$1,000,000+ Raised in 32 Days on Crowdrise to Save Pets.

Saving Pets Challenge Photo

Aimee Gilbreath (far right) honors the winners of the first annual Michelson Found Animals Saving Pets Challenge.

Seeking Financial Solutions to Reduce Pet Shelter Euthanasia   

Reducing the number of animals euthanized in shelters every year is a challenging mission, even for the well-funded Gary Michelson’s Found Animals Foundation. Although the foundation offers cash prizes and grants to animal welfare organizations with ideas and projects related to nonsurgical sterilization solutions every year, it’s impossible to reward everyone.

Many groups have limited resources, and lack a full-time fundraising professional. They often “really struggle to do the work they need to do,” says Aimee Gilbreath, Executive Director of Found Animals Foundation.

As a foundation, Found Animals was always seeking innovative ways to amplify their rewards in support of animal welfare agencies across the United States.

Finding the Right Fit in a Crowd Funding Platform

Gilbreath first considered crowd funding after hearing actor Edward Norton speak about his fundraising platform, CrowdRise.

When he presented a case study on how a life skills foundation had fundraised on the platform, Gilbreath saw a fit for Found Animals. “It was perfect for our field of animal welfare,” she says, and provided a “tool I had not seen used in this space.”

After researching platforms, Gilbreath had a list of possible partners. CrowdRise, Norton’s platform, offered what she was looking for: A challenge grant. Both the user-friendly set-up and “incredible level of support” from CrowdRise staff won her over.

Found Animals wanted to run a sophisticated campaign. Instead of raising money as a foundation, Found Animals would put up prize money and challenge animal welfare organizations to compete by raising money from their own communities, across the United States. That meant not only the staff at Found Animals had to learn to use the CrowdRise platform–so did the staff of all of the participating animal welfare organizations.

CrowdRise Offers an Abundance of Resources for All

CrowdRise offered just the kind of resources and support Gilbreath needed to set up the campaign. “We relied on CrowdRise a lot,” she says. “We came to them and said here’s how much money we have to spend. Let us teach you about our organization.”

Gilbreath found CrowdRise’s tools extremely helpful for smaller animal welfare agencies. A calendar email to send to board directors helped save time and resources. “For organizations that are small, and not big enough to have a development staff member and support, these tools make a huge difference.”

A Crash Course for the Challenge

To generate participation, an in-house project manager at Found Animals reached out early to as many organizations as possible. The foundation also encouraged participation using internal social media resources and their contract PR agency, Konnect-PR.

It took the team approximately six months to learn and prepare for the campaign. For participants, there was also an upfront time investment in training. The most successful organizations leveraged the CrowdRise tool kit, Gilbreath says. Throughout the campaign, a CrowdRise staffer was assigned to the challenge and gave webinars in March and April 2014, prior to the launch in May. Every organization also received its own page, with the same layout, for pictures and video.

From $0 to $1 Million Plus in 32 Days

In just 32 days, Found Animals had put up $115,000 in prizes and Saving Pets Challenge participants had raised more than one million dollars.

On some days, so much money was raised so fast, unique situations arose. During a weekly bonus (where the first organization to raise $500 received a $2,500 bonus) eight groups all qualified. The prize was split eight ways. “We figured it out on the fly,” says Gilbreath. “Typically (the platform) was not used to seeing so much money raised in a few seconds.”

The foundation learned that organizations “are better at driving donations in their own community than anyone realizes,” Gilbreath says. “People who used visual storytelling about their mission had the best results.”

Throughout the campaign, Gilbreath says the last 12 groups were “neck and neck” and the leaders exchanged places six or seven times. “It came down to the wire.”

In the end, size didn’t seem to be a barrier. The 2014 fourth place winner was an all-volunteer small rescue group working with German Shepherds in Orange County. “I don’t think anyone thought, before we started, that a volunteer staff would be so good at telling their story to their community about the work they are doing,” Gilbreath says.

Running a campaign for organizations gave them a reason to talk about themselves in their own communities, Gilbreath says. “They can say ‘We have a chance to win a $50,000 grant. Help us’.” And the communities respond.

While organizations did compete for cash, Gilbreath says the benefits exceeded funding. “Shelters told us the experience was a team bonding experience.”

The Saving Pets Challenge in 2015 (and possibly beyond)

The 8:1 return on investment validated the worth of the campaign. “It’s a great thing to do and that’s why Found Animals is doing it again in 2015,” Gilbreath says. The foundation will carry on with CrowdRise, despite being wooed by competitors. “We did get pitched by a second platform as we had a very successful campaign and another site wanted our business. But we decided to stay with the support and robustness of our platform.”

As of March, 2015, the challenge has more than 160 organizations signed up. In 2014, participants required an operating budget between $100,000 and $10 million. After receiving feedback from smaller organizations who wanted to participate, Found Animals changed the cap to $50,000 for 2015.

“We’re super excited to do this again,” says Gilbreath. “Last year completely exceeded what we expected. (This year) we haven’t even dared to put a number out there.”

2015 Saving Pets Challenge Prizes:

This year, the challenge offers $100,000 in grants towards innovative programs benefitting companion animals.

  • 1st place for the organization that raises the most money to help at-risk animals will win a $50,000 grant from Michelson Found Animals
  • 2nd place will win $20,000
  • 3rd place will win $10,000
  • 4th place will win $7,500
  • 5th place will win $5,000.
  • In addition, more than $25,000 in grants will be awarded during the Weekly Bonus Challenges open to all participants

The 2015 Saving Pets Challenge kicks off on Monday, May 4th. Watch the video for more information.


Amy Dunn Moscoso

Amy Dunn Moscoso is a B2B writer who loves to write success stories of CEOs, entrepreneurs and of course, crowd funders.

View my other posts