Dozens of animal shelters and rescue organizations across the country are launching field trip programs as part of a groundbreaking nationwide study of foster care. By making it easy for their communities to participate and using innovative marketing strategies, multiple organizations have sent so many dogs on field trips that they’ve cleared their adoption floors on the very first day of their programs!
The goal of the study, carried out by Arizona State University in conjunction with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and funded by Maddie’s Fund®, is to learn more about how foster programs affect dogs as well as shelter staff and volunteers. Participating shelters are taught how to start, run and market field trips, sleepovers or long-term foster programs for dogs.
Detroit Animal Care and Control’s recent field trip program launch generated so much community support that when the last of their 80 available dogs left for a field trip, 100 people were still in line to participate! Many of them stayed at the shelter to bring the remaining dogs (who were still on stray hold) into the play yards for some fun outside their kennels.
“Every single dog in our shelter was touched by this program,” says Margo Butler, a board member of the Friends of Detroit Animal Care and Control. “In a shelter where we typically have little to no information on our dogs, every single available dog now has report cards hanging from their kennel door, something that countless adopters and rescues have told us make their decision to take a dog.”
Interested in taking your shelter’s field trip program to the next level? Here are five strategies these organizations are using to rally community support for their programs:
- Remove barriers. Allow your community to participate and make it easy for them to take a dog out. “The more we opened it up, the more interest we got,” says Becky Blackmun, a veterinary technician at Michiana Humane Society (MHS). Their program’s launch resulted in rooms full of empty kennels. Signing up is simple. Participants aren’t required to fill out an application but instead sign a waiver and an information sheet.
- Utilize social media. Create a Facebook Event, make a cute graphic or two, or take a dog on a test run of the program to show supporters how it works. Engage your followers by creating a way to have their program-related questions answered, as Kentucky Humane Society did via Facebook Live, and Fredericksburg SPCA does via Instagram Stories. Encourage participants to post about their experience on their own social media accounts as well. At MHS, “People seemed to love the fact that they were not restricted in sharing,” says Blackmun.
- Send out a press release. Engaging your local media can make a huge difference in getting the word out about your program, and field trip programs make fun, engaging news stories. Here’s a toolkit for the launch of your field trip program, including a press release template.
- Create partnerships. “We used Dogventures as an opportunity to encourage our supporters to spend more time in the city of Detroit and to build relationships with local businesses,” says Butler. “Several businesses acted as destinations for Dogventures participants, offering incentives like goodies for the dogs and discounts for the humans. Participants loved having specific places to go and hang out around other people who were enjoying their day out with dogs. The businesses who participated all had great things to say about the program and its participants, and all have agreed to participate in ongoing events.”
If your organization is a municipal shelter, your city or county’s marketing department may also be interested in helping you promote your program. If you’re interested in learning about partnerships and other marketing methods, check out this video of Fredericksburg Regional SPCA staff describing their successful strategies in detail.
- Make it into a game. Many organizations are setting the stage to get great dog photos by providing participants with a bingo card. Each square on their Bingo card lists a photo opportunity such as “wearing a hat,” “at the park,” or “napping.” Those who complete a row, around the edges or a whole card can win inexpensive prizes like logo t-shirts or the rights to name a litter of kittens.
If you’re interested in learning how to create a field trip program or improving the one you have, we have more great resources for you! Take our online course through Maddie’s University, or apply to attend the Field Trip and Sleepover Foster Apprenticeship at Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA.