This post originally ran in June 2021. With the We Foster Challenge coming up in May, we thought this was a great post to revisit.
Kansas City Pet Project has one of the largest foster programs in the nation with over 4,400 pets placed in foster homes in 2020 alone. In any given month, over 50% of their pets are being cared for in foster homes! At a time when many shelters and rescue organizations are looking for innovative ways to recruit fosters, we asked Tori Fugate, Chief Communications Officer for Kansas City Pet Project and Kelly Duer, Foster Care Specialist here at Maddie’s Fund®, to give us a peek at the techniques they’ll be discussing in their presentation about foster recruitment at Humane Canada’s The Future of Sheltering event.
Kelly: Tori, some of our readers may be surprised to learn that as Chief Communications Officer, your role in foster recruitment is vital. How and why do you work with the foster team to keep new fosters signing up?
Tori: Since working at the shelter since 2012, I’ve seen the vital importance of our foster program and how having a robust program truly helps us save lives as an organization. My role as the Chief Communications Officer is to bring people to the organization, to talk about our needs and the pets that would do great in foster homes, to bring in supplies and donations to support our program, and to market our foster pets for adoption. The marketing teams and foster team should be working together all the time to communicate all of those things. Showcase animals that have been in foster a while, highlight the before and after photos of a medical pet that’s been in foster, promote your Dog Day Out Program pets, or promote a foster who excels at bottle feeding kittens. The promotional opportunities are endless and it’s what your audience and supporters want to see. They want to know how their support will help your organization do the great things you’re doing, and it will ultimately bring in more fosters.
Kelly: One of KC Pet Project’s most important strategies is to talk about foster all the time. Why do you do this?
Tori: If you talk about it enough, people are going to want to be involved in it. We show the pets living in foster homes. Showing our fosters, showing the great work they’re doing and talking about why they foster, so other families may see that and say, “Oh, we want to do that too.” We do a lot to show our community’s support, so showing data—how many dogs went to foster, how many cats. Your coworkers and other volunteers should also promote fostering as much as you do. I think there’s been a perception in the past that pets are in foster homes because there’s “something wrong with them”. We need to normalize fostering pets and show that yes, some are in foster to work on behavior modification or recover medically, but also show that foster pets are there just to be there. They’re great pets looking for new homes just like the ones in your shelter!
Tori: Word of mouth is an important tool for foster recruitment. What does the research say about this?
Kelly: Most organizations are seeing a significant proportion (30% or more in some places!) of their new fosters recruited by word of mouth—basically, people talking to one another about fostering. Market research shows that when a friend or family member talks about foster, people are likely to trust them, and this can help motivate them to sign up. Tori, you have to tell them about the foster mom who biked with her foster dog to promote fostering- that photo is so cute!
Tori: Lisa, our foster, literally rode her bike around the neighborhood with her foster pet, Summer, in a little bike car. Your existing fosters are your best advocates. Make sure they know how to promote the program. Have t-shirts made or signs for people’s front yard to promote fostering. We’ve even made cute bags for our Dog Day Out Program that say “Yes, you can adopt this dog. It’s OK to be excited!”
Kelly: What are some of the things KC Pet Project is doing to recruit a foster base that’s as diverse as your community?
Tori: For us at KC Pet Project, we’re really looking at how we recruit. People want to see themselves in your organization, so be mindful of showing diversity in your photos, flyers, promotions, etc. Branch out to new opportunities to foster. Work with your local Parks and Recreation department to set up a table at some of their summer events, go to local churches to speak on fostering or bring kittens to retirement communities to encourage residents to get involved.
Also, make it easy to foster. Don’t call it an application—we call it a sign-up form and it’s easily accessible on our website. Have flyers in English and in Spanish, and have a system in place to support your Spanish-speaking fosters.
Kelly: What are some of the strategies you’re using to recruit and renew fosters (marketing pets in foster so they get adopted and their foster caregivers can take on new pets?)?
Tori: In non-covid times, we do a lot of collaboration with bars and restaurants, where we’ll do little fundraising events but we’ll also do foster recruitment. There’s a Kitten Shower event that we do at a brewery every year where we collect donations for our foster program. We have our fosters there and our foster coordinators. We bring kittens and cat toys, and everyone goes around and talks about what it’s like to foster.
At the start of the pandemic, we did a live Facebook Q & A, just talking about fostering. I interviewed our foster managers, Lisa and Sara, and we talked about how people could get involved, what fostering would look like during a pandemic and what kinds of animals we had that needed to go to homes. We cleared out our shelter in less than two weeks.
Invite your fosters to be a part of internal Facebook Groups where they can share content and photos of their pets. We do a Foster Friday each week and encourage our fosters to share photos and updates. Marketing can get great content to share from the organization’s social media pages.
We also do Instagram takeover days, where we give our fosters Instagram access for the day, and they can post their pet, using local and national hashtags, to draw attention to them.
Interested in learning more about foster recruitment? Check out the links on our foster resource page!