Digital for Charities: Encourageing adoption & responsible pet ownership?

by Agate Brice
In the first of a series of posts about digital capability for charities, designer Agate Madara Brice shares her dissertation discussing how she would help a local dog home gain more adoptions and gain awareness in general...
Jan 3, 2024

Can a website encourage animal adoption & responsible pet ownership for a small local charity?



Every animal deserves a loving home. There is an overwhelming problem with animal homelessness in the UK. Insufficient laws and irresponsible breeding have caused overpopulation of pets, leaving many on the streets to fend for themselves.

Animal welfare has always been my passion, and number of people that own pets has drastically increased due to pandemic and lockdown. One of the biggest problems relating to this is people buying young animals such as kittens and puppies because they are cute and easy to manage when small, and later give them up because the animal has grown out of the cute stage and become a responsibility. I think that this could be tackled by promoting responsible animal ownership and encourageing people to adopt animals instead of buying from breeders. People who decide to adopt most likely do it for different reasons than people who buy puppies. Buying a grown animal comes with its responsibilities, teaching the owner about how strong an animal’s character can be.

Animal rescues are primarily alone in fighting for animal rights. Interviews carried out with local rescue proved that they have very limited time to spend on other tasks apart from animal care. The aim of this project is to help shelters increase number of animals adopted and raise awareness about animal welfare and benefits of adoption, with the help of a digital marketing campaign. Information was gathered through secondary research and by carrying out online surveys and interviews. Based on research data, strategy for social marketing was developed and visual project was carried out,involving rebrand of existing rescue content and creating website and advertisements for social media platforms.


“At any given time, there are an estimated 100,000 dogs – and countless cats – without homes in the UK. Left to fend for themselves on the streets, cats and dogs often suffer and die after getting hit by cars, being attacked by other animals, succumbing to extreme temperatures, starving, contracting contagious diseases, and facing other dangers.” (Animals Are Not Ours to Abuse | PETA UK, n.d.)

For about thousand years, we have kept cats and dogs as our pets. Historically, animals were bred for specific purpose, such as work or pest control. To make animals more suitable for their selected purpose, many, especially dogs, were bred selectively, changing their physical appearance, as well as behavioural traits. Over time humans have started keeping pets purely for companionship. Many are moved by breed specific looks, making animal breeders trying to achieve visual goals without doing proper research about other effects that may cause to animal’s health. At the same time many pet owners are not educated about breed specific behaviour and needs, which leads to countless animals becoming homeless. Shelters and rescues are struggling with huge number of animals they must deal with. They are often short staffed and rely on donations from the public.

This aims of this project are to help animal rescue centres increase dog adoption and educate community by exploring digital marketing strategies and ways they can aid in saving resources. The research part covers current animal rescue situation review, benefits of digital marketing for non- profit organisations, audience research and analysis of digital marketing tools that can benefit small rescues with low budgets. The practical project was developed to test theoretical knowledge gained and further explore how digital marketing can be applied through designer perspective.

I shall be using the Worcester Animal Rescue Shelter as an example of a shelter, with primary and secondary evidence conducted here. View their current site here:


Literature review

 Current situation at animal shelters

Animal rescues and shelters are trying to lessen the suffering of unwanted animals by catching them, providing necessary care, and finding new homes for animals that are suitable for rehoming. Due to lack of resources shelters are struggling to deal with growing volume of stray pets and in the result “about 21 dogs are euthanised in shelters across the UK every day.” (Animals Are Not Ours to Abuse | PETA UK, n.d.)

Because of Covid-19 pandemic numbers of stray animals will likely rise. “Research predicts that the UK as a whole is likely to see an increase of up to 27% more dogs being abandoned or left to stray in the next five years.” (Battersea research reveals ‘imminent animal welfare crisis for lockdown pets, 2020) Getting people to adopt animals is the ultimate solution to pet homelessness problem. Not only it would remove existing animals from streets, but also decrease number of cats and dogs that are being bred for profit. “Breeders and pet trade are major contributors to this crisis because they bring more puppies and kittens into a world that doesn’t have enough good homes for all the animals who already exist. (..) And many of the dogs and cats bred by breeders will either become homeless themselves or fill homes that could have gone to animals waiting in shelters.” (The ‘Pet’ Trade | Animals Are Not Ours to Abuse | PETA UK, n.d.) Educating community benefits of adoption, as well as dangers that commercial pet breeding carries to both animals and their owners, has the potential to persuade future pet owners to choose rescuing an animal instead of buying one.

