Pet adoption events are a great way for animal rescue and shelter organisations to get their cats and dogs into the hands of excited adopters. It’s a great opportunity to market your organisation, receive donations, offload animals if your organisation is overflowing, and provide an fun day for your community.
It’s important that your pet adoption event is:
- held properly and safely
- run in the best way possible to maximise adoptions and donations
- marketed effectively to increase awareness and bring in foot traffic on the day
- and followed up to keep your organisation top-of-mind for people who may adopt in future.
Here’s a 14-step guide to hosting and marketing an adoption event at your non-profit pet rescue organisation.
1. When will you hold the event?
It’s important to be selective with the timing of your adoption event, because if you hold it on a day when people are unlikely to attend, you’ll lose attendees. This could be a big loss for your organisation, and a waste of your time.
Instead, hold the event at a time when people are available. Over a weekend is best, because this is when most people are off work and looking for something to do. Holding the event all day, from early morning into the evening, also gives more people time to attend. And, holding the event over several days creates even more opportunity.
Of course, timing depends on your budget and what your organisation can realistically handle. Think about your capabilities carefully, as well as your specific community, and their needs and availability. Some seasons may also be better than others; if your area has very hot summers or very cold winters, choosing an autumn or spring day can be better for the volunteers, attendees, and animals.
You can also use timing to match your event to a special-day-theme. You could dress up animals in red hearts for Valentine’s Day, or in your local sports team’s colours to support a game. Also, at Christmastime, or on many holidays, families are more likely to be looking for a pet as a gift. Working this into your marketing strategy can bring in more attendees.
2. Where will you hold the event?
The location of the event is another important aspect to consider in the early planning stages. While it may be easier to hold it at your organisation’s facility, a place with more foot traffic, and lots of open space (with some covered space as well) can be very beneficial.
For example, a local business might a perfect area for the event (like a pet shop car park), and you can partner with them. A local sports facility, like a stadium or football field, can also be ideal. A shopping centre can be a great option due to the high levels of foot traffic, as long as you have enough space and safety is in place.
If you do choose to hold the event at a location outside your facility, you’ll have to transport all the animals and equipment there. You’ll need to ensure that you have the ability to do this, and do it safely. If you choose to hold the event at your facility, consider if you have everything necessary for the day – ample parking, amenities, walkability through the facility for attendees, and space for other activities.
3. Who will work the event?
Consider carefully how many volunteers you’ll need for the day, which roles they’ll be taking, and how you can provide for their needs. Since you’ll likely need more volunteers on the event day (and for setting up the event) than you would normally have on staff, it’s important to think about how you can find people to help. What are your usual avenues for sourcing volunteers? Would local pet businesses offer their help?
You need to find out when your volunteers have availability – it’s great to hold an event on the weekend, but if none of your volunteers are available on weekends, you’ll run into a big problem. To ensure volunteers know what to do, give people roles and clear guidelines. You should also have a few extra volunteers available as backup, in case some become unavailable last minute on the day.
You might also choose more specialised roles to give volunteers, if the event is big enough to warrant it. For example, having a first-aid officer on site will increase safety for attendees, and having a vet on site will increase safety for animals. There should be people specifically handling adoptions, people taking care of the animals, and hosts who can show people around – even people helping attendees with parking. You may even choose some of your brawnier staff to act as security.
4. What are the legalities and safety measures needed?
You can’t just let anyone come in and take home an animal of their choosing – there are many steps in ethical adoption, including following up with each adopter to check on the pet. Your organisation likely already has such procedures in place, and should retain these on the event day. Not only should all volunteers be clear on these procedures, but all attendees and adopters should be made clear on them too.
Also consider permits that necessary to hold the event and associated activities. If you’re holding the event in a public place, do you have permission to be making sales and providing food and games? Do you need permission to use the space? You can contact your local council to ask about a public area, or if you want to use a space such as a sports facility or events centre, contact the owners.
Safety is another important aspect to remember, not only because you should endeavour to promote safety in your organisation and in the event, but because you could get in big trouble if an accident occurs during your event and it’s either your fault or you aren’t prepared to deal with it.
Plans should be in place to protect both people and animals from harm, including safety measures to handle crowds, ensure interactions with animals and the public are safe (especially with children) and there is sufficient food, water and shelter (such as weather protection like shade or indoor space).
