In early June Vicki Davis of Tri-County Humane in Minnesota put out an email to colleagues in the sheltering field saying she was toying with the idea of a "Name Your Price" cat adoption event.
Less than a week later the idea became reality, and in the first five hours of its event this small shelter in St. Cloud adopted out 15 cats, three dogs and a chinchilla. That compares to an average of about 8 animals going out on a normal day.
There were 209 visitors on the event day, and some of the things the staff had feared never happened: No one offered zero amount of money for a cat, for example. And some things the staff didn't expect also happened: Great media coverage and such success that a second follow-up event was planned immediately.
What made it work?
"First of all," Davis says, "I got such great advice from other people." She posed the question on the SAWA listserve, and put in action the tips she received. "Give people an idea of what they're getting financially," one colleague offered. So in addition to their regular adoption fees, the shelter itemized the "fair market value" of everything they do for the cats: vaccinations, spay/neuter, etc. Having those figures down in black and white probably spurred some adopters to pay more than they would have otherwise.
Another great piece of advice from the listserve: "Prep your staff not to judge the folks who come in and say they want to pay only $5 or nothing at all…we have to honor our offer without question and not use their frugalness as a screening mark against them."
Davis says her staff was skeptical at first. "They were afraid no one would want to pay for anything. We coached them not to be judgmental … if people offer little or nothing, they're doing exactly what we asked them to do." In fact, once adopters relaxed and realized they weren't judged, their offers were more reasonable than feared. "They'd say something like 'would $20 be OK?' Nobody tried to give us nothing — and I would have actually been OK with that," Davis adds.
"Our adoption income was more than double from when we ran a $10 cat promotion," she says. "The lowest adoption offer was $20 for two cats and the highest was $30 for one cat…It's a frugal community and they did what we asked: named their price."
Press & social media connections
The local newspaper and radio station got on board, providing coverage before and after the fact. "The media thought it was fun to talk about," she says.
"We've developed good relationships over a period of time with our local media," she adds. Davis found out that one reporter, for example, is an animal lover, so she knew a sure-fire place to pitch the event.
Tri-County Humane also pushed the event on its Facebook page, which "went viral," Davis says. Pictures and descriptions of individual adoptees were shown, as were advertising posters for the event. People responded by sharing the posts, and even by expressing interest in individual animals.
Strike while the iron's hot
The event freed up space, but it was quickly filled with 23 "surprise cats" that came in after the event was finished. "We're doing it again, right away," Davis says. Since buzz and interest from the public and press continued – and more cats arrived – she decided to follow up fast.
"Most importantly I got enough cages opened up (in the best way possible – via adoptions!) for the foster returns I had waiting to come in," she says, "so mission accomplished!"