It started as an experiment. Vicki Davis was toying with the idea of a "Name Your Price" cat adoption event and decided to give it a try. 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," says Davis.
In the first five hours of the event, this small shelter adopted out 15 cats, three dogs and a chinchilla. That compares to an average of about 8 animals going out on a regular business day.
By the end of the day, 209 visitors had attended, and some of the things the staff had feared never happened: No one offered zero money for a cat, for example. And some things the staff didn't expect also happened: Great media coverage and such success that a follow-up event was planned immediately.
"Nobody tried to give us nothing—and I would have actually been OK with that"
In fact, once adopters relaxed and realized they weren't judged, their offers were more reasonable than anticipated. "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 low-income community and they did what we asked: named their price."
The local newspaper and radio station got on board, providing coverage before and after. "The media thought it was fun to talk about," she says. Davis adds that her shelter has developed good relationships with local media. And she knew that one reporter was an animal lover, so she had a surefire place to pitch the event. Tri-County Humane also pushed the event on its Facebook page, which helped to spread the word.
The event freed up space, but it was quickly filled with 23 "surprise cats" who came in after the event was finished. "We're doing it again right away," she noted. Since buzz and interest from the public and press continued, she decided to follow up fast.
"Most important, I got enough cages opened up (in the best way possible—via adoptions!) for the foster returns I had waiting to come in," Davis says, "so mission accomplished!"
Now You Try It
In order to raise maximum funds, give people an idea of what they're getting financially. In addition to their regular adoption fees, Tri-County Humane itemized the "fair market value" of everything they do for the cats: vaccinations, spay/neuter, etc. According to Davis, having those figures down in black and white probably spurred some adopters to pay more than they would have otherwise.
Before your event kicks off, prep your staff not to judge the people who come in and say they want to pay only $5 or nothing at all—the name of the game is to honor an offer of any amount without question.