Rescue 101: Adoption Event Basics

Volunteers at an Adoption Event

Adoption events are important outreach opportunities for your rescue.

While the general idea of an adoption event is to bring your animals out to the public to find new potential adopters, an adoption event brings more opportunities than just adoptions. Adoption events are a good way to connect and reinforce relationships with local businesses, connect with potential donors, find new volunteers, and help spread awareness about your rescue group. You can make the most out of holding an adoption event by making sure that you are prepared to put your best foot forward and give a good impression to people who will be learning about your rescue group for the first time.

Determining Where to Have an Event

When you are thinking of setting up your rescue group’s adoption events there’s multiple factors to consider to make sure the event is a successful one, and the first one is going to be the location where your event will be held. The majority of adoption events are held at pet stores, it is a mutually beneficial situation for pet stores to host rescue groups holding adoption events since the pet store will attract potential customers who need all of the equipment and supplies for a new pet, while the rescue group will be able to make sure their adopters can get all of the supplies they need to bring a new pet home right away. If you are thinking about holding an adoption event at a pet store, check first to make sure the pet store is one that you would want to associate your rescue group with. For example, North Star Rescue often holds adoption events at Pet Food Express Stores because their pet stores do not sell live animals, and their company is a huge supporter of animal rescue, but we won’t have adoption events at stores like Petco or Petsmart that sell the same types of animals we are trying to adopt out since many of the animals who end up at our rescue originated from an unprepared owner purchasing them at one of those stores.

Chain pet stores offer more marketing power and generally have more customer traffic that might potentially draw more people to your adoption event, but don’t discount the potential of locally owned pet stores. Locally owned pet stores that have good relationships with their customers can provide a great venue for adoption events, and they can help draw in more knowledgeable potential adopters since they tend to know their local customers personally.

Pet stores are not the only venues for you to have an adoption event. You may find that you can find free space to use at a local community center, or school. Other animal related businesses or places that sell pet supplies may be happy to have you set up a table at their locations, such as a vet office or businesses like Tractor Supply Company. You can have an event out at a local park as well, weather permitting. In general, if you are using a larger venue like a community center, you’ll find that you will need to partner with other rescue groups to have a big adoption day to attract enough people to make it worthwhile.

When considering your potential adoption event venue, look for basic things that will help make your event a success. If the weather is nice, having a shady area where you can set up a table or booth outdoors can be a nice way to get attention from traffic going by without relying on someone walking in to a store. In colder weather, you’ll want to make sure there is enough room for you and your animals indoors in a climate controlled area. A good venue should have plenty of parking available for visitors. If you are having an event at a pet store or place that sells pet supplies, check to make sure they sell the recommended supplies that you would ask your adopters to purchase and if they don’t, try talking to the pet store to see if they will carry them ahead of time so you can help drive sales to their store. If you are having an event at a place where pet supplies won’t be available, check to see if you will be allowed to bring and sell supplies so your adopters can get the equipment they need. If you are selling any kind of products at your table, make sure that you are allowed to do so at the venue that you choose as some stores may not want you to sell anything and take away from their sales (or may allow you to sell things that they don’t carry, like T-shirts to fundraise for your rescue).

When to Hold Your Adoption Event

The most common time that I see adoption events scheduled for is Saturdays from the afternoon to the early evening. Adoption events generally span a 3-4 hour time. Personally, I prefer an adoption event to last at least four hours to give visitors a good window of time in which they can arrive since everyone’s schedule will be different. Saturdays in general tend to be the most open scheduled day for the widest variety of people, but you can also hold successful adoption events on other days. When considering the day and time for your adoption event, just consider what a typical day looks like for most people in your town. An adoption event on Monday afternoon means that most people are going to be working and won’t have time to come to your event, compared to holding the same event even on a Tuesday night after everyone gets off of work.

Regular Adoption Events vs. One-Time Events

You may decide to hold a regular monthly adoption event at the same venue in the same predictable time slot, and you may also have events that are one-time only engagements that you don’t repeat on a regular basis. Both types of events have their benefits and disadvantages.

Having a regular adoption event will help you build awareness in your local community, you can schedule a monthly adoption event with a local venue to help take advantage of putting your rescue out in front of the same audience each month. This kind of regular monthly adoption event is a great way to build up name recognition and support in your local area. This can also help increase your chance of adopters coming to your events to adopt, since they know where to find you on a regular basis. If you don’t have another public location, you can also help boost the attendance of these events by scheduling people who are interested in meeting these animals to meet you at an event, where you can bring a variety of animals to show people and plan to have more volunteer help on hand to help guide potential adopters through your adoption process.