In the meantime, many animal shelters are facing serious money issues. While some of the animal related non-profit organisations receive government funding, the biggest animal rescue in the UK “RSPCA” states that government funding “amounts to less than 0.1% of their annual expenditure.” (Mythbusting: What we do – and what we don’t – RSPCA, 2018) Research by Battersea “shows that dozens of animal rescue centres across the UK and Ireland are facing closure due to the pandemic, with more than half seeing their income drop by 50% or more since March.” (Battersea research reveals ‘imminent’ animal welfare crisis for lockdown pets, 2020)

Why should non-profits use digital marketing?

Most of the money for charities come from donations from the public. However, there are many organisations competing for donor attention. From this perspective charities operate like any for- profit business, using marketing and campaigning to attract potential “customers”. “Charities might not operate for profit, but they can still value from the traffic, funds, and awareness marketing brings in.” (Decker, 2022)

“Non-profit marketing is the use of marketing tactics and strategies to amplify an organization’s cause and mission,solicit donations, and attract volunteers and supporters.” (Decker, 2022) As well as getting funds to sustain shelters, the right type of marketing provides a way to reach out to potential animal adopters and volunteers. In many cases they are a vital part of the  workforce.

In the past years use of digital media has grown in rapidly. “Almost the entire nation has access to the internet with an estimated 62.86 million monthly users in 2021. This is expected to rise to over 65 million monthly users by 2026.” (Johnson,2021) The biggest advantage of digital marketing is the potential to maximise results from time and resources invested in marketing. “Targeting people with traditional marketing methods is difficult. Generally, message goes to everyone in the hope of reaching people that will be interested. It’s a challenge to obtain enough leads to justify marketing costs.” (Ryan, 2020) To animal rescues who are already struggling with costs, digital marketing can provide a way to spend their budget more efficiently. By choosing the right strategy and setting up efficient marketing plan, online marketing can save teams not only money, but their valuable time that can be spent caring for animals.

Audience and goals

Creating a good strategy for marketing campaign is key to efficient distribution between resources and workload. “Formulating a digital marketing strategy will help to make informed decisions about foray into the digital marketing arena and ensure that efforts are focused on the elements of digital marketing that are most relevant to business or brand, consumers and prospects.” (Ryan, 2020) HubSpot (2022) marketing survey shows that “67% of non-profits have no social media strategy, policies or goals documented.” By developing strategy, rescue will not lose time and save resources in long run.

First step of creating strategy for any marketing plan should be narrowing down the right audience and deciding on what are the business’s goals towards them. Ryan (2020) states that “you need a thorough understanding of your market, how your customers are using technology, and how your business can best utilise that same technology to build enduring and mutually rewarding relationships with them, while optimising the experience between you and your customers.”

Lasting relationships with supporters should be focus of any charity, as often they are the main donation provider for the organisation. As with any business, customers are more likely to return if they have had positive experience through the whole interaction with the brand. Understanding exactly who they are is necessary for creating successful marketing materials that not only engage them, but also improve overall satisfaction with the charity and opportunities it provides. Narrowing down the exact types of your audience helps to detect where they are online and what interests them. Then charities can use this information to create more engageing content and distribute it accordingly to this audience’s habits.

As stated before, rescues will have three different types of audience. For each type, the goals will be different, and content should be tailored depending on required action. Through multiple analysing tools digital marketing provides ability to see exactly who the people are who engage with the content, such as their gender, age, geographic location and more. This data should be used to better understand specifics of audience and what differentiate those who donate, adopt or are just browsing for information. “With use of SEO advertising or other marketing strategies, it is possible to create buyer personas. These are made-up people that mimic ideal customers. This can be used to target people who are most likely to engage with the cause.” (Ryan, 2020) Buyer’s personas should be very specific to better help mimic thinking of individual and predict their buyer’s journey. It often helps to even give them names, to make experience more relatable. For example, one of the buyer’s personas for potential adopter could be “John”. He is 35-year-old husband and father to 2 children, he owns a house, works from home and in free time enjoys running and hiking. John wants to get a dog to accompany him on his activities and teach his kids about responsibilities. To persuade people like John towards adopting instead of purchasing puppy, rescue can now use this persona to better plan what kind of content they would find engageing and where to place it to reach them effectively and at the right time. For example, if John works from home, he will probably be at his computer during daytime and will see the add online. He will not have enough time to read long post due to work commitments, but, for example, striking image of someone running with their dog and clear, relevant caption can persuade him to revisit information about animal adoption later.

