Should Cat Rescue Groups Spread Their Message by Being Positive — or Shocking?


If I had a rescue organization, how would I present its initiatives, trials, tribulations and successes to the world? My ongoing experience with two organizations doing rescue work, and their different approaches, has really stuck in my mind recently. It’s made me wonder, what’s the best way to go?

Before I answer that, let me start this by saying I’m not an expert. I don’t run a rescue organization. I don’t have a background in marketing or branding. I’m just a person that is very interested in communication.

I also realize that rescue organizations or endeavors come in many sizes, shapes, and capacities. I know that rescue work must involve burnout. Some organizations, I imagine, barely have time or money to think about how they shape and tweak their presence in the world. And it’s not my intent to compare communications efforts by various rescues, so I won’t be naming names.

Still, indulge me. Here are the two popular approaches and what I think about them:

1. The happy approach

Happy is probably too generic a word, but there is a large rescue organization that I have supported in the past, and will continue to support. Part of their appeal, to me, is how well their communication seems to work. Perhaps “positive” is a better term than happy. Somehow, this organization seems to do it all, and well. Somehow, they manage to present their efforts in a positive way, without belittling or making light of the serious nature of rescue and animal welfare issues. They also, in my opinion, effectively make a case for how treating animals well makes us better humans. This may sound obvious, but I appreciate it. I think they do a good job of bringing in a larger picture, and giving us a big reason why animal welfare matters.

This organization tells the stories of various animals very well. While the stories might have horrible beginnings (and the communication does not give the sense of shying away from these disheartening details), they is presented positively, and with hope. The stories usually have a happy or hopeful ending (i.e., the animal being profiled finds a home, or is doing well at the shelter, or had a good life that made an impact, even if they passed on).

Personally, I think that bringing hope through these communications is really important — important for attracting supporters, important for the image the organization presents to the world, and important for all of us who care about such issues. I’m more likely to act if hope is behind the communication, rather than simple despair. But maybe that’s just me. Maybe others are more motivated by stark descriptions of bad situations.

2. The shocking approach

Another organization may mean well, for example, but perhaps their newsletter is full of sad and shocking stories. There are no happy endings, and no sense of redemption. In this case, I’m simply left with depression. And somehow, I’m more compelled to act on behalf of or support the first organization with the positive approach.

It’s like the difference between “glass half full” and “glass half empty.”

I understand there may be marketing theories that explain why one approach might work better than another, or one approach might work better for me than another — but I don’t know them.

Here’s what I believe: Shocking and positive may not be exclusive

Actually, I think the first organization does this well. As I said, they don’t shy from describing situations where animals were rescued, or things that were done to animals, etc. But somehow, and with a skill that seems refined, they present the information in a way that leaves me with hope rather than despair or depression.

We probably need to know the shocking and horrible stuff. We need to act, and this will make some people act. But I am still compelled and curious about the difference between the positive and the shocking approach. How can the same issues be covered so differently? What gets better results? Does it depend upon the reader?

What do you think? Whether you work in a rescue, or simply support a rescue, or see an organization’s public presence — what works best for you? There is no right or wrong answer — share your thoughts in comments!

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About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of a short story collection about people and place. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.

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