I’ll preface this by saying that I have the utmost respect for anyone and everyone involved in animal rescue in any capacity. It is tireless, thankless, endless work done for little or no pay, and the people who do it are the most caring, generous, empathetic individuals on the planet. Money and resources are scarce, and rescuers must do what they can to secure funds by any means necessary.
But sometimes rescue groups might be doing more harm than good with their fundraising efforts. Here are four things that turn me off in a big way when I’m deciding whether to donate to a rescue group.
1. Too many emails
Here’s the deal with email — we all get a lot of it. Our parents, friends, and employers email us every day, not to mention all the spam messages, bills, receipts, and newsletters we receive.
Email is especially useful for nonprofits because it’s a quick, easy, cheap, reliable way to reach hundreds of people in seconds. But this medium can be easily abused. You know how snail mail has become a delivery system for junk that goes straight to the recycling bin? Well, email works the same way. When I get multiple donation requests in a single day from the same rescue group, I start deleting them without even opening them.
It’s not because I don’t care; it’s because I saw it the first time, and if I’m not financially able to help this month, asking 10 times instead of once is not going to change that.
2. Guilt trips
I understand that the situation for most animals in shelters is dire, especially if they’re older or have special needs. And I’m more than willing to help out — in fact, I usually donate to at least two shelters each month, and I would donate more if I could afford it.
That’s why sending me on a guilt trip is the quickest way to ensure I’ll donate my hard-earned dollars elsewhere. An example: “Where are our friends when we really need them?” Or: “We are about to close our doors FOREVER, and 200 CATS WILL DIE!”
Instead of making me want to spring into action and get out my checkbook, these messages leave me discouraged. They make me feel that the problem is too big to overcome and that it’s my fault for letting it get so out of hand. In short, they make me feel overwhelmed — and then I do nothing.
AVALANCHE! constitutes a combination of too many emails plus guilt trips. An example: Three emails in an hour saying the shelter’s utilities are being cut and bills are past due and they’re trying to do what they can but no one cares and no one will help them, so 200 CATS ARE GOING TO DIE unless I donate RIGHT NOW.
I understand that desperate times call for desperate measures, and the occasional guttural wail for help is certainly warranted. But when every donation request feels like getting pelted repeatedly in the back of the head with snowballs, I’m probably going to block said requests for the sake of my own sanity.
4. Sad, terrible, sad, sad, sad pictures of sick cats
I understand that illness, disability, and disease are rampant in shelters, particularly overcrowded city shelters where most of the animals will die long before their time. This isn’t fair, and it makes me angry every day. I also understand that a lot of times, the only exposure death-row cats and dogs get is via social media, and I have mad respect for the people working to care for these animals and find them homes.
But now we circle back to me feeling overwhelmed, which leads to doing nothing. When a shelter’s feed is filled with nothing but sad photos of sick, doomed animals, I have to tune it out. I sit in a cube staring at a computer for 40 hours a week, and during that time can’t do anything about the problem but cry silently to myself and feel helpless.
I’m not suggesting that shelters gloss over reality or stop sharing these animals’ photos. I’m just saying that balance is vital (really — a little good news goes a long way), and it helps to be mindful when you start treading in “Sarah McLachlan commercial” territory. Emotional appeals are good, but when they leave the audience exhausted and emotionally hollowed out on a daily basis? Not so good.
Now for what works with me:
1. Be honest and direct
If the situation is dire, say so — but don’t be alarmist (200 CATS WILL DIE!), and don’t point fingers of blame.
2. Tell me a story
Did the shelter rescue a litter of homeless kittens and nurse them back to health? Did a three-legged stray find a home? Did the long-time FIV-positive resident finally get adopted by a great family? Do most of the black cats in the shelter find homes due to great promotions? Then tell me about it. I know rescue can be bleak, but remarkable things happen every day. I donate because I want to believe I can contribute to happy endings, however few and far between.
3. Show me where the money goes
Does a particular kitten need life-saving surgery? Do the cats need towels and bedding for the winter? Are you ramping up TNR efforts in preparation for kitten season? In a pinch, I’m a lot more likely to donate to help fill a specific need that is immediate and timely.
But I know these lists are subjective. What inspires you to donate to shelters? What makes you stop looking? Share in the comments!
About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.
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