Summers in Nashville are notoriously hot and humid, and this July day was no exception. The temperature hit 94 degrees before noon. Right around that time at Nashville Humane Association (NHA), the power went out.

It didn’t take long for the building to begin steaming up. Animals began to pant in the heat. The power company, whose equipment malfunction had caused the outage, was unable to give NHA an estimate of how long it would take to fix. They made a decision based on the worst-case scenario: they needed to get the animals out and into homes as soon as possible.

They went straight to social media and put out a call for help. The asked the public to take cats and dogs overnight through their Rovernight program until their air conditioning was fixed.

Within 25 minutes, their community began streaming in the front door. “SO MANY PEOPLE showed up!” says foster coordinator Erica Beard. “Our social media post was shared seemingly everywhere, and several news stations, newspapers, and online influencers picked up the story.”

As NHA sent out the last of 94 animals, the line of potential fosters was still 50 people deep. Ultimately, 11 of the 94 animals were adopted by their overnight fosters. Of those who didn’t adopt their overnight guest, about 75% came back with goodies – new collars, toys, blankets and more.

How can organizations in temporary crisis channel the community’s support into a lifesaving win? Read on for NHA’s biggest takeaways.

  1. They asked current fosters to help deliver their message to the community. “The fosters spread the word among their friends like wildfire! We had several fosters bring their parents along so they could take an extra animal,” says Beard.
  2. They utilized social media to ask for help. NHA used video to tell the public what was happening and show them individual pets that needed their help.  “We had droves of people show up because they saw a quick post on Facebook or Instagram. Our phones and email were down so we told people just to show up, and they surely did!” Beard tells us.
  3. They had a process in place in advance. They put pets into foster care using the process created for their existing Rovernight program. Staff were already familiar with the logistics and they had purposely designed the onboarding process to be quick and low-barrier.

“This taught me – or really, reminded me – that if you put the ask out, the people will follow,” says Beard. “So often I feel we are afraid to ask for too much help because it’s a burden or bogs down peoples’ newsfeeds. But really, all we had to do was do a quick ask and within hours we had 150+ people show up. Tennessee is known as the Volunteer state and we are so thankful that we had so many willing volunteers on that hot summer day!”