How will you make sure animals don’t escape, or get up to trouble? And, if your safety measures fail, do you have plans in place to deal with such scenarios? It’s important to have a team of volunteers who are ready with a plan in case animals are naughty – for the pets’ safety and the attendees’. Train your volunteers on correct procedures before the day.
To avoid confusion, and possible theft, have a security measure in place for people who are bringing their own pets to the event. It can be a good idea to give the owners a docket as they enter the event to show that their pet is theirs. You might also provide a docket or other marker to people who have adopted a pet, and have someone at the exit check dockets as people leave.
5. Which animals will attend?
It’s likely that you won’t have all your adoptable animals attending the event (especially if you’re holding it somewhere outside your facility). This means that for the best results, you need to be selective about which animals you choose to have available on the event day. Consider dressing them up or labelling them in some way as adoptable, and print off bios for the animals to increase interest.
If an animal is poorly behaved and can cause safety problems (i.e. doesn’t react well with children), it might not be the best choice for a big event like this. Friendly dogs that can be walked around the event, and who will love to play with the attendees, however, are a great bet. You might also consider the demographics of people you expect to attend – if it’s mostly families, bring animals that love kids, but if it’s elderly people, bring animals that prefer peace and quiet.
Make sure there are more than enough adoptable animals for the amount of people you expect to attend, so there’s a range and they have a selection to choose from – but don’t bring so many that it causes problems.
6. What equipment and amenities do you need to provide?
For a big adoption event, you need to consider who is attending (volunteers and the public) and the animals, and think about what kinds of amenities you’ll need to provide for them. This creates a more enjoyable event and increases safety.
- Where will animals and people go to the toilet? (Probably not the same place!)
- Where will people park?
- How will you lay out the event in a logical way to make entering, adopting and exiting easy?
- How will people know what to do and where to go?
- What will people be able to eat and drink?
- Will you have a first aid area?
- Will you have a weather-proof space?
You’ll also need to consider all the equipment and resources you’ll need on the day. This could include:
- Pet food
- Cleaning products
- Computers and files for adoption
Here, you can also start to think about your budget, which we’ll talk about next.
7. Does the event need funding and sponsors/partners?
At this point, you’ll have organised all the above points, and hopefully will have a solid list or document of everything you need to run the event. Now it’s time to create a clear and reasonable budget. What will everything cost, how can you get it, and do you need to fundraise?
Even if you have the budget for big spending, don’t forget about one of the big rules of business: ROI (return on investment). You don’t want to overspend on supplies if you can’t see the organisation making that money back on the event day. So, create a solid budget with all potential expenditures, then figure out how much money you need to fundraise to make the event happen.
One way of fundraising or getting resources for the event (like space), and widening the reach of the event, is partnering with other organisations or asking them to sponsor the event. A partner can join you in selling their products or services on the day. A pet shop, for example, could have a pop-up shop at the event for people to buy products for the pet they have adopted. A vet could be there to offer tips on taking care of pets, while also promoting their veterinary services by building trust with their potential clients. You could even ask other animal rescue organisations to join in so it’s a bigger event – just make sure it’s logistically possible!
A sponsor usually gives you money in return for advertising. Sponsors don’t just need to be pet related. A local business might provide food and drinks for the day, cleaning supplies, vehicles, volunteers, etc. in exchange for some advertising (i.e. a billboard saying ‘This event is sponsored by XYZ’, or having the dogs wear bandanas with the sponsor’s branding).
8. Will you offer specials?
Special deals for the event day encourage people to come and adopt a pet at the event, because they know they can save money on adoption that day. Pet adoption pets could come with free vaccinations or supplies like toys and food (this is where your sponsors can come in!).
You could even offer a two-for-one deal, 50% off, or more. In the end, it isn’t about making money – it’s about finding homes for animals. Remember, keeping the animals for a long time costs you money, because you have to fund taking care of them. Although you may end up at a loss by selling the animal at a low price, at least you won’t keep losing money. A special discount can be especially helpful if you have a surplus of animals at your facility, or for animals that may be harder to sell (such as black cats or non-pedigree dogs).
Although, of course, profit is important too. You must look at your organisation’s needs and see just how affordably you can sell the animals. Sponsors could be part of these discounts, pledging to fund a certain percentage of the costs for each adoption (so if a dog is $100, they might pay $10 to help save the adopter money).
9. Will you have any special event entertainment?
A pet adoption event is already a big, special event, but you can bring in even more excitement by adding other aspects of fun. A theme, for example, can create a deeper level of engagement on the day. If it’s a Christmas adoption event, you could put up Christmas trees and tinsel, and give the dogs costumes like antlers.
