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Tech lessons from the 2020 Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue Awards

27 November 2020

Tech lessons from the 2020 Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue Awards

I recently had the pleasure of judging the new Refuel Digital Technology Award for the 2020 Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue Awards Ceremony held on 15 October. This Australian, not-for-profit technology award celebrates innovation in rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of animals by rescue organisations.  

Having participated in the awards since their inception, this year Refuel Creative decided to become more involved. We designed an award recognising Rescue Groups and Animal Shelters who use digital technology. It was a fascinating way to discover how different groups in the not-for-profit sector are using technology - and there were some great uses!

The whole judging panel was blown away with how advanced our finalists were, streamlining processes, fundraising systems improvements, and the various levels of automation achieved on limited budgets.

If you’re a business looking for low-cost solutions, there are some innovative uses of technology by volunteer-run, not-for-profit organisations that can give you ideas.

The basics

It’s 2020 and there’s a set amount of technology that most organisations now need to survive. Most entrants had, at a minimum:

  • Website - Mobile-friendly, clean design, easy to navigate. Most used a blog or other regular content for news and updates about pets becoming available for adoption.
  • Facebook page - Quality photos, some videos, and a mix between pets for adoption, pet care tips, memes, and other engaging content targeting pet owners.
  • Cloud storage - Dropbox was the most common, with some organisations using Google Drive and OneDrive/SharePoint.
  • Crowdfunding - A mix of different crowdfunding channels were used to raise money, with Chuffed the most common.
  • Email newsletter - The good old “not-for-profit Mailchimp email newsletter” was evident in most entries.
  • Cloud-based accounting - Most organisations were using MYOB, which is great, and MYOB offer not-for-profit discounts that help cut organisational administration costs. But I can’t help but think that Xero would be a better fit for most due to ease of integration and being browser-based to eliminate software downloads.

It’s really promising to see these are all baseline tools for these organisations. It shows how far the sector has come. Five years ago we were still trying to get not-for-profits to see the opportunities in these basic steps. Now, most organisations are equipped for more advanced digital marketing.


What were the most innovative uses of technology in rescue groups?

These uses of technology might seem basic, but we still find even the biggest animal welfare organisations are missing some of these things.


Online meetings

When asking how organisations overcame a challenge in 2020, it isn’t surprising to get COVID related problems… and solutions!

It was great to see many organisations using video conferencing and online meeting platforms such as Zoom, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and more. They’re a great way to make home visits ‘virtual’, with most of these platforms free or available at a discount to not-for-profits.

Most video calls were scheduled through Facebook Messenger or similar, which is a good example of testing the waters with a minimum viable product before developing a scalable solution.


Cloud database management tool

The majority of entrants were using a cloud database management tool called ShelterManager. It features no servers, no software downloads, and is just $395/year.

Rescue groups running on the smell of an oily rag can afford a platform to keep all their data safely stored in one place. A brilliant way of insuring against staff and volunteer turnover, streamlining operations, and simplifying volunteer onboarding.

The pleasing thing was how many organisations were using database management tools. We’ve worked with huge businesses that don’t have any form of CRM or central database, and here was a strong pool of volunteer-run organisations running an affordable management system. Brilliant.


Online Training

It blew me away to find that multiple organisations were offering online training! This is the kind of thing most organisations feel they don’t have the resources for, but a group of not-for-profits had set it up on a limited budget.

There were a couple of great cases here:

  • Pre-adoption education - Video content to prepare people for adopting a dog to increase the number of successful adoptions.
  • Dog training - How to train a newly adopted dog, 
  • Volunteer training - Upskilling new volunteers, much like we discussed in our onboarding blog.


What were organisations using to host this online training content?

  • Google Classroom - A free Google tool to help create and run online courses. Great for volunteer training where you may want it to be hidden behind a login.
  • YouTube - Everyone knows YouTube, and I think this is a great solution for this kind of educational content. Pet owners looking for training content can find videos, and follow the links to a website to adopt pets. Most of this content isn’t confidential in nature, so it’s great to use as a promotional tool!

Online Donations

It’s now a basic requirement to accept donations online. COVID has sped up our move to a cashless society, and it’s vital to capture this market and help your supporters contribute to your cause.

Donorbox was the most popular solution outside crowdfunding. Fees are relatively low compared to other solutions, and it’s easy for non-technical people to set up.

There are many other great solutions out there. Our favourite is Gravity Forms and Stripe, but the fact that this has become a very common tool shows how far we’ve come. 


Social Media

Other than the typical Facebook page, communication was also happening in other areas:

  • Facebook Groups - Managing volunteers, foster carers, adopters or high-value donors through Facebook Groups.
  • Facebook Messenger Groups - A fast way of communicating small updates to volunteers.

Online stores

Social enterprise is alive and well, and a number of organisations had focused on selling pet-related products rather than just asking for donations.


What we’d like to see in 2021

There were a few gaps with some respondents. Here are the top things we’d like to see in the 2021 entrants:

  • Branded email - There were still some organisations with free Gmail or Hotmail addresses. With Microsoft donating Office 365 and Google donating G Suite to eligible not-for-profits, this basic requirement for professional organisations is available at no cost.
  • Metrics that matter - All entrants were running decent social media pages and campaigns, but most were still focused on vanity metrics like page likes or followers. While 65,000 followers is nice, it’s more important to be focused on results-focused metrics. For these organisations focus should be on pets adopted, online sales, donations, members, volunteers, online meetings booked, and any other relevant, valuable actions followers can take.
  • Online meeting bookings - With online meetings a focus area this year, online booking systems can streamline the process. HubSpot offers their tool for free, and platforms like Acuity Scheduling and Calendly also eliminate the booking back-and-forth.
  • Live chat - If you’re running Facebook Messenger, you can easily add live chat to your website. There are also more advanced chat options available on a budget.
  • Online advertising - While Google offers their Ad Grants to not-for-profits, only one entrant appeared to be using it. With multiple organisations running online stores, it would be great to see some retargeting campaigns focused on increasing online sales.


Our winner!

After all entrants were judged, the Refuel Digital Technology Award went to The Rabbit Sanctuary. The judges were impressed by their use of technology to automate and reduce administration workloads on the small team.


Key takeaways

Whether you’re a not-for-profit, or a small business, there are plenty of affordable options to support your digital marketing and business success. If you’d like more insight, advice or help to implement some of these solutions, get in touch with us here at Refuel.

Ryan Jones

Ryan is the Founder & CEO of Refuel Creative. He's a HubSpot certified marketer and SEO expert.