At the same time targeting offers the opportunity to deliver educational information to people who are interested in owning an animal, but for some reason realistically should not get one. In this case discourageing a potential customer can be a win because rescues are interested in finding owners that are able to provide for animals and grant stable homes for them. Creating buyer’s personas for anti — customers can serve as an efficient way to deliver information and educate community, essentially when they are making decisions about getting a pet. This essentially should be one of the main goals for any animal rescue.

When deciding on audience and main goals, it is useful to keep in mind the WWW (Who, What, Why) diagram made by Sam Collett (2022). Who is the audience? What do you want them to do? Why should they choose to do that? Answering these questions will help narrow down clear guidelines that should be used in every aspect of creating marketing materials. This will benefit for communication between team members, making sure that everyone has same understanding of what needs to be achieved, saving time without losing focus on main goals.

Use of digital marketing tools

Digital marketing offers wide array of tools that are made to better target desired audience and analyse the data behind customer behaviour. In most cases small rescues will not have professional marketing teams or big budgets to spend on campaigns. There are many effective paid marketing types to choose from, such as Pay-Per-Click advertising, but this report will focus on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), Content Marketing and Social Media advertising – types of digital marketing that, in general, do not require monetary investment. As time is the biggest investment for any charity, deciding on right set of tools and making sure that people in charge of creating the content know how to use them can ensure that time is not spent on tasks that do not provide desired results.

The key to successful interaction with audience online is ability to be found when they are trying to find relevant content. “When it comes to getting your information in front of a highly targeted audience at the precise moment when they are looking to buy your products or services, search engines still reign supreme.” (Ryan, 2020) Good SEO practice is a way to ensure that potential adopters, donors, or volunteers will see rescue’s content first when using search engines. While there are various search engines available, Google has proven to be the most popular amongst all. (Appendix 1) Google uses three main steps to structure information. By using web crawl Google collects images, text, and videos.To predict what information it will collect, site owners can use similar apps, for example, “Screaming Frog SEO Spider”. Then Google algorithms will analyse and sort that information inside their databases based on rules mentioned before. “This stage is called indexing and it includes processing and analysing the textual content and key content tags and attributes, such as <title> elements and alt attributes, images, videos, and more.” (In-Depth Guide to How Google Search Works, 2022) The third step is user using the search engine and Google serving them most relevant information by using their indexed database. “Relevancy is determined by hundreds of factors, which could include information such as the user’s location, language, and device (desktop or phone).” (In-Depth Guide to How Google Search Works, 2022)

An effective way to achieve higher score in Google indexes are implementing the right keywords into content. Ryan (2020) states that “Words are the foundation for SEO.” Essentially keywords are words that user types into search engines to find information they need. Finding similar phrases on the website is one of the factors how search engines determine that the content is relevant. Keywords can be implemented not only in textual content, but also by giving images alt-tags, which are mainly used for accessibility, as well as provide web crawlers with details about visual content. However, many SEO experts agree that “title tag is one of the most important on-page factors used by the search engines to rank page. The title is the first glimpse of content that a search user will see. Giving pages concise, compelling and informative titles will entice more users to click through to page when it appears in search results.“ (Ryan, 2020) Creating a list of keywords can be started by using buyers personas, thinking what would that person type into a search window, and exploring places such as online forums to better understand their way of thinking – what for example are they expected when they get there. This list can be expanded by using an online keyword planner, for example, Google Ads. It will analyse what phrases are used the most, known as search volume. It will also suggest new keywords and even search volume forecasts. For animal rescues their biggest competitor is breeders. Keywords are great way to compete with them for potential animal owner attention. For example, using title like “Planning to buy a puppy? Why not adopt instead?” will make it more likely that person looking to buy dog will see rescue’s content alongside websites promoting puppy sales.

