Pets Are People, Too
Pop quiz! What’s wrong with this hypothetical appeal from an imaginary nonprofit organization raising money to rescue, spay or neuter animals, and place them in loving homes?
Dear Friend of Animals,
ABC Organization knows that you love animals. You have a cat or a dog yourself, and you treat it like a member of your family. You would do anything to protect your pet and keep it out of harm’s way.
But did you know that you can help other animals just as surely as you love and protect your own? A donation to our Pet Protection campaign will …
Well, it wasn’t written by a professional direct-mail fundraising copywriter, so there’s probably lots wrong with it. But the most stunning example of ignorance of the very demographic the organization is trying to reach comes in the second sentence, where the appeal refers to the donor’s pet as an “it.”
Animal lovers, especially those most concerned with domestic pets — Fluffy and Rover and Spike, et al — immediately would be put off when they realize that the organization doesn’t share their sense that, frankly, pets are people, too. And if an animal-centric organization doesn’t feel that way, why would an animal lover trust and support it?
Referring to animals as “it” instead of “he” or “she” is one sure way to alienate potential donors to animal-related causes, says Bonnie Catena, vice president of fundraising at DMW Worldwide, a full-service direct-response advertising agency with offices in Wayne, Pa.; St. Louis; and Plymouth, Mass.
“Animal donors give on an emotional level — more so than most, if not all, other direct-mail donors,” Catena says. “Most have pets of their own and consider their pets full-fledged family members.”
You wouldn’t refer to your Aunt Sue as an “it.” (At least not in a public forum.)
In general, Catena says, animal-welfare donors give smaller average gifts but are more likely to give multiple gifts over the course of a year than donors to other causes. They also tend to give to more than one similarly minded mission.
“Most animal donors give to multiple animal-welfare organizations — and most don’t show as much loyalty to one particular group as do donors to other causes,” Catena says.
That’s why it’s critical for such an organization to be explicit in explaining how it differs from the rest of the crowd of nonprofits vying for animal lovers’ attention and assets.
“For example, national advocacy and rights groups can focus on being a voice for animals in courtrooms and legislatures, and on making the world a safer, more welcoming place for all animals,” Catena says. “Local shelters can highlight the number of animals they rescue, spay and neuter, and place with loving families — as well as educational and therapeutic programs that they may sponsor in their communities.”
Such was the case with the ASPCA, which found it necessary to build a stronger, more unifying brand that established it as a leader in animal welfare and advocacy. In FS’ April 2006 cover story, Jo Sullivan, senior vice president of development and communications at the organization, explained that its brand had become indistinguishable from those of the many other animal-welfare organizations out there.
“We were using the puppy paws and the kitty paws, and the hearts and the kitty tails. And those things are great, and they’re iconic, and they’re quick and easy to identify,” she said at the time. “But to identify with who? Certainly not us alone. Everybody.”
As a result, the ASPCA came up with a less warm-and-fuzzy logo that emphasized the “P” in its name, strongly pointing to its role in the prevention of a whole slew of bad things that can happen to animals.
“In looking at our logo, we realized that the ‘P’ was our active word,” Sullivan explained in April. “We’re there for prevention — prevention of cruelty, prevention of accidents.
“We are a brand out there in animal welfare that right now no one else can follow,” she adds. “We stopped using paws and hearts, and I’m sure everyone will eventually follow us. But for now, you don’t confuse us with your small local shelter or The Humane Society,” she explained. “The ASPCA has a look and feel that allows it to completely stand alone.”
Sullivan also said that the ASPCA is “testing out of” the use of photos of suffering animals in direct mail, though those heart-breaking images still seem to work in television efforts.
Match your mission
As a group, Catena says, animal-welfare donors respond well to photos and, where applicable, whimsical copy. The ASPCA’s new “We Are Their Voice” campaign, with its images of seemingly happy animals holding speech bubbles, bears that out.
But cute isn’t always the way to go. As with any cause, the messaging has to match the mission.
“An appeal that focuses on an advocacy organization’s efforts to combat animal cruelty by promoting tougher laws against abusers could use ‘hard core’ images,” Catena explains. “‘Cute-and-fuzzy’ photos, on the other hand, would be best in an appeal for an animal shelter that leads with the story of a dog or cat placed in a loving home.”
Generally speaking, animal donors fit the typical direct-mail donor profile — older and female (as opposed to wildlife-protection donors, who are younger with the split between women and men less skewed toward women). Their main concerns? Pet overpopulation and animal abuse. To reach them, the obvious lists would come from other like-minded organizations. Indeed, ASPCA leans heavily on lists from The Humane Society of the United States, the North Shore Animal League and PETA, among others. But other lists can work just as well, according to Catena.
“Pet-product catalogs, certain consumer-product catalogs, consumer magazines that offer pet-owner selects [work],” she offers. “The response rate will be lower, but these lists will yield higher average gifts.”