For the Rescuer: How to Put the Fun Back in Fundraising

Below: five creative events to invigorate rescue groups and raise much-needed funds.

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As Mother Teresa once said, “To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” This is especially true for rescue organizations. To keep saving lives, rescues must have money to do so, and fundraising is an essential part of this task.

But let’s be honest. Fund-raising can be dull, despite the desperate need. Silent auctions, raffles, rubber-chicken dinners … we’ve all done that, seen that and ate that. Yet money needs to be raised, so what’s the answer?

Many groups across the country are turning up the creativity and thinking outside the box to raise money. The trick is to do something that will attract not only dollars but also attention.

COURTESY OF KIRK LIVERS For 11 years, brave participants have flocked to the frosty Polar Bear Plunge, benefiting the Humane Society of Washington County in Maryland.
COURTESY OF KIRK LIVERS
For 11 years, brave participants have flocked to the frosty Polar Bear Plunge, benefiting the Humane Society of Washington County in Maryland.

1. Ice, ice baby

Snow and ice coat the January landscape in Maryland, but that doesn’t stop people from taking a nice — albeit frosty — swim, all in the name of homeless animals. For 11 years, the Humane Society of Washington County has sponsored its famous Polar Bear Plunge, with hundreds of people both participating and spectating.

“We have people who are excited about jumping into the freezing-cold water in the winter,” says Nikki Houser, events coordinator for the HSWC.

Freezing it is. Outside temperatures this year at Greenbrier State Park in Boonsboro, Md., hit a “balmy” 18 degrees, with water temps hovering near freezing. Yet 200 people plunged into the ice bath, ranging in age from 9 to 73. Some even came decked out in elaborate costumes for this uber-quick fundraiser.

“It’s months and months of planning, and it’s over in five minutes,” says Kirk Livers, HSWC marketing coordinator.

Actual overhead for the HSWC was quite low: warming tents, T-shirts for participants, coffee and heaters. The lake, of course, is already there. Most of what’s raised through the $25 registration fee and participants’ individual pledges is all profit.

So what’s the take-home from 2014’s low-cost fundraiser? Just a shade under $30,000, the biggest total yet for the Polar Bear Plunge.

This year, the HSWC enticed many local media personalities and politicians to take the plunge. A few folks each raked in thousands of dollars in personal pledges, and the media attention exploded.

Is the group planning on hosting a 12th Annual Polar Bear Plunge in January 2015? You can bet your ice cubes it is.

The Humane Society of Washington County, operating since 1921, is an open-admission shelter that takes in 6,000 animals each year. Its adoption rates increased 88 percent last year, from 1,073 in 2012 to 2,019 in 2013. This was accomplished through policy changes that made adopting easier, plus doing more offsite adoption events at big-box pet stores. It has 64 canine units as well as 100 feline units and space for iguanas, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits and the occasional livestock.

 

COURTESY OF FREAKS & GEEKS TATTOO SIDESHOW Paws for a Cause partakers can choose from a variety of paw-themed designs. All proceeds benefit the Asheville Humane Society in North Carolina.
COURTESY OF FREAKS & GEEKS TATTOO SIDESHOW
Paws for a Cause partakers can choose from a variety of paw-themed designs. All proceeds benefit the Asheville Humane Society in North Carolina.

2. Inked with love

It’s been said that the love of a pet leaves a permanent mark on our hearts, so it’s only natural to combine tattoos and pet adoption into a one-of-a-kind fundraiser. Seven years ago, that’s exactly what Tiffany LeMeaux did. This animal lover, tattoo artist and owner of Freaks & Geeks Tattoo Sideshow in West Asheville, N.C., began the extremely popular Paws for a Cause fundraiser.

For $40, people can get a permanent tribute to their pets, while the Asheville Humane Society gets the money. Last year, about $4,000 went directly to the shelter.

“(The donations have) definitely added up over the years, without a doubt,” LeMeaux says.