The downside of having a regular monthly event is that the time commitment can be a drain when you have a limited amount of people to help you. If you are running a four-hour adoption event, you can expect that it will minimally take you six hours at the event to set up, run the event, and clean up afterwards. You’ll also have travel time on top of that, depending on how far away the event location is from your primary location. Over time, you can also find that a location becomes ‘tapped out’, meaning that you’ve basically solicited donations from everyone who is going to donate in your area, placed animals with all of the people interested in that area, and there’s not really any more new connections left for you to make.

One-time events can be a good way to mix up your schedule and reach out in to areas that you might not have a good foothold, exposing your rescue to a new audience of potential supporters and adopters. The best of these events are large, organized, multi-agency adoption events. A good example of this is one of my personal favorite events, the Pet Food Express Bay Area Pet Fair which is held in San Rafael, CA each year. At a regular adoption event, our rescue usually adopts out somewhere between zero and five animals, with five being an exceptionally good day at an adoption event. We’ll typically break event on the cost of the event but it’s rare that we see much in donations at a typical adoption event. At the Bay Area Pet Fair, we typically adopt out thirty animals across a two-day event and it’s not uncommon for us to be able to have some substantial fundraising in selling products to go with our adopted animals at the event.

Not all one-time events have to be big affairs though. While we’ve cut back on our adoption event schedule over the years, North Star Rescue used to attend at least one multi-group adoption event or go to one city that we didn’t normally visit every month to help get exposure around the Bay Area. While this made for an exhausting schedule setting up different events around the Bay Area, it was a great opportunity for us to get our rescue’s name out in areas where we weren’t well-known and helped us in the long run establish our rescue’s name with a wider audience.

Advertising Your Adoption Event

When setting up an adoption event, you’ll want to advertise it as far in advance as possible to have the best chance of people turning out to see you. If you have at least a month, you’ll give people time to potentially hear about the event through a variety of venues and make it more likely that they are going to remember to come see you. You’ll want to advertise locally at the venue, ask them to put out flyers, post cards, or another notice at the adoption event location with a blurb about the event, the date it’s being held, the time and your rescue’s name. You can also post flyers locally on community boards, at coffee shops, or other stores that might allow you to put up information.

Advertising online is an efficient and generally free way to remind people about your event. Add events to your rescue’s calendar if you are using a shared event calendar, such as Google Calendars. Post the event on your website. Make an event on Facebook and send out periodic messages on Twitter as you get closer to the date to remind people about the adoption event. You can post advertisements on local message boards like Craigslist, or pet forums that might have people in your area.

In some cases, you might even be able to get a free mention on a local radio station about your adoption event. Community radio stations often make a point of announcing local community events and would be happy to give you a brief plug on the air if you send in your event details. You can even take out an ad in the local newspaper’s community section to let people know about your event.

You can’t really advertise too much, as long as you make sure that you are spacing the mentions of your event out across multiple channels. Sending out a notice through each channel once a week, but not more, generally will keep people from feeling over saturated and tuning you out.

Your Adoption Event Staff

You can have everything else for your adoption event set up perfectly and you’ll still find that your efforts fall flat if you don’t have the right people representing your group. When you are starting out your own rescue group, it’s likely that you will be the primary person running your adoption event but as things get busier you may have volunteers coming to help you, or people running adoption events without you for your group. Make sure that the people you have out representing your group are well-educated on what your rescue does, and that they have an outgoing personality to help them connect with the public.

Talk with the people helping you at adoption events to make sure they understand what is expected of them. One of the most common problems I see at adoption events is volunteers failing to engage people who stop by the booth. Let your crew know that they should minimally greet someone who approaches the booth and let them know that they are welcome to ask questions. Volunteers should make a point of not getting too involved in personal discussions when there are visitors at your event since this will make people reluctant to interrupt, resulting in a missed opportunity to connect with someone. Similarly, cellphones and other digital devices should be in a pocket or out of sight when they are conversing with someone unless they are using that utility to show the visitor something relevant to their discussion.

If you or a volunteer is particularly good at engaging with children, that person can be a great asset for an adoption event. Children are always drawn to booths where they can see live animals, and having someone who can help make sure that their interactions with the animals or around your set-up are safe while making them feel welcome will help give the parents a good impression of your group.

Presentation for Your Rescue’s Table or Booth

First impressions are a big deal, and the visual appeal of your booth will make the difference between someone walking by deciding to stop and see what your rescue group is about versus passing you by. You’ll want to strike a balance between having plenty of items and information available on your table so that it doesn’t look too barren, and making sure that you still have a cohesive feel and space to work in so that it doesn’t look like a garage sale table.

When you are setting up your event space, consider the layout of your space to make sure you will have room to move around behind the tables or sit with your volunteers, as well as keep any supplies you need behind the scenes out from underfoot. Some venues might have tables and chairs for you, which is a big plus, but many times you’ll need to pack your own supplies along. Using table cloths and skirts in your rescue’s colors can help tie your image together, and a banner with your rescue’s logo on it will help people identify who you are from a distance.

