People who dedicate their lives to caring for neglected, abandoned, homeless or abused animals must have a special place in heaven. Starting an animal shelter involves a tremendous amount of dedication, time and energy. Above all, however, the shelter must have adequate funding to ensure that the animals receive the best treatment possible and are given a real chance at finding adoptive owners to start their new lives. Luckily, other animal lovers have many tips to share with individuals who set out to build and maintain an animal shelter.
Decide what type of shelter to open. Experts suggest starting small and allowing the shelter to grow with time. Funding can increase as the shelter's success becomes known, so work slowly to build up the shelter.
Develop accounting skills, management experience and a large network of community contacts before embarking on the opening of an animal shelter. Initial fundraising, as well as subsequent solicitations for maintenance and expansion, will go more smoothly if potential donors see that the shelter has good, efficient management.
Assess community needs. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) encourages individuals who plan to open an animal shelter to first investigate what facilities are lacking in their community for animal care and protection so that services do not duplicate. In addition to the common sense aspect of this suggestion, the time that the preliminary investigation and research takes will return in multiple ways as supporters come to understand that the shelter provides previously lacking services.
Gain experience in working in an animal shelter. Volunteer at an already existing shelter. Discuss the plans for opening a new shelter with the staff. They can offer tips and suggestions for fundraising to open a new shelter, relieving the already existing shelter (animal shelters are almost always overcrowded) and bringing more advocates for animals onto the scene.
Find like-minded supporters, helpers, volunteers, neighbors, activists and anyone else who wants to help the new shelter succeed. Each individual can bring in his own contacts and friends, who, in turn, can bring in someone else. All of these involved people can help to donate and raise funds, involving the entire community in this worthwhile project.
Market the shelter. Think of cute and innovative ways to promote the shelter's activities. Ask children to walk around the mall with a puppy and a tin can, do a "bark sale" with animal-shaped cookies at a community fair, approach local schools to ask their students to adopt a pet, set up a web blog with "guest posts" and lots of pictures from the shelter's residents ("What we had for dinner today"; "Hey! What a cute dachshund in the next cage!"; "Thoughts about today's vet visit"; etc). Keep pictures of the cutest animals circulating. Invite classes, church groups and community center clubs into the shelter to help. Make sure that they involve their families, neighbors and everyone else that they can think of to contribute to the shelter.
Set up a web presence. Post comments and guest articles to community forums and newsletters to keep the shelter's needs uppermost in everyone's minds.
Research the implications of incorporating the animal shelter as a non-profit organization. Many donors prefer to donate to a non-profit because it gives them tax breaks, but incorporating involves expense and a high level of oversight. Speak to a tax attorney or a CPA to learn about the pros and cons of incorporating as a non-profit organization and the procedure for doing so.
Draw up a clear mission statement that potential donors can see. Donors look for a mission statement that demonstrates that their donation supports a firm and honest concern whose vision is clear. Donors also want to make sure that an organization that they donate to will not undertake tasks or projects that they might not agree with (for instance, a donor who thinks that he is donating to a "no kill" shelter might become upset if he finds out that the shelter puts animals to sleep when necessary).