Aug 6, 2021
Humane Animal Welfare Society (HAWS) is a unique animal shelter in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. Not only have they been able to achieve their open-admission and no-kill shelter status, HAWS has been growing exponentially while strengthening the ever-growing connection with their community. Their programs have been so successful in their local community that they are now expanding to relieve shelters in other communities and even out of state!
We had the great fortune of speaking with Michelle Milford who heads up their marketing and communications. She shared some amazing insights with us. Keep reading to learn more about this thought-leading organization, including 3 recommendations from HAWS on how to supercharge your nonprofit’s impact.
Tell us a bit about your organization:
HAWS is an animal shelter in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Primarily we serve Waukesha County but we have been expanding out into surrounding counties and the greater Milwaukee area. We’re an open admission and no-kill facility, which means we take anything and the only time we euthanize an animal is if it’s truly, truly in their best interest. HAWS is an emergency responder center, so if there’s a hurricane or natural disaster we take in pets and animals from other states. We also accept transports of animals from Southern shelters on a monthly basis as they remain underfunded and understaffed and have more animals than they can care for.
Another big part of our mission is that we are truly dedicated to strengthening the relationship between animals and humans. The way we do that is obviously through adoptions, so getting animals into homes, but also through education programs. We think that education is hugely important - we can’t have a humane community without educating the community on what that means and how we achieve that.
How did HAWS begin?
We were started in 1965 by a group of concerned citizens that realized that the county as a whole had a problem - a pet overpopulation problem. HAWS has evolved significantly since the original model and we’ve experienced exponential growth. Currently we care for approximately 10,000 animals annually.
What do you see as some of your biggest opportunities? It sounds like in some ways, COVID not only helped you shift, but helped you grow.
Yes - and we’ve talked about that internally before - for all the horribleness that COVID demanded, it did make us innovate. We had to pivot. If you look at nonprofits and businesses in general, those that innovated and ‘got with the times’ are still around, while the ones that either had difficulties or chose not to pivot aren’t doing so great.
One of our biggest pivots was our online learning. We now offer an entirely virtual curriculum on behavior and another on education, we will even do Zoom sessions with clients. While we originally designed these courses to allow for participation during the pandemic, the online courses remain popular, especially for parents whose schedules don’t permit their kids to physically go to a full camp but they still want to give them the opportunity to learn.
What is your top advice for other nonprofits regardless of focus area?
#1: Hire the right talent
As a nonprofit, we’re often trying to think outside the box to come up with new events, innovative fundraising ideas, different communication streams, etc. One of the best ways to think outside the box is to hire outside the box. I think often nonprofits tend to hire the same type of person, which means we end up having the same type of ideas. At HAWS we’re really trying to think about how we can get people in here who have different backgrounds, and different life experiences, and even just more diverse experiences or work backgrounds. Maybe they haven’t worked for a nonprofit before, but they’ve worked in marketing for however many years and they want to change pace. So looking outside the typical nonprofit hire field.
#2: Find the right tools
We’re starting to see less checks come in and more online giving. It’s just easier for people, that’s what our world is moving towards and we are getting more used to that, and DonorPerfect and Givecloud have been huge for HAWS. In terms of any advice I could give to another nonprofit would be to invest in the right tools - especially when managing your database. That was something we struggled with for a long time. We tried to use our animal database (that we use to track all our adoptable animals) to store our donor information. The software was literally made for animal sheltering, so that did not work out.
Once we had gotten a subscription for DonorPerfect it really changed how we were even just interacting with our donors. Now we have the ability to put in our content history and donors different interests and whatnot. For Givecloud - because we had so many different programs, we were using A LOT of platforms to collect information for registrations and it was a problem because they all looked different, we had no brand cohesion whatsoever, and the website was a mess because we were linking to disparate forms. Because of the integration with DonorPerfect we decided to go with Givecloud, and we have seen a tremendous difference. Even just people saying ‘Oh wow, the forms look nice!’ - they are noticing things look more polished. AND it’s easy to use, which I love. I do think having the right tools is big.
#3: Understand your digital audiences as well as you understand your offline audience
Digital is a huge part of our marketing strategy. Just social media alone - I feel like if you don’t have a good social media strategy in place, you’re not going to get nearly as much out of it as you could be. That’s actually something we are looking into now - for a long time we were sharing the same kind of content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Now we are really trying to look at our audiences and figure out what they want on each of those platforms, because they are different. The millennial generation is kind of the last generation to be using Facebook, and some of our younger generations are using more TikTok and Instagram. We’re trying to find out how we can tailor our content to meet the needs of not only our offline audience, but just as importantly our online audiences.
Why Givecloud loves HAWS
In addition to the nurturing care services provided to the animals and the valuable education programs, HAWS is working to help other nonprofits experience the same success they have. They work with a handful of ‘sister shelters’ that they accept dogs and cats from. Many southern shelters remain understaffed and underfunded, so once a month HAWS takes in a transport of animals from the South. In addition to taking in the overflow of animals, HAWS has started a mentoring program for these shelters to help them grow to the success HAWS has experienced.
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To learn more about the great work HAWS is doing, check out their website: www.hawspets.org.
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