This guest blog was written by Rachel Jones, Adult Dog Foster Coordinator for Pima Animal Care Center (PACC) in Tucson, AZ. PACC is in the process of completing a 3-year study on foster care which is funded by Maddie’s Fund and led by shelter researcher Dr. Gary Patronek, VMD, PhD.
Hi there. Welcome. Aloha. If you’ve found your way to this blog, you’re probably no stranger to the, “We send dogs to foster and they just sit there forever” phenomenon. While this does seem to be a widespread epidemic affecting foster programs across the nation, have no fear – there is a cure – and we call it: “Systematizing low-effort ways to set foster caregivers up for marketing success” – Catchy, right?
It took us a little while to find our groove with foster marketing at PACC but analyzed our data recently and found that foster now had a beneficial effect on length of stay for healthy adult dogs! The following tips are a large part of what plays in to this.
Make sure people can find and ask about the dog online.
This is the simplest tip. People are online looking for dogs all the time. Make sure people viewing a foster animal’s online profile know who to contact if they’re interested in that dog – whether it’s staff, a volunteer group or the dog’s foster caregiver directly. At PACC, an animal’s online shelter profile is automatically updated to include the email@example.com email address when they leave for foster. You’d be surprised how many people will ask about an animal even if the only thing in the profile is a photo and an email address!
Automate emails to collect marketing material (then put it to use!)
One of the best things about foster care is what we learn about dogs away from the shelter which makes it super important to capitalize on this information in their adoption marketing. Don’t have fosters or volunteers kicking down the door to write dog biographies? No problem! Most fosters are more than happy to answer a Q&A email about the animal in their care.
At PACC, we use our shelter software (Chameleon) to automatically email our caregivers a questionnaire at the one-week mark. When they fill it out and email it back, we copy and paste it into that dog’s online profile. Most dogs on Adopt-a-Pet, Petfinder and Pet Harbor have completely blank profiles so adding this information is priceless in helping fosters stand out.
Create online resources for foster caregivers
Having online resources available is like having a super helpful assistant that’ll cut your email volume in half and tackle marketing questions without the need for you to step in.
Our two favorite online foster tools are:
- Here, fosters can find links to the Maddie’s Fund foster marketing manual, instructions on how to change their foster’s online photo, information about adoption logistics, links to sign their fosters up for adoption events and more! We ask our caregivers to get well acquainted with this page when they take their first foster home.
PACC’s Foster Social Media Group
- Our foster caregivers really are each other’s best support system. Giving them a designated space to communicate, ask for help, share marketing material and discuss best practices serves everyone.
Build marketing into your foster on-boarding
There’s a whole lot to be said for setting realistic expectations. If you don’t discuss marketing during your foster on-boarding and then ask for a written bio and cute pictures 3 weeks down the line, you may open your email the next day to a level of sass you don’t appreciate.
“Marketing” and “animal caregiving” operate in two completely different parts of the brain and most caregivers won’t make the connection unless you discuss it with them first. Many will probably never grow to love writing and photography (and that’s okay!) but they’ll be more open to being a part of the marketing process if the expectation is communicated in advance.
Capitalize on foster marketing information when dogs return
If you’re working out of a shelter setting, dogs coming back from foster can be a fantastic new adoption opportunity for them. People are in shelters every day, ready to take a dog home. When foster dogs return, it’s our job to harness the power of our foster marketing material to get them out for good this time!
Our caregivers fill out a questionnaire on acuityscheduling.com in order to return their foster dogs. We use this info to update their kennel cards, update their online profiles and then we print it out and staple it to their kennel cards with a laminated prompt asking people to read it!
Do you have questions for Rachel, or would you like to continue the conversation? We’ve started a thread on this blog in Maddie’s Pet Forum, where you can engage with her and continue the conversation. We’ve also attached multiple resources (screenshots of their foster return process, a link to the video they use to train foster caregivers in marketing their foster pets, and more!) that you can use as templates!