Other special events could include games, live music, a local celebrity guest, food stalls, etc. These all bring in more people – even if they aren’t looking to adopt an animal. They could be convinced on the day to adopt, if they fall in love with a pet, but even if they don’t, they increase foot traffic and drive up interest. They might also post about the event on social media or tell friends, bringing in more prospective adopters and letting people know about your organisation.
Extra entertainment can also make the event more enjoyable for children, who will be delighted to come and convince their parents to adopt a pet. You could even offer to host a game for some local children’s sports teams, such as a football match, which will bring in entertainment for people who visit, as well as ensure the attendance of lots of families.
10. How will you tell people about the event?
Now it’s time to start thinking about marketing the event, and putting together a solid plan to make sure people know about the event and are convinced to come on the day. Some of the first steps are adding the event to your website, and to Facebook (not just as a post, but as an Event). You can also ask a creative volunteer to design posters.
Here are some great potential marketing channels for your event:
- Social media
- Mailing list
- Local newspapers and magazines (including online spaces such as news sites and blogs)
- Your sponsors/partner’s marketing channels
- Other pet business’s marketing channels
- Posters and flyers
- Local influencers, celebrities and leaders who love animals
If you’re also including entertainment (i.e. live music, food, etc.) advertise this as well! It isn’t just an event for adoptions, but a fun family day out.
In the days or weeks before the event, you can start advertising the animals that will be available for adoption on the day. You could take out ads in local newspapers and do a weekly feature on an animal (with a cute picture and alluring bio), or post these features on social media.
11. How will you bring in people on the day?
Bringing in people on the day is another important aspect of your pet adoption event marketing. Although most attendees will come from your marketing and will know about the event before it happens, it’s also great to bring in people on the day who may not have heard of the event. For example, foot traffic if you’re in a public, accessible place (you might also attract cars by using big signs).
A banner, signs, balloons, and more can help not only guide people who are already attending, but alert new attendees to the event and draw them in. You could also use your entertainment to draw in foot traffic, such as playing live music, having games and competitions out in the open, etc.
On the day, have a photographer or dedicated social media person to take lots of photos and videos. They can post about the event online, host live videos, and more. You should also encourage attendees to post photos and videos of the event. You might provide photo opportunities, with a hashtag in the background and your logo. This might be a background you’ve already set up with props people can use. They can either take a photo with some of the animals, or with the animal they’ve just adopted. Encourage people to post their photo on social media ASAP. This way their friends will see it, therefore making others consider attending the event.
12. How can people donate on the day?
Some people may not be looking for a pet but will want to show support by donating money or supplies – make sure you have a way to collect these on the day.
A great benefit of hosting an event like this is you can educate people on what you do and why helping animals is important. This means that even if someone doesn’t adopt, they’ll be better educated, might consider adoption over shopping in future, educate others, and be compelled to donate to your organisation.
You can set up crates for donations of physical products like beds, food and other pet supplies. This way if people bring things to donate, there’s a place to put them and the donation can happen effectively, increasing the chances of getting those donations. You might also separate the crates into different types of supplies, i.e. ‘cats’ and ‘dogs’ or ‘food’, ‘blankets’ and ‘toys’. This saves both you and the donators time and confusion. You can include in your marketing that you’ll be accepting donations of supplies, so people know to bring them, and have a big banner on the day to signal the donation crates.
13. How will you follow up?
As a business, don’t forget about what’s next and how the momentum from the event can continue. Make sure you gain maximum publicity from the event by having happy stories in local newspapers, and having adopters post photos on social media of the event and their new pet. This alerts potential customers to your offering, who may not have attended the event but have now felt encouraged to adopt because they saw the event or saw that a friend adopted (as we talked about in point 11).
Try to get as many email addresses of attendees on the day so you can continue to send them marketing materials. Also encourage people to follow you on social media so they keep seeing your posts and their engagement is retained.
14. Start planning your next event!
Once you have this adoption event out of the way, it’s time to start planning the next one. Establish what worked and what didn’t, and try to get feedback from attendees and staff. That way you can ensure that the next event is even more successful. If you find that the events are doing very well, you can start holding them even more often, expanding each time.
Georgie and Cindy from Large Hope SEO foster cats and kittens on the Sunshine Coast in order to save them from pounds and enable them to find a forever home.