As seen on Blue Avocado's site June 12, 2023.
Article In Brief:
The Problem: Nonprofits often rely on unsustainable strategies and systems that lead to preventable issues such as animals getting sick or dying and lack of support for foster families.
The Context: Many in the nonprofit world aim to change the status quo and improve the systems they work in. The animal welfare world often focuses on what happens before the animal goes home, but connection ceases after that, leaving the community and the animals in it unsupported.
The Solution: Motley Zoo Animal Rescue founded an innovative approach to community engagement based on eight tenets. These tenets are based on understanding the problems faced by the community, innovating for the community, knowing your place in the community, fostering two-way communication, adopting a mentality of giving, finding a balance between time and money, building coalitions, and having fun while doing it. Nonprofits can implement these tenets to engage with their community and provide better services that will benefit the community and the organization in a sustainable way.
How one nonprofit overcame obstacles to create a sustainable, community-focused animal rescue system.
During my time fostering and volunteering at a few rescues, I saw things that didn’t work but persisted: animals getting sick (even dying) for preventable reasons as well as exploited foster families who quit after not being provided with any support. Simply put, it was an unsustainable system—perhaps the same way many of the systems nonprofits work to fight against rely on ultimately unsustainable strategies.
When we founded Motley Zoo Animal Rescue in 2009, we set out to do something different. With a handful of like-minded people, we wanted to improve the animal foster system, refusing to be imprisoned in the box of tradition.
Specifically, we wanted to base these improvements in a holistic approach to community engagement. The animal welfare world often focuses on what happens before the animal goes home, but once the animal goes home, connection ceases. We began right off by thinking about how to stay connected, build deeper connections, and keep people engaged around animals. At the heart of it, we wanted to get away from exploiting the community, instead developing a deeper understanding of what our community actually needed.
The following represents our eight tenets of holistic community engagement.
1. Know the problems faced by your community.
Break down your mission into a list of key problems or aspects you want to tackle in your community. From there, consider which three feel especially crucial at the moment. How could you create initiatives or campaigns around those to meet people where they are?
When we started the Motley Zoo, the top three problems we wanted to address were more resources for fosters, direct assistance for training, and a more thorough approach to dog behavior and health matters. We learned to reassess these ideas as time goes on—we like to do it annually—to ensure that our mission highlights our community, especially as its social, economic, and political climates change. Hitting different pain points at different times also ensures we optimize our efforts to draw in critical support from donors and volunteers. It has exposed us to a different net of community members, some of whom need but were unaware of specific services.
2. Innovate for the community.
These innovations should, of course, be guided by your assessment of the problems faced by your community. However, community innovation also means expanding your idea of community.
Our community was not solely our town but also included our state’s shelters and rescues. In the animal welfare system, shelters and rescues share a symbiotic relationship: shelters usually have localized physical sites that often run out of space whereas rescues are dynamic, adaptable networks of foster families. As part of our innovation, we wanted to do both: have a physical location to perform adoptions that also helped and serviced networks of foster families.
The support provided to fosters was paramount, so we looked for other ways we could assist them. We realized that even though our town boasts the biggest dog park in our state and nearly every apartment building is dog-friendly, local doggy daycare was nonexistent. How were our foster families—or really anyone in our community—supposed to go to work or school? Where would these dogs receive daily socialization?
To service these needs, we opened Rock Star Treatment services in 2014. And perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that more people wanted to adopt and foster knowing that their furred companions would not be left to chew through their sofas while they went to work.
For your own nonprofit, consider what you could branch out into find more sustainable methods of funding. These gems may be found in donor phenomena, volunteer backgrounds, and community preferences. See if you can harness one of these potential ideas and make a social enterprise opportunity of it. You might end up providing a necessary service in your community!
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