You are not your market – the importance of community polling

Rescues and shelters are often overwhelmed and it can feel confusing about why animals keep ending up in your care. It is important to remember that you are not your market, that is to say our organizations rarely accurately represent our communities which makes it difficult to truly know the community needs and therefor, difficult to provide true and lasting solutions. The only way to really know your community is to ask! In this article we will cover what data you should be getting from your community, what to do with that data, and how to keep the communication open.

Important data to know about your community

First, consider the biggest problems your rescue or shelter faces. If you are unsure, head over to our Limiting Factor Series to figure out where to start. Some common issues are:

  • Over population
  • Lack of funding
  • Lack of volunteers / staff

All of these issues have a deeper ‘why’ that we can uncover by asking the right people the right questions. Let’s get started with some base information to establish. For each data point, the more data, the better!

  1. Population / population with companion animals (types of animals, multi-animal households, households with animals and kids, etc)
  2. Income
  3. Employment
  4. Housing breakdown (owned vs renting)
  5. How people attain their companion animals (rescues, registered breeders, backyard breeders, unwanted litters, etc)
  6. Microchip rates
  7. Spay / neuter rates
  8. Regular vet care rates
  9. Familiarity with programs offered by your organization

Here is a sample poll:

How to collect data

When collecting data, it’s important to try to avoid bias as much as possible. If you have a digital form, consider also providing physical copies for people who may not be able to access a computer or know how to submit online. DO NOT only poll your audience. Find ways to reach out to other members of your community. A few ideas:

  • Leave hard copies of your form at libraries, town halls, post offices, etc.
  • Provide incentives – raffle of a prize, one form submission is one raffle entry
  • Ask schools if they could have students administer the poll for a project
  • Ask your network to ask their friends and family

Input all the answers to a single spreadsheet. Make sure to compare things like income with public data provided by your town or county to help you know if you have an accurate sampling. If you need help with creating a template spreadsheet, let us know! For more info, check out our guide on Getting Started Collecting Data.

What to do with the data

Once the data has been collected, you may be surprised at the results. Or, maybe not. Either way, it will provide some insight into the challenges your organization faces. Some example outcomes:

  • Low microchip rate may mean higher rate of unclaimed lost animals
  • Low spay / neuter rate may indicate a higher rate or abandoned animals
  • High income but low fundraising may indicate a lack of awareness of fundraisers

If you need help understanding your data, contact us.

Once you have an understanding of the short comings in your community you can begin to address them. This is how you would address the examples above:

  • Host free microchip clinics
  • Host free or low cost spay / neuter programs
  • Switch up your marketing for fundraisers

Be sure to keep track of the progress of these changes and to poll your community often.

How to keep communication open

The biggest factor in keeping your communication open with your community is to get out there! Get involved in events, reach out to local businesses, schools, and ask your network to share your events. The more you listen to the needs of your community, the more involved they will become with your mission and the more lives you will save. Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

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