Held during the summer, Paws for a Cause is a 12-hour-long tattooing marathon where four tattoo artists donate their time. LeMeaux donates her shop’s materials and creates four to five different paw-themed tattoo designs. Then the crowds pour in.

You might not think that tattoos will bring in a wide array of people, but you would be wrong.

“By 8 a.m., there is a line down the sidewalk of people waiting,” LeMeaux says, noting that at least 75 people were inked during last year’s marathon. “We always have more people than we can tattoo. We are all exhausted by the end of it, but we have big, fat smiles on our faces.”

Such satisfaction is due in part to stories like this: An 82-year-old woman walked in and asked for a paw print with a heart tattoo to be placed on her ankle in memory of her beloved rescue dog. It was her first tattoo.

“She was in tears telling stories about her dog,” LeMeaux says. “She was so sweet.”

Freaks & Geeks Tattoo Sideshow will host the event again this August, but no big changes are on the agenda.

“We’ve gotten into a groove with it,” LeMeaux says. “I think it’s a great way to help animals in need.”

The Asheville Humane Society began in 1984 and currently rescues, reunites, rehabilitates and rehomes more than 4,500 homeless animals each year. It is an open-admission shelter and the oldest organization devoted to animal welfare in Buncombe County. More than 85 percent of every dollar donated goes directly to the animals.

COURTESY OF SKYDIVE SAN MARCOS What could be a more exhilarating way to raise money for rescue than jumping out of a plane?
COURTESY OF SKYDIVE SAN MARCOS
What could be a more exhilarating way to raise money for rescue than jumping out of a plane?

3. High-flying funds

When supporters of the 28-year-old PAWS Shelter and Humane Society in Kyle, Texas, get behind something, they jump for it — out of an airplane, that is.

For three years, the Skydive San Marcos skydiving facility has hosted the PAWS Up Boogie skydiving fundraiser weekend. Close to $3,000 has been raised each of the last few years, all going toward homeless animals.

“It means everything,” says Monica Dangler, PAWS shelter director. “We’re just a little, small shelter. So $3,000, that saves 30 animals. It means the world for us.”

Sarah Bartley, administration manager for Skydive San Marcos, understands this. In 2012, she and some others at the skydiving facility were grieving the loss of their pets due to cancer and other issues.

“As skydivers, we have a tradition of dispersing the ashes of our loved ones during a freefall, so we got together and began to talk about an ‘ash dive,’ ” says Bartley. “We also thought it would be nice to put a positive spin on a heartbreaking day by raising money for a local no-kill rescue in order to give back.”

Thus PAWS Up Boogie was born. Various licensed skydivers and students all jump out of airplanes throughout that weekend, as do people who want to tandem jump with a trained professional. A portion of all of these fees goes toward the rescue, Bartley says. In addition, the public may attend, free of charge, to watch the aerial antics and take advantage of the various booths selling T-shirts, dog treats, pet toys, raffle tickets, face paints and tickets to the evening’s BBQ dinner. All of the proceeds from those sales go toward the rescue, Bartley says.

“The more money we have, the more animals we can take,” Dangler says. “It makes it possible for us to keep saving as many lives as we can.”

PAWS Shelter and Humane Society was founded in 1986 as a nonprofit organization providing care and love to homeless, abandoned and abused animals in Central Texas. It is the only no-kill shelter in the area, with more than 1,000 animals adopted out each year.

COURTESY OF OLDIES BUT GOODIES COCKER RESCUE The Howl-o-Ween Hayride raised almost $4,000 for Oldies But Goodies Cocker Rescue.
COURTESY OF OLDIES BUT GOODIES COCKER RESCUE
The Howl-o-Ween Hayride raised almost $4,000 for Oldies But Goodies Cocker Rescue.

4. Cruisin’ on land and sea

Oldies But Goodies Cocker Rescue, serving the northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., areas, knows how to turn seasonal joys into fundraising jewels.