If you have paperwork, such as care brochures or business cards that people can take with them, get brochure holders and other items to display them in so that everything stays organized. Consider using sign holders on cages or animal pens to give people some at a glance information about the animal they are looking at. A simple 8×10 sign with information about your adoption fees and adoption process can help get people in the mindset of adoption when they visit, and you can also put up a sign or brief information about what your rescue group does to let people know more about you even when you aren’t talking to them.

There is a lot of equipment that can help you pull off a professional look for your adoption event. Stay tuned next week for a follow-up article where I’ll just be talking about equipment for adoption events.

Getting Ready for an Adoption Event

When you are getting ready to go to an adoption event, make a check list of all of the items that you will need to bring with you to the event. That checklist should include specific animals, cages and equipment to contain them, paperwork, displays, tables, chairs, decorations, donation containers, banners, pens, clipboards, first aid supplies and anything else you might need for your specific event. Consider making a bin that has a set of adoption event supplies that you won’t use for other purposes that you can keep packed and ready for events to cut down on your preparation time before an event.

On the day of the event, make sure that you have enough volunteers on hand to manage the animals that you are bringing. You’ll want to get all of the animals to the event location and make sure there is someone to supervise them while the event table is being set up. Consider which animals will be best to bring to your event, it’s a good idea to bring animals that are the most readily adoptable from your rescue versus animals who might have special placement or medical needs since you will have a better chance at finding them homes at an event, where other animals might benefit from spending more time connecting with a specialized home online first.

Plan to arrive early enough to have plenty of time to set up your event booth so that you are completely ready to meet visitors before the event’s start time. This generally means arriving at least an hour early, and if you are a long way from home, allow extra time for traffic or other issues that might set you back. Giving yourself enough breathing room to set up the event will mean that you will be calmer and give off a better impression when visitors start arriving.

Running and Maintaining an Adoption Event

Each adoption event will have a different activity level and different people visiting it, your job now will be to make sure that you are able to greet and engage in a positive way as many people coming to your table or booth as possible during the event. The biggest task at an adoption event is to serve as the public face of the rescue and make a positive impression on your visitors. You’ll be answering questions, helping people visit with animals, and hopefully working with some adopters to place animals in new homes.

During the event, make sure that you and your volunteers are keeping all of the human and animal interactions safe. Have a volunteer supervising anyone handling or interacting with an animal. If you are dealing with small animals, putting signs on the cage to tell people not to stick their fingers inside is a good idea, and having volunteers watching out for the people who will ignore those signs anyway is another good idea. Ask volunteers to tidy things throughout the day, making sure that paperwork stacks are organized and the table is being kept clean of any debris or garbage that might show up. Sweep and tidy the floor and area around the adoption event booth periodically. Giving a clean and professional appearance is extremely important, you want people to see you as a reliable and professional group, not a disorganized bunch of animal lovers struggling to keep up.

You might not get a ton of actual adoptions at an event, but you’ll likely get more valuable connections. Try to hand a business card or animal care brochure to anyone who is interested and get them to walk away with something that has your contact information on it. Focus on trying to hand people things that they will get some use or value out of rather than potentially toss. For example, a business card might not be kept very long, but someone interested in adopting a hamster will probably keep a care brochure and read it at home, reinforcing their relationship with your rescue and their odds of coming back to you.

Wrapping Up an Adoption Event

As the event nears its end time, you can start packing up items that aren’t part of your display and getting things ready to break down to put away in your vehicles. If you still have potential adopters lingering around the table, let them know that the event will be ending at a certain time and that you will have to start packing soon so they know if they want to schedule a later meeting or if they can wrap up their business with you before that time.

Plan to pack up and move all of the supplies and equipment into vehicles and load up the animals at the very end so they have the most supervision possible, and don’t get left in a car that can potentially heat up during warm weather. Do a welfare check on each animal as they are getting packed up, an adoption event can be a long and stressful day for your foster animals and making sure that they are in cleaned carriers or enclosures with any food or water that they need before the trip can help take the edge off of things for them.

Make sure that you leave the space that you used clean after your adoption event is over. That generally means sweeping and putting any borrowed tables or chairs back where they belong. If your animals left any messes on the floor, make sure they are completely cleaned up. You’ll want to make sure you are respectful of the people or business that hosted your adoption event and show that you are a good guest so that you’ll be invited back for future events.



About Lauren Paul

Lauren is the founder of North Star Rescue, a non-profit organization in California’s San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to the rescue and welfare of companion pet rodents. Lauren operates Alma Rodentia, a website featuring an online store for pet rodents and their humans and a blog about rescue and life with pet rodents.

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