A website is an important aspect of any businesses – the main place where people will look for information. “Website is primarily a conversion engine for the traffic garnered through all of the other digital marketing endeavours.” (Ryan, 2020) The most important thing on any website is content. “Content marketing is about building a sustainable, trusting relationship with your customers that can potentially lead to many sales over time, not just making a single transaction.” (Gustavsen,2021) Keyword lists can help indicate what information should be included. However, it is paramount to remember that content is created primarily for people, not for SEO. “The true test is whether you would read this, whether you might share it and recommend it.” (Collett, 2022) The more useful reader will find information, the more likely that Google will recommend that to other users. “Unique, relevant, informative content is what sets site apart from the competition.” (Ryan, 2020)

When it comes to creating a website, another factor for ranking top at search is page structure. SEO spiders can detect usability of the site and take that into account when ranking search results. Site structure should be built by arranging keywords into logical themes. “These themes, along with the staple ‘home page’, ‘about us’ and ‘contact us’ links, give the primary navigation structure for site.” (Ryan, 2020) Then it should be sub-categorised until all keywords are covered, keeping important information at top levels, revealing more detailed content in lower levels. For easy navigation, home page should provide access to the rest of the site, while guiding user towards intended marketing goals.

Apart from SEO tactics, another way to reach audience is through Social Media marketing. “The number of social media users in the United Kingdom was equivalent to 77.9% of the total population in January 2021.” (Kemp, 2021) So it is very likely that the audience is there already. While social media is great for advertising rescue’s content and educating people about animal welfare, one of the best ways to reach higher traffic is through user engagement and user-generated content (UGC). “Implementing a UGC campaign not only lessens workload, but it also acts as strong social proof.” (Decker, 2022) Digital interaction is based on reviews. People share, like, and leave comments about content. This allows other users to form opinion about the brand before personally interacting with it. Sharing high quality content will engage more people and help lift brands image. Many platforms, such as Facebook, offer dashboards to see data affecting user engagement and how each piece of information is performing. Analysing this data will allow to detect what works and what does not. Other benefits of dashboards include option to create system that will automatically schedule posts, allowing creation of a content plan that will save time and help keep message consistent.


See Appendix 2: Design proposal. This hopes to apply the knowledge in practical prototype and answer the question “How can digital marketing campaign aid in encourageing animal adoption and raising awareness about responsible pet ownership?”

Through primary and secondary research, it has been discovered that animal rescuers are struggling to upkeep costs,and time they can spend on marketing is very limited. By researching marketing techniques, it was determined that non-profit marketing has many advantages, such as having low cost. It also shows the possibility to implement systems that save time and give an opportunity to analyse the results to see what works. Formulating a strategy and creating realistic marketing plan is vital to reach the necessary goals without exhausting the team.

Through good SEO practices, it is possible for small organisations to compete with larger budget campaigns held by bigger charities or commercial animal breeders. Use of the right keywords, a site structure that is easy to navigate, along with the creation of quality content are key factors that search engines use to rank pages in their indexes. However, it is important to remember that the audience is the centre of any campaign and content should be created with them in mind.

Further development of project performance analysis should always be done and content should be improved accordingly. In this study, this was of course not possible, due to the new design not being published and therefore having no access to analytics dashboards.

In conclusion, this project has discovered multiple ways as to how digital marketing can aid with increasing animal adoption and help animal rescue centres educate their community. Hopefully, this information will help smaller charities understand the importance of digital marketing, encourage them to allocate time for creating marketing strategy, and set guidelines for how to do it.

Every animal deserves a loving home. It is our duty as a society to ensure this, and by educating more people, one day,animal rescue centres might not be alone in this fight.


Appendix 1: Search engine ranking

By data published at Statcounter (2022) Google accounts for 91% of total search requests on web. Due to each search engine provider having different rules to regulate what content will appear first, following Google’s SEO guidelines should be advisable. Information Google Developers provide on their website not only offer specifics about Google SEO policies but provide better insight on how SEO works in general. Understanding key points about how Google processes information will ensure that even less experienced team members know how to incorporate simple SEO tricks in their workflow to increase chances of their content being seen. Google Developers (2022) explains that “Google Search is a fully-automated search engine that uses software known as web crawlers that explore the web regularly to find pages to add to our index.” (In-Depth Guide to How Google Search Works, 2022)

Appendix 2: Design proposal


To better understand how animal rescues can apply theoretical knowledge, designer created a practical project in collabouration with Worcester Animal Rescue Shelter. The project involved redesign of existing brand, development of website design based on previously explored SEO practices and social media content plan with design examples. At first, phone interview was conducted for designer to discover current situation in shelter. To better understand the audience, online survey was carried out, as well as interview with person who has adopted a cat from the rescue.

