Community engagement is a key part of becoming a more welcoming and inclusive animal organization. As we prepare for the 2023 Open Arms Challenge (Registration ends January 30th!), we’re sharing some of the stories from the winners of the last Open Arms Challenge in 2022. From reaching new groups of people and providing resources to forming partnerships, these particular organizations all involved community engagement of some kind in their approach. We hope these will inspire you as we head into the next Challenge!
Reaching new audiences
The 2021 winners of the Most Effective Use of Open and Welcoming Menu items practice, Animal Care of Davis County (ACDC) in Utah, utilized local newsletters to spread the word about their offerings and added a description about the Volunteer and Foster Program, events and other opportunities. By implementing this additional marketing strategy, residents were more likely to see what their organization does, especially if they weren’t on social media. For those who were on social media, marketing materials were added to specific city social media groups that hadn’t been reached before.
Animal Care of Davis County also expanded their Volunteer Program by being open and welcoming to those who wanted to volunteer as a group and to those with disabilities. They saw a 16% increase of groups that volunteered during the Open Arms Challenge. Additionally, the organization created a better relationship with Retired Senior Volunteer Program, during the Challenge. This resulted in a 69% increase in senior aged volunteers, far surpassing their goal of a 10% increase.
“We hope to involve more senior-aged volunteers to our Foster Program and start to market towards senior housing or assisted living places or senior community centers,"the organization shared. "We were able to measure the success of including other groups of volunteers, including family reunions, Boy Scout and Girl Scout clubs that hadn’t been here before, and much more. We also had at least one group that is involved with persons with disabilities. The Challenge helped us focus on improving community relationships or being more open to those who had never visited our shelter before.”
Pet support services
Best Overall Effort winner, Pinellas County Animal Services’ (PCAS) Community Outreach Team developed three partnerships with food banks located throughout the county to distribute free pet food. In the month of December alone, they delivered over 900 pounds of food to these banks. Free pet food was also distributed through the shelter lobby and amounted to 1,788 pounds.
In addition, to increase access to low-cost veterinary services, the Florida-based organization hosted a free vaccine clinic and served over 30 families. Marketing on social media was created to be more inclusive. Several free adoption events were marketed around the holiday and included multi-cultural symbolism to be more inclusive and welcoming to all. It also assisted all adopters, by creating bags filled with supplies to set them up for success.
Partnerships played a role in their success, including one with GoodPup, which offers a week of free training and support to all shelter customers. PCAS is having law enforcement recommend this service to citizens it assists in the field with the goal of keeping pets with their families by offering free and accessible training and support to everyone.
“Our demographic has been gradually changing to include those with disabilities, different cultures, and backgrounds, as well as all age groups. This is due to an effort to educate on social media and in the field as well as to form partnerships with organizations who place those with disabilities for job skills training,” PCAS shared.
Expanding locations and resources
Along with adoption application changes, an expansion of adoption event locations and marketing to a more diverse audience helped Beautiful Together Animal Society (BTAS) in North Carolina earn a grant for Robust Program. “We are confident we are moving in the right direction and will plan to increase the number of events and event locations this year. We want to continuously monitor our adoption and marketing practices and continuing to remove barriers of adoption and increase the diversity of the Beautiful Together Community," BTAS shared.
BTAS also now has an open-air pavilion on their Sanctuary property, which will allow more individuals to access resources including dog training classes, foster training sessions, as well as pilot its youth programming curriculum. The youth programming seeks to serve children who are in foster care, group homes or other at-risk situations and connect them to rescued animals and provide healing and therapeutic solutions for both. "Our foster and volunteer networks are slowly starting to be more representative of the diversity in our community and we are excited for the opportunities that presents,” explained BTAS.
New partnerships, high school volunteers and under supported neighborhoods
Brooklyn Bridge Animal Welfare Coalition, Inc. (BBAWC) of New York earned a Robust Program award for piloting two new programs during the Open Arms Challenge. One was a volunteer program for individuals who are developmentally disabled and one was a program for high schoolers from under supported neighborhoods.
The first is a partnership with Job Path NYC, a non-profit organization that assists developmentally disabled individuals in joining the workforce as employees or volunteers. The second program is a new Cat Cafe Teen Program offering high schoolers the opportunity to participate in weekly classes on animal care and rescue, earn volunteer hours, and engage in education opportunities like shadowing animal care and veterinary professionals. With the goal of increasing involvement in the underserved communities where animal homelessness is most prevalent, BBAWC reached out to guidance counselors in nearby schools that draw their students from those areas. Through their participation in the program these students will become ambassadors for the animals in their communities empowering them to make a concrete difference where it’s needed most.
“Through the teen program we worked with a demographic that we have historically not been able to reach in a structured way. Previously, we’ve had a lot of interest from prospective teen volunteers but not an appropriate structure to onboard them with enough support and guidance. In addition, all of the participating teens were people of color, a community underrepresented in our overall volunteer pool. In addition, by reaching students through representatives at their schools, we began to forge partnerships with those institutions. In the future, we plan to partner more extensively in this way, hopefully offering in-school educational opportunities for more students, even those not interested in devoting free time to animal rescue activities.
Reaching senior communities
Over in California, Animal Friends of the Valleys (AFV) works with senior communities, with many being built in their area. Earning a grant for Robust Program, they offer several senior programs for people to interact with the animals whether in their own facility or at the shelter. AFV also works alongside many veteran groups to help combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“It is all about communication, all people want to be heard and treated fairly. AFV continues to build meaningful relationships by listening and understanding all visitors,” the organization shared in their report. “AFV was awarded non-profit of the year for the state of California last year. Thank you for this opportunity to re-examine our customer service protocols and to make sure everyone who enters the shelter is treated fairly and respectfully. Our goal is to be inclusive to all, and to find a loving and forever home for each adoptable pet at Animal Friends of the Valleys.”
Don’t forget to register for the 2023 Open Arms Challenge! Registration closes January 30th.
Marketing Communications Project Manager