Cincinnati Animal CARE Humane Society has one of the largest foster programs in the country, placing over 4,600 pets in foster homes in 2021. How did they do it? A major secret to their success is the thriving Facebook group they created to facilitate communication with foster caregivers.
Since its creation in September 2020, the group has grown in leaps and bounds. Today, over 1,900 members submit about 20 posts per day. Not only does the group enable foster staff to better support and communicate with foster caregivers, they use it to introduce pets who needs foster homes, publicize upcoming events, and ask fosters for other types of help such as administrative support for the program. Fosters can post photos, video and marketing material in the group for communications staff to use as content on the shelter’s social media pages. Just as importantly, it’s a place where foster caregivers can get to know one another and build their personal support networks.
We sat down with foster coordinator Amanda Graus to ask her about the strategies that have led to their success. Here’s what she told us:
Spark engagement. “At the beginning, we did a lot of engaging posts that required fosters to answer a question or share photos of their fosters,” says Graus. In their other foster-related communications, they messaged about the group continually, prompting fosters to check it out. Fosters are encouraged to use the group to connect with others who can temporarily care for their foster when they go out of town and find “foster friends,” who work as a team to support a foster pet. Some fun things they’ve done to keep fosters engaged include:
- Raffles: “We do a couple of raffles a week that people are entered in if they come get a foster that week. They are super simple and are typically different donations!” says Graus.
- Contests: They have regular contests, such as seeing who can recruit the most new fosters. “We asked fosters to post funny photos of their fosters, current or past, and whoever gets the most likes wins a raffle basket for their foster,” Graus says. “This keeps people engaged and actually makes other people see how fun fostering can be!”
- Asking fosters to help in other ways: Graus says this includes, “Kids handing out flyers around the neighborhood, collecting donations, sharing their foster success stories in neighborhood groups, etc. I think it’s important to understand that anyone in the foster group typically is there to help and support your organization. Most people are excited to help in other ways as well, and it’s important to allow them to.”
Be the example. “Our Facebook group is our ‘best friend'” you could say,” Graus says. “Our staff, foster coaches, and me specifically are constantly posting in it to keep people engaged, say foster needs, and let everyone know we’re here. We are constantly answering comments as well.”
Set ground rules. “We do have to approve every post, and we reach out to the foster if for some reason we can’t approve their post,” says Graus. “We do mediate comments. We expect our foster parents to support one another and come to us with any issues, so we can help.”
Try, and try again! “Our foster program has tried several different platforms to help our program such as Trello, Better Impact, etc. and have slowly found what works best in this moment for our program,” Graus tells us. “Just because it works at another organization doesn’t mean it’s best for yours, but I suggest always being willing to try something out, especially if it’s successful at an organization similar to yours.”
“I think the most important thing is to always be open to change and growth in your program,” says Graus. “There is always room for improvement and growth in a program, and foster team members have to be willing to listen to how others are succeeding and trying new things.”
View the group’s description, rules and several examples of their posts.