Planning and implementing a big adoption event is a huge undertaking, and with so many decisions to be made, the process can feel overwhelming. However, your colleagues in the field can help by sharing with you the things they would definitely repeat—and things they would never do again—at their large-scale events.
Do Extend Your Hours
Shelly Simmons, division manager of Greenville County Animal Care in Greenville, SC, says her agency really benefitted from staying open late, adopting animals right up until the event's midnight closing. And even though things slowed down after 9 p.m., Simmons says, "the number of adoptions we did after our usual closing time made the late hours well worth it."
Do Add Swag
Large events are a great opportunity to engage all sorts of non-traditional partners and businesses. Amy Shrodes, director of marketing and development for OK Humane in Oklahoma City, OK, provides businesses and organizations the opportunity to give away promotional and educational items to potential adopters who are waiting in line at the agency's big adoption events.
Examples of swag that businesses and organizations have given away at OK Humane events include coupons, logo bags, pet bandanas, dog toys and leashes. These relationships can blossom into future sponsorships or cross-promotions, and Shrodes says it's a great way to recruit new types of partners in the community that you might not otherwise work with.
Do Make It Easy
At OK Humane, organizers swear by their "Pet Adoption Concierge" service. Every adopter is assigned a volunteer concierge who helps find a dog or cat and then escorts the new family to the checkout line. Shrodes says this not only makes the process much smoother, "the atmosphere is calmer for both the pets and the workers, and it allows time for better matches to be made."
Donna Kincer, development director of Greater Androscoggin Humane Society (GAHS) in Lewiston, ME, also recommends accommodating adopters by having multiple computer or iPad checkout stations to facilitate faster processing of paperwork.
Misty Valenta, community programs manager of Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter in Georgetown, TX, agrees about the importance of reduced and fee-waived adoptions. At first, many staff members and volunteers at her agency were nervous about doing fee-waived adoptions. "However," she adds, "once they saw who showed up to the event – a long line of supporters who wanted to rescue and give a good life to animals in need – those staff members and volunteers were converted."
Do Empower (& Feed) Volunteers
Train your event volunteers to help match potential adopters with dogs and cats who are up for adoption. "Not only does having these volunteers allow our shelter to provide better customer service," says Valenta, "it also fills the volunteers with pride and joy when they get to say, 'I got someone adopted today.'"
Kincer says it's important to provide a break room to allow staff and volunteers relief from the chaos and crowds that come with a big event. The agency's break room is "well stocked with goodies, granola bars, fruit, coffee, soda, water, energy drinks and candy – whatever we feel will keep them going!" And on long adoption days, Kincer feeds the team lunch and dinner.
Do Get Creative
Fun and unique adoption themes work – just ask Tori Fugate, manager of marketing and development for KC Pet Project in Kansas City, MO, who can't wait to repeat her agency's Star Wars-themed adoption event. The festival-like atmosphere of the event attracted lots of families and included photo opportunities and fun giveaways for the kids, including temporary KCPP tattoos and KCPP cups that changed colors. The agency adopted out 33 pets in just four hours at the event.
Jennifer Smith, a customer service supervisor for Austin Animal Center in Austin, TX, says the agency's music-themed Kittypalooza is its longest running and most successful mega adoption event. "We hosted our seventh annual Kittypalooza in 2014 and adopted out a total of 192 cats and kittens and 36 dogs in two days – the highest number of adoptions Austin Animal Center has ever processed in one weekend," says Smith. She says her agency heavily markets the event during the weeks leading up to Kittypalooza and there is usually a crowd waiting at the doors before the doors open.
Don't Confuse Customers
Simmons says it's important to give your adopters a clear message about adoption policies and fees. When her Greenville agency partnered with others for a mega adoption event, each agency had its own adoption review and approval methods as well as a wide range of adoption fees. "This created confusion among customers and prevented most of the animals brought in from other agencies from being adopted same-day," she says.
Shrodes says before OK Humane had its "Pet Adoption Concierge" service, everyone was allowed to enter an adoption event at the same time. "People would push, grab cage cards out from underneath other people looking at the same animal, and decide on an animal without taking the time to talk to someone about if that animal is a good fit for them," says Shrodes. Consider using a concierge strategy – or allow only a certain number of people into the event at a time. Some agencies have potential adopters take numbers to cut down on the confusion and prevent them from cutting in line.
Don't Fake the Potty Breaks
Shrodes says at one large adoption event where there wasn't a lot of grass for the dogs to relieve themselves, artificial turf was used in the parking lot as a potty break area. "Although it looked cool, it was extremely messy, there was no easy way to clean it up after the event, and it was horrible for disease control," she says.
Georgetown's Valenta says it's better to do fewer events than to overextend your staff and volunteers. She cautions that planning two major events too close together leaves staff and volunteers frustrated and burned out. "I would rather pass on a big event, keep my team motivated, and pick the one event that has brought us the most success," she says.
Don't Go On All Night
Unlike Simmons' experience at Greenville County Animal Care, Kincer says GAHS' late night and all-night events did not pull in adopters. "While I have no doubt they would be great in larger cities, in our community it did not work – we simply did not have the foot traffic we had hoped for between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.," she says.