With a drive and desire to provide animal shelters with valuable resources, we launched the Patterson Shelter Program in October of 2020. PattersonVet.com/Shelter-Program is a single-stop online destination for 501(c)(3) nonprofi to find information, inspiration, products and promotions tailored especially for them. We know we are not alone in our desire to lift up the critical work of animal shelters, and that the veterinary industry as a whole has a passion for nurturing nonprofits. The “how” of helping, however, can sometimes be a nebulous thing. For a selection of actionable ideas, we looked to the example of one clinic that knows a thing or two about partnering with local shelters: Spears Creek Veterinary Clinic in Elgin, South Carolina.
Under the leadership of owner Dr. Wendy King, 40% of all Spears Creek’s clientele are nonprofit rescues. For Dr. King, operating under this model isn’t just about the warm fuzzies (though she claims there are plenty of those) – it’s also about the bottom line. And for Spears Creek, business is booming.
1. Raise awareness through staff "dress-down" days
When Dr. King’s team asked if they could have a dressdown day, her creative juices started flowing and “Rescue Fridays” were the result. “Every other Friday, we wear our Spears Creek Veterinary Clinic T-shirts. But we also buy the T-shirts from the various rescues we work with, to help support them. So every other Friday, we wear the shirts from one particular rescue, and we post on social media about which rescue we’re supporting that day, and we share their story.”
What's in it for you?
According to research conducted by Accenture, nearly two-thirds of global consumers prefer purchasing products and services from businesses that stand for a purpose and communicate values that reflect their own beliefs. Likewise, they will avoid companies that do not.1 This means having a positive purpose, like championing local rescues is a powerful way to build deeper connections with your existing clients, stand out amongst your competitors and attract new business. Not to mention, a more comfortable team is a happier team, so casual-dress days are good for staff morale.
2. Spread the word through your social media channels
Let’s face it – it can be tough to prioritize your social media calendar amongst all of the other to-do’s that compete for your time each day. Why not take one day every week or every other, to highlight a local shelter on your various social platforms? If your team is too swamped to organize this content, you may be surprised who will volunteer their time to help. For Dr. King, social support comes compliments of her husband. “He has been very supportive and we tag-team Facebook. He’s not a veterinarian but he helps me find content. It’s pretty neat because that way I don’t get overwhelmed!”
After selecting a nonprofit to feature, you could share their mission statement, introduce their team, praise their volunteers or share an album of their animals that are currently available for adoption or in need of foster families. Make sure to tag the shelter’s social handles for added reach and visibility.
What's in it for you?
What if one of your social posts helped an animal find its forever home? The proud new pet parents would certainly make you their practitioner of choice, and they surely wouldn’t be shy about leaving you a positive review on social media and singing your digital praises themselves. Your social media calendar will be brimming with high quality content, and strong engagement on these posts is all but guaranteed – puppy pics get likes.
3. Seek out speaking opportunities with local media outlets
Reach out to a local television or radio station, to see if they would consider, a recurring spot for you to share information. From pet-safe gift ideas around the holidays, to hot or cold weather pet safety tips, to information on how to combat seasonal nuisances like fleas and ticks, you’ve got a lot of expertise to share with your community. Of course, you can also use this platform to shine the spotlight on a local shelter. Dr. King does, in a monthly segment called “Talk of the Town” on WIS NEWS10. “I’ve been doing that for about seven years now. It’s a two-minute blurb on pet health care, and each time I take a rescue on. We usually end up taking a minute just to talk about the animal, and the remaining minute to share tips. It’s really neat because so many people call in and say, ‘I want to adopt that dog!’ It just flows.”
What's in it for you?
On public media like television and radio, you are able to reach far more people with your message than you can during face-to-face conversations or even emails, where privacy restrictions mean you’re only speaking to your existing client base. Using your “local celebrity” status to reach fresh eyes and ears with such a positive message will surely win you new customers.
4. Offer discounted rates on critical procedures
Many times, nonprofits may have their own medical staff or on-site medical facilities. But these facilities can easily become overtaxed and experience more demand than availability. Spay and neuter procedures are among the most common and ongoing medical needs. For Dr. King, offering shelters discounts on these procedures has led to more business than she alone could manage. “I’m doing 300 spays and neuters a year, so the demand is there. I’ve had to do so many surgeries that I brought in another doctor. He’s here two full days a week doing exclusively spays and neuters. We have to work a little bit harder because we offer those lower prices, but in the end it’s better work in my opinion.”
What's in it for you?
It may present as a strange business model to charge less money for an operation, but there are many ways in which this strategy can prove beneficial to your bottom line. Shelters tend to attract a wide cast of characters. There are staff members, volunteers, foster families and advocates. Many of these folks have their own personal pets, and it’s a solid bet they’ll turn to you for their animals’ care because they recognize your impact on their shelter of choice and value your philanthropic efforts. Dr. King reports that partnering so closely with local shelters has proven to be “an insanely good tool” for increasing her customer base. “It works just like social media. Friends tell friends, who tell friends. Recently, I had a client say, ‘My neighbors told me that they would haunt me if I didn’t come to you as a veterinarian. So here I am!’”
5. Make yourself available as a consultative resource
Just as it requires a diverse set of skills to run a successful private practice (medical knowledge, interpersonal skills, strategic marketing, modern equipment and technology, etc.), the same is true for shelters. However, since they often operate with a leaner staff, additional medical expertise is always a welcomed asset. Making yourself available as a sounding board and a resource for questions and emergencies can prove invaluable to local nonprofits.
Even though Spears Creek doesn’t offer extended hours or take on emergencies, Dr. King says, “My rescue groups all know how to get ahold of me. I can hear them out and talk them through, say, whether a situation truly is an emergency and they need to take an animal to an emergency clinic. This way, they don’t have to panic and call around. They know who to go to. And because I’m their single point of contact, all their records are in one place.”
What's in it for you?
We’ll keep this one simple: It’s good for your heart. For Dr. King, helping local shelters in this way brings great meaning to her career. At a previous clinic with an operation model that did not include offering discounts or working with rescues, Dr. King found herself experiencing major burnout. But she loves what she does now. “I really think the rescue work rescued me.” Same goes for her team. “Rescue work has enlivened all of our passions. There is absolutely no doubt among our staff that we are literally rescuing animals. It makes our hearts sing.”
From utilizing existing communication platforms like social media and word of mouth, to cultivating new ones like TV segments and dress-down days, there are many potential avenues that clinics looking to get involved with local shelters can explore. And, judging by Spears Creek’s experience, partnering with rescues doesn’t just feel good … it’s good business. “When it comes down to it, even though it’s not about the money, we’re a highly successful clinic. They should teach this in vet school!”
Of course, if you are a shelter, you’re already wise to these benefits and more. But you may not have had the opportunity to explore the Patterson Shelter Program. We invite you to visit PattersonVet.com/Shelter-Program to discover dedicated resources, sign up for quarterly email updates and share your story with us.