Animal Shelter Marketing Ideas to Increase Adoptions and Volunteers

If you’re looking at animal shelter marketing ideas, the time is right for pets and people! Over the past few years, especially with more people working from home, we’ve seen an increase in pet adoption. Some inspiring stats:1  

  • In 2017, about 59 percent of households included a pet. This number has been relatively steady for years and is similar to 1988, where 56 percent of households included a pet. But by 2021, households with pets increased to 70 percent. That’s a lot of furriness, best friends, emotional support, and two-way rescues (we’ve all seen the “Who Rescued Whom?” bumper stickers).
  • In 2021, 40 percent of dogs and 43 percent of cats were adopted from an animal shelter, humane society, or rescue group (sometimes via a pet store).
  • In 2021, eight percent of households were fostering pets and 11 percent of households with pets were also fostering pets.

Family pets are an integral part of our society, and animal shelter adoptions bring health, happiness, and stability to animals and humans alike. This makes animal shelter marketing a key channel for connecting furry (and not-so-furry) friends with loving forever homes.  

Below we offer some proven tips on how to advertise a cat for adoption, dog adoption promotion, best practice for animal shelter social media posts, attracting volunteers, and more.  

How Should I Advertise a Cat or Dog for Adoption?

The best way to advertise a cat or dog that’s available for adoption is through ongoing visibility online and off. When it’s time for a puppy or other pet, you want your animal shelter to come to mind first. Three key areas to invest marketing time and money are your website, social media, and community engagement: 

1. Website

  • Ready for My Close-Up: Lead with photos of available pets. Your home page should include clear photos and bios of adoptable pets that a visitor does not have to click to get to.
  • Facts and Figures Lead to Forever Homes: In your pet bio, do include personality characteristics to help pet parents make an emotional connection to the dog or cat that’s right for their family (whether a family of one or eight!). However, don’t go overboard with superlative, emotionally-driven content. Though a potential pet adopter wants to know if a dog is reactive or kid-friendly, used to large crowds or a one-person companion, they don’t want to feel they are being “sold”. This raises suspicion in the mind of the potential adopter, as in, “Why so eager to unload this animal?” In your bio, focus on facts that assure the animal adopter that you’ve prepared the dog or cat for their forever home, e.g., vaccinations, estimated date of birth, gender, injuries, ongoing conditions, spay/neuter status.

2. Social Media

  • Keep It Fresh: Post daily. Show adoptable dogs and cats sleeping, eating, and playing. This allows visitors to form an emotional bond and imagine the animal within their home. Use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Tiktok.
  • Respond: Animal adoption is an emotionally-driven pursuit for shelter managers, volunteers, and pet parents. Prepare to respond to comments and questions regarding your posts and videos as soon as you can and leverage the momentum.
  • Be Brief, But Don’t Ignore the Haters: If you are a discerning shelter or rescue operation, undoubtedly you are putting animal welfare first and declining placements in homes or with pet parents you don’t feel are suitable. This can lead to anger from rejected adopters. Expect a few less-than-stellar comments and reviews and respond to them professionally. Communicate the premium your shelter or rescue operation puts on placements that work for pet parents and pets, express regret that a good match was not available, and wish them the best in finding the right fit for their circumstances.

3. Community Engagement

  • Sponsor: Support local youth sports leagues and other organizations like libraries and community centers where potential animal adopters are involved.
  • Be a Good Neighbor: Participate in online neighborhood forums so residents think of you first when finding or looking for a pet.
  • Be a Resource: If you focus only on dogs and cats, redirect and link to organizations that can help with adoption of rabbits, reptiles, birds, and other animals. Provide recommendations and referrals to related pet services including groomers and vets. (See our tips for promoting pet grooming services and veterinary practices.)
Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash

Do You Have Tips for Hosting an Adoption Event?

Creating buzz around your adoption event is the best animal shelter marketing you can do prior to a specific event. Advertise on your website and on social media. Include photos of pets and any gifts or incentives attached to the event.  

  • Yes, We’re Open: Extend your hours to allow potential adopters to visit before and after work or on a weekend.
  • Swagging and Wagging: They may not leave your shelter with a tail wagging dog or purring cat, but don’t let a potential pet parent leave without a promotional gift. This creates goodwill, keeps your shelter top of mind, and encourages future volunteers and donations.
  • Offer Incentives: Offer discounts or gifts with adoption (think food, litter, leash, water bowl).
  • Well Fed Volunteers: Make sure volunteers have plenty of fun food and beverages and get plenty of breaks. Celebrate with dinner delivery after the event.
  • Adopt, Donate, Volunteer: Take advantage of increased foot traffic and exposure by making it easy for potential adopters to donate or sign up to volunteer. Collect contact information of visitors and distribute a pet-themed gift with every name taken (see our recommendations below).

What Are Some Animal Shelter Marketing Ideas to Encourage Volunteers?

Make it easy for volunteers to give what they can by offering many ways to help. You might attract a volunteer with giving tummy rubs to puppies and then add tasks like cleaning and restocking supplies once your volunteer is hooked on the cause. Try to say “yes” to as many ideas and areas of interest as you can. Once your volunteer is onboard, you can ask for help in specific or additional areas. Provide promotional gifts, snacks, and other incentives (extra snuggle time with kittens!) to make sure volunteers know how much they are valued.  

What Promotional Gifts Are Best for Marketing My Animal Shelter?

Help grow awareness of your shelter or rescue center with personalized giveaways for visitors, event attendees, volunteers, and adopters. We like these: 

Monthly Budget Pocket Planner & Calendar: Add your imprint to this calendar and keep your shelter top of mind all year long. Encourage new adopters and foster parents to track milestones with this planner.  

Morris Thank You Tote Bag: Bright colors and positive messaging leave recipients feeling good about your shelter and hands-free as they load pet supplies into their vehicle post-adoption. 

Design Wrap Color Accent Contour Pen: This comfortable, fully customizable pen allows you to say exactly what you want about your shelter or rescue, with room for your website and much more! 

Dog Adoption Promotion Gifts

Pet Rope Tug & Flyer Toy: Whether a new adopter brings this home with their new four-legged friend, or or a foster parents uses it with temporary charges, this tug toy helps pets and people have some fun.   

Pet Waste Disposal Bag Dispenser: Ready for use, and refillable, too. Attaches to a belt, bag, or keychain. Send new parents home with this bag dispenser and they’re prepared for impromptu walks and surprise visits to the dog park. 

Paw Magnetic Memo Clip: Keep your shelter name top of mind when it’s displayed on fridges and filing cabinets with this handy customized memo clip. 

Gifts to Help Advertise Cats for Adoption

20 Mil Cat Shape Magnet: Customized with your shelter or rescue center, this magnet is quiet but communicative, just like our feline friends.  

Good Value™ Front Runner Cap: Cats can be aloof. Let this cap do the talking for your animal shelter when cat-loving recipients are out and about.  

The Best Animal Shelter Marketing Ideas Focus on Our Furry Friends

On your website, on social media, and on community forums in your area, make dogs and cats the stars of every post. Invest in a reasonably good camera and post photos and videos that show off the unique personality of every animal looking for a forever home. Good luck, cheers, and good wishes to all those who care for the animals!


Karleen Wise Andersen

From marketing tips to product recommendations, I’m here to help small businesses be their best.

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