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Guinea Pig Supercharges This Org’s Fundraising

I had the opportunity to talk with Christine Morrissey, sanctuary manager at Harvest Home Sanctuary. Christine has spearheaded some incredibly successful online fundraising via Facebook and other channels, so I wanted to extract some of her superstar expertise to share with you. Read on, then get to work with her many great, doable ideas.

Nancy: That image of Estella, the guinea pig, in a wheelchair must have generated more contacts than you ever expected. I just can’t get that image out of my mind. Could you share this story?

Christine: Our smallest animal resident, Estella, has quite a story of hope and second chances. That’s exactly what we focus on in our communications and fundraising, which is very different from most sanctuaries that shine a spotlight on the dark world of animals. We try to incorporate the positive—and there’s so much of it—and keep it fun and lighthearted while keeping it real.

Estella, who is more than a year old, is the tiniest resident at Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary, and she needed a wheelchair. A small child squeezed Estella so hard that her back broke, and she no longer has use of her lower body. But she has the will to move around like any guinea pig.

We organized a fundraiser via Facebook to construct a custom wheelchair for Estella. The chair is designed as an exercise mechanism to increase her enrichment and activity level.

Nancy: How did Estella get to Harvest Home?

Christine: Here’s Estella’s rescue story: She and her guinea pig beau, Pip, were dumped at an animal shelter in Calaveras County, California, in spring 2015, after being found abandoned by a nearby rural road.

After they were at the shelter for a month, a shelter volunteer reached out to Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary to see if we could rescue the pair. Upon arrival at our sanctuary, Estella was examined by our veterinarian and given the much-needed pain relief she deserved. Today, Estella is enjoying life to the fullest, especially with her new wheels on the way. We are happy to report she is happily married to little Pip.

We are so inspired by her resiliency. When we shared a photo of Estella in her new wheelchair on Facebook, her story went viral through social media and dozens of media outlets around the globe, including People.com, NBC’s Today, ABC News, and the Daily Mail.

With Estella’s story circling the globe, many donors have signed up to sponsor her via our Network for Good donation page.


Nancy: Tell me about Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary and your role there.

Christine: Harvest Home is a farm animal rescue, rehabilitation, and humane education center in California’s San Joaquin Valley. We save and advocate for animals in need and house more than 200 rescued animals.

Nancy: How do you use visual storytelling, like Estella’s story, on Facebook and beyond to boost your fundraising?

Christine: Visual storytelling is central to our fundraising via social media and other online channels. With the aid of photos and videos, we easily connect with our supporters’ innate admiration for and fascination with animals.

Our supporters are passionate about helping animals in a meaningful way. They want to support our lifesaving work and make a difference in individual animals’ lives. Our monthly animal sponsorships—our take on monthly giving—are a popular avenue of giving in an individualized way.

Nancy: With so much to do and so little time, how do you identify your fundraising priorities? You mentioned that you are the one-person communications department and that communications is just one of your areas of responsibility as sanctuary manager.

Christine: Our fundraising is built on the “Three Rs”— Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Relief—of our work. Many of the animals under our care are special-needs individuals. Veterinary care and nutrition lead our expenses, which range from $10,000 to $15,000 per month.


Nancy: What works best for Harvest Home on Facebook? What’s your current approach?

Christine: Spotlighting and individualizing our animals at the sanctuary through Facebook is incredibly popular among our network of followers. People love to hear about how the animals are rescued and how each of their lives are transformed after they arrived at the sanctuary. The “before and after” dynamic of our rescue work is incredibly compelling.

Nancy: What other fundraising channels and tools do you use, and how do you integrate them with Facebook?

Christine: Network for Good is our mothership—we count on its reliability and professional approach. We also incorporate other tools that provide different avenues to online giving, including Global Giving and Amazon Smile. Our goal is to make giving easy and accessible to an ever-growing online audience. We focus our campaigns and communications on the same powerful approach to visual storytelling.

Nancy: What are your plans to strengthen your Twitter and Instagram presences?

Christine: Our simple motto, “We love helping animals, and we know you do too,” is a relatable message that anyone can connect to. Like our marketing on Facebook, we want people to see what we do in real time and see how special each of the animals at our sanctuary is.

We want to be a social media “destination” for people interested in learning about compassion and advocacy for animals. Active, ongoing marketing that is tailor-fitted to Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat will allow us to grow this year and beyond.

Nancy: How do you expect those channels to work together with Facebook, email, direct mail, etc.?

Christine: Since our media operates in a 24-hour news cycle, we aim to mirror this dynamic with our messaging and appeals for support. Each channel has its own value. We want to meet our people wherever they are, online and off, with a message of compassion and action for animals.

Nancy: Do you have a photographer on contract? If not, how do you capture so many terrific shots?

Christine: We have never contracted with a professional photographer. Many of the featured photos online are simply iPhone photos or donated images from volunteers who visit.

In addition, photography is a personal passion. To combine my love for photography and animal advocacy is wonderful. Photography has such a transformative power to create change in our work and beyond.

Nancy: What’s the most important advice you can share with fundraisers considering launching their first campaign?

Christine: Fundraising is a valued force that serves as a catalyst for creating change in so many exciting ways. Always have fun with it. Never limit your creativity. Just like Estella the guinea pig.

My recommendation? Follow Harvest Home on Facebook and Twitter to keep learning from Christine’s passionate, powerful approach. I bet it’ll work wonders for your organization as much as it works for Harvest Home. Thanks, Christine!

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