare organization or independent rescue?
I hear my fellow pet bloggers express a desire to help. Unfortunately, we often approach helping through our own lens and forget that what we see as an exciting and even necessary project, may be perceived by the organization we want to help as an overwhelming activity that they simply can’t manage or sustain.
I hear my fellow animal welfare colleagues say, “We’d love the help but we don’t have the resources to implement what is often suggested” or “We don’t need another ‘consultant’ giving us a plan to implement. We need people who can actually implement for us.”
Unfortunately, there is often disconnect between what the blogger wants to do and what the organization actually needs or can accomplish with limited resources and time.
The problem is that the organizations that would benefit most from our help are often the organizations with the least amount of infrastructure to support our efforts. The larger groups with marketing and development staff don’t often need as much help but typically do have the support staff to assist with initiatives.
While all shelters and rescues are hopefully working towards the same goals, they often have fundamentally different operating business models. Your local municipal open-admissions shelter is different from your grassroots volunteer run rescue that may not even have a bricks and mortar set up and, your private managed admissions shelter will have yet another different model. Understanding the different types of animal welfare agencies will help you hone in on the best match for what you have to reasonably offer.
So, Where to Begin
Start with “How can I help?” as opposed to telling the organization what you think they need. You may be right but, especially with smaller founder-run groups, they can get prickly about feeling perceived as not being savvy.
Do your due diligence before approaching an organization. Review their website, read online reviews, attend a couple of their community events and, if they have one, visit their facility. Figure out who the appropriate contact is at the organization. It may not be the Executive Director.
Even though you are offering your services in a volunteer capacity, treat the approach as you would any other professional outreach. Tell them who you are and what you have to offer and show them that you have done some research and have an understanding about the challenges they actually face.
Identify the type of group you want to work with and do your homework!
Check the Guidestar Rating https://www.guidestar.org/search of the organization. Do they file their 990s? It’s a really big deal! For example a group in Indiana neglected to file their 990s (required tax documents) for several years and they were shut down. You want to know if the organization is in good standing. If not, you may want to reconsider engaging until they turn things around.
Conduct a Google search. Have they been investigated or written about unfavorably in your local papers, or worse, nationally. Pay attention to negative Google reviews but take them with a grain of salt. Did the organization respond to complaints? If yes, was it in a timely and appropriate manner?
Review the organization’s website. Do they have the types of programs you support or don’t support such as TNR, Barn Cat programs, conversational adoptions? Are they transparent about their policies on euthanasia? Does their philosophy match yours? For example, if I don’t see a single picture of a pit bull type dog in an organization’s marketing materials (printed or online) or on the available dogs page, I have to ask if they euthanize based on physical appearance, which is a deal breaker for me personally.
Explore the big trends in animal welfare. Make sure an organization’s position aligns with your values. Don’t assume that well-known organizations are necessarily operating the way you would like. For example, PeTA is actually opposed to pet ownership (“We at PETAvery much love the animal companions who share our homes, but we believe that it would have been in the animals’ best interests if the institution of “petkeeping”—i.e., breeding animals to be kept and regarded as “pets”—never existed.” – from their website which I refuse to link to) and has extremely high euthanasia rates. Does this fit with your philosophy of being a pet owner/pet industry blogger?
Check out the Social Media Platforms. Do they seem to know what they are doing in terms of engagement with their audience or is this an area where you could really help?
Define the Scope of Work
In effect, you are volunteering for a very specific type of project so set a scope of work that you can actually accomplish without feeling overwhelmed. In other words, don’t offer to arrange a major gala for a volunteer-run organization that has twelve people, no budget and no infrastructure. Sometimes what an organization needs may not be as sexy as what we might want to provide so finding common ground will create a much smoother relationship and a more positive experience for everyone. The old saying, “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” does apply here. Not because the organization intends to take advantage but because we fail to provide clarity around what we can actually commit in terms of time and deliverables.
Once you’ve come to an agreement, write up the scope of work and the approximate value. It is absolutely acceptable for you to request an “in-kind” donation form for your professional services to include in your taxes upon completion of the project (or at an end-of-year milestone).
Keep it simple!
Possible ways to engage:
- Event marketing – Help to create an awareness campaign for an upcoming event or initiative the organization has planned
- Photography – events, animals for the website, etc.
Teach the skill you taught to the Hustle Group to staff or volunteers – you’d be surprised how many groups still don’t know how to utilize social media effectively.
Volunteer to walk dogs and highlight the dogs on social media to support adoption efforts
Offer to highlight one long-term animal each week or each month
Run a food, funds, and/or supplies donation drive. Many organizations have a “wish list” of needed items. Ask the organization about their current hard goods needs.
Only 10% of a 501 (C) 3 organization’s work can be devoted to lobbying which means that they are often unable to be as vocal as they might like when it comes to animal welfare issues, supporting animal-friendly politicians or engaging in direct advocacy work such as trying to overturn breed-specific legislation in favor of responsible owner/aggressive dog legislation. Devote one or more posts/month to help educate your readers on a particular issue that would support your local animal shelter or rescue groups such as a series on a particular topic (see examples below)