Each October since 2011, OBG takes advantage of crisp, autumn days and the gorgeous Virginia countryside by hosting the Howl-o-Ween Hayride. One of the group’s 300 volunteers owns a farm and donates use of the land each year for free. For $25, people and their dogs enjoy an old-fashioned hayride all over the farm. Vendors set up various booths, offering dog toys and caricature drawings, with proceeds going to the rescue. Other highlights included a Cocker kissing booth, souvenir photos with pups and a dog costume contest.

Due to the low overhead cost of the event and the high amount of donations, the Howl-o-Ween Hayride results in nearly 100-percent profit. To the tune of $4,000.

Things don’t slow down when the dog days of summer arrive. That’s when OBG takes to the water with its Canine Cruise. Chartering a boat to sail along the Potomac at sunset, OBG opens the doors to nearly 70 people and their dogs, some of which are OBG alumni. Tickets cost $35, but dogs get on board for free. Together, sailors enjoy wine and snacks as they sail up to Georgetown, watching the sun say goodnight.

“It’s wonderful to see the dogs with their hair blowing in the wind on the cruise,” says Mary Costa, OBG board member and fundraising chair. “They all hang their heads over the bow of the boat, taking in the breeze. It’s a beautiful moment.”

After overhead costs, approximately $2,000 of profit is made with this fundraiser, which has been a popular staple since 2007.

Oldies But Goodies Cocker Rescue caters to all Cockers and cocker mixes, young and old. Each year, it raises more than $200,000, which is about half of its operating budget (the rest of the budget comes from adoption fees, grants and other donations). Approximately 200 to 300 dogs are rescued by OBG annually, and all of them stay for at least two weeks in a foster home to give volunteers a chance to learn as much as they can about each dog.

The group rescues more than just senior dogs. Their moniker refers to these dogs being “not new,” not wanted and not kept. And yet they are still new to someone else, still good and still waiting to be treasured.

COURTESY OF RANCHO COASTAL HUMANE SOCIETY Rancho Coastal Humane Society's 5K Paw Walk in the Garden at San Diego Botanic Garden drew an enthusiastic crowd of supporters.
COURTESY OF RANCHO COASTAL HUMANE SOCIETY
Rancho Coastal Humane Society’s 5K Paw Walk in the Garden at San Diego Botanic Garden drew an enthusiastic crowd of supporters.

5. Walk with the flowers

Sponsoring a dog walk to raise funds is nothing new, but having a walk through a landmark botanical paradise where dogs have never been allowed before, well, that’s unique. And fun.

In February 2014, Rancho Coastal Humane Society in Encinitas, Calif., hosted the second annual 5K Paw Walk in the Garden at the San Diego Botanic Garden, with the 655 walkers raising $7,000 split between RCHS and SDBG. Dogs were not granted access to the garden until the first walk in 2013.

“We were taking the once-popular dog walk, combining it with a 5K (the most popular race distance in America) and adding animal rescue, education and the environment at one of the most amazing botanic gardens in the Western United States,” says John Van Zante, public relations director of RCHS.

“There was probably only one person who completed the full 5K,” Van Zante says. “Everyone else just spent the day walking through the gardens with their dogs. I like to say that scenery and serenity won out over speed and span.”

The key to the success, Van Zante says, is change. The group took a stale event and breathed life into it.

“We took an old idea, made it fresh, presented it as a family event that benefits pets (and) people and invited people to attend,” Van Zante says. “This is our secret marketing strategy.”

Rancho Coastal Humane Society was formed in 1960. The humane society provides quality shelter care, adoption services, education programs and an animal safehouse program for the survivors of domestic violence. The Rancho Coastal Humane Society is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3), charitable organization.

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Kyra Kirkwood

Kyra Kirkwood is a Southern California-based writer. When she is not teaching, writing or blogging, she enjoys spending time with her husband, two young children and specials-needs rescue dog, Ralph. Follow her at kyrakirkwood.com, Twitter, and Facebook.

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