Interview results

Initial interview with WARS indicated some serious problems that rescue is facing. The most significant was their lack of time to devote to tasks that do not involve animal care. In their opinion main reason why many people choose to buy a dog instead of adopt, is because of stereotype that puppies and kittens are easier to handle. Main reason why dogs do not go to new owners is because people have unrealistic expectations about keeping an animal, such as inability to provide necessary amount of time with them.

Second interview with subject who has adopted a cat from WARS was conducted to understand reasoning behind adoption and why did she choose WARS specifically. Her answers indicated that passion for animal wellbeing influenced the decision to adopt. She had heard about WARS online, but main reason for choosing this shelter was friend recommendations.


Rebrand of WARS visual identity

Visual identity plays a big role when customers come across new brand online. Current branding was outdated, and while colour scheme was visually pleasing, the implementation of it could be better for content clarity. To improve this, designer kept original colour palette, but limited the use of colours to selected combinations and specific parts of design. Playful, script typeface and sans serif typefaces are successful combo in terms of balance between corporate and friendly. However, designer decided to accent this even more by replacing sans serif Arial with Poppins that offer many weight variations. Due to inability to access original script font family, designer replaced it with GoodDogNew font.

Current logotype had too many small details that did get lost when viewed in small size. There was also inconsistency in illustration, showing dog from the back, but cat from front. For new style designer created new logo illustration and complimentary icon pack. New logo image represents care for animals. Irregular style was inspired by GoodDogNew typeface to continue with the friendly appearance.


Keyword research and website development

Site structure was based on main goals- animal adoption, donations, and volunteer recruitment. Existing navigation was cluttered, some links missing, and many components of information was duplicated. To accent three main calls for action,navigation was displayed in two sections. Ryan (2020) states that “home page should be a ‘jumping-off point’ for the rest of site, offering intuitive one-click navigation to all main sections or themes, and telling people immediately what your is about, and how it can help them. It is also a good place to highlight new products and services, special offers, incentives, news, or anything else business wants to promote on site.” The new home page structure leads to more detailed information about main subjects, as well as informs users about other opportunities how to engage with rescue.

To appeal to SEO standards, deeper research about relevant keywords was conducted by creating buyer’s personas and then using Google Ads to expand the list and analyse the performance of keyword phrases. Then the list was compared to competition (breeders and other rescues) to better predict ranking amongst them. Keywords were implemented into titles through the page.

Then based on home page structure and design two more pages were developed. One of them was made to show information about dog adoption, the other for donation opportunities. Previously information was scattered on multiple short pages, which were not accessible from single point. New design incorporates all relevant information on one single pages with better hierarchy to improve user experience.

Visually the site design was made more consistent with increased negative space, to make content easier to read. New colour organisation scheme was implemented across the design. Buttons were made same on all pages to keep user from missing calls to action due to inconsistent appearance.


Social media content and survey results

To better understand the audience, online survey was carried out. Survey consisted of questions about user habits and opinions on animal related issues. Survey indicated that most popular social media platforms used are Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Because of this data, designer chose to create content for Facebook and Instagram, leaving out YouTube,as video content is very time consuming and rescue most likely would not have video editing skills. Another question proved that digital media content should be quick to view, as 70% of participants admitted that they mostly just pay attention to images and video content. Another response indicated that 50% would like to see entertaining content about animals. When formulating social media content plan, this inspired designer to include informational comics about dogs available for adoption. This way audience has insight about dogs’ history and personality. Also, the nature of comics provides opportunity to differentiate brand from competition. Visual style for comics was kept simple, so repetitive content creation would not be too time. Another type of post design was made for Weekly Star animal, featuring image and short description of animal showed in comic.

Another question indicated that participants were reluctant to donate to online fundraising. To encourage the trust, rescue should post regular updates alongside call to donate. To help with this, designer created banners to use with posts about how donations are spent. More banners were made to go along with information about animal care, as 90% of participants answered that they would like to see tips about being a good pet owner.

The content was structured in social media plan, that consisted of four parts, distributed across weekdays. This plan could be used for future reference to create fresh content and provide users with consistent updates of the brand.

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