How Animal Shelters Can Partner with Shopping Malls to Increase Adoptions and Donations
For Orphans of the Storm Animal Shelter in Riverwoods, IL, partnering with local shopping malls is a year-round strategy that has increased adoptions and donations—especially during the holiday season.
The shelter works with 2 local malls to market their available animals to a new pool of adopters: people like Connie Wilson who are willing to rescue but not likely to visit a shelter. Wilson was shopping at the mall when she noticed the Orphans of the Storm store. On a whim, she popped inside and met Annabelle and Bethany—2 extremely shy and bonded dogs—who she decided to adopt. "I get overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of shelters, so I would never have seen my girls if they hadn't been at the mall," says Wilson.
The partnership "puts our animals in front of a brand-new client base and gives some of our longer-term and special needs animals their chance to shine outside of a shelter setting," says Kristen Tump, volunteer and event coordinator. Tump credits a mall partnership with placing Farley, a special needs dog with fused vertebrae, pictured above. Upon seeing Farley at the mall, his new mom, Jonquay Armon, immediately felt a connection with him. "Farley is also affectionately known as Mr. Farley, Farles Barkley, Farles in Charge, and our Farley Bear. I only wish I had seen him sooner, but I believe my visit to the mall was just something that was meant to be," says Armon.
As a former manager for a national women's clothing chain, Tump understands retail marketing. To tap into shoppers' holiday spirit, she created an "adoption and giving tree." Tree ornaments feature photos of available animals with QR codes leading directly to the animals' bios on their website. She also included ornaments with QR codes linking directly to a donation webpage so mall patrons can easily support the shelter.
The shelter wraps gifts in exchange for donations, with many shoppers donating $10 or $20, and sells shelter-branded clothing in their retail locations as well.
The shelter's visibility in the mall encouraged other retailers to help. One national women's clothing store held 2 fundraisers and gave a percentage of every purchase to the shelter, while other stores have held supply drives using the shelter's wish list.
Would a mall partnership help your organization—either during holidays or year-round? Keep reading to learn how to make it work for you.
Create a Relationship
The first step in developing a relationship with mall management is to create a proposal that clearly and attractively outlines your request. Your proposal should contain the following:
Your mission statement and accomplishments, including important statistics like the number of animals you serve
Photos of your shelter and animals up for adoption
If possible, a brief record of your successes with other community partners, particularly retailers
A list of how the partnership will benefit the mall and activate the space to draw in more shoppers
Orphans of the Storm makes good on its promise to breathe life into the retail spaces by bringing in volunteer holiday carolers to perform in the stores. The shelter has also offered "Ask the Vet" days where shoppers could consult with a partner veterinarian—a great way to highlight the shelter's role as a community resource!
Tump recommends reaching out to the marketing manager with your proposal since they will have a vested interest in promoting your cause and generating goodwill for the mall. The marketing teams at both malls added Orphans of the Storm to promotional signage and included the shelter in social media posts and email alerts.
Maintain the Relationship
Once you've got the retail space on board with your plan, these 5 tips will help ensure a smooth partnership:
Communication is critical to making sure things go smoothly. There should be 1 person at the shelter who deals with mall management to help avoid miscommunication. This person should make sure to keep the mall staff up to date on all successes.
Follow the Rules
The mall may have specific non-negotiable rules. One mall requires that staff and volunteers take animals in and out of the building through a service entrance, not the main doors. This was important to the mall to make sure that shoppers were comfortable entering and exiting the building. Violating this rule could jeopardize the arrangement, so Tump conveys its importance to staff and volunteers.
Show Your Appreciation
The mall needs to justify donating rentable retail space, so make sure you give them recognition as frequently and in as many outlets as possible. The shelter tags both malls in its social media posts and includes them on their website. In the past, the shelter invited key mall employees to the organization's annual gala and acknowledged them publicly at the event.
The more positive feedback the mall receives from patrons about the collaboration, the better. Encourage volunteers and staff to patronize the mall and to thank mall management for supporting the shelter.
Manage Your Volunteers
Tump says shelter volunteers make the mall collaborations successful by working alongside shelter staff to help showcase animals.
Volunteers can sign up to help at both mall locations by logging into the shelter's volunteer management system and choosing a time that works for them. Before their first shift, a staff member or tenured volunteer personally onboards each new volunteer.
"Volunteers are critical to the success of our mall partnerships, and we make sure they are aware of the huge impact they are having by volunteering," says Tump.
Think Like a Retailer
With retail, there's always another holiday around the corner. Tump says Valentine's Day and Mother's Day are also great occasions for bringing out the shoppers—and adopters—to their mall locations.