The Ultimate Guide to Getting Money for Your Dog Rescue Group

smallerbutterfly If you're running a charity, especially a dog rescue group, you're always worried about money. It's a constant battle to stay ahead of routine costs.

And just when all the bills are paid and you've got a little extra in the bank, BOOM! An emaciated dog with a broken leg -- heartworm positive, of course! -- turns up on your doorstep.

You're not alone! Most of my clients start out the same way. They got into rescue to help those sad furry faces, but they come to us disillusioned, in over their heads with unpaid vet bills and operational expenses.


It doesn't have to be like that. 


I help rescuers raise more money, get more donations, and get more grants. Our clients go from BROKE to rescuers who are free to concentrate on what really matters.  

 So where is your funding coming from and how can you make this process a bit less all-consuming?

If you're running a charity, especially a dog rescue group, you're always worried about money. Click to Tweet

The answer lies in understanding at a very basic level why people give to charities.  It actually has very little to do with what your group is doing and more about donors and dinosaurs, and the connection between donors and dinosaurs is something I call "Donation Chemistry".  Here's how it works:



 (Here's the direct link if the video above doesn't play for you.) Donation Chemistry


Now that you understand why people do what they do, we can start to work up a solid plan for your group. But first, you need to know how much you need to raise, and you'd totally be surprised how many groups have no idea how much they need. 


Get inside your donors' heads!

Want to immediately hooked your donors into your tribe? then you need to understand why people donate and how you can reach them at their very deep level. Get THE ENTIRE Donation Chemistry course along with the exact templates and top-performing campaigns we use for our clients!
Check out our Donation Chemistry Course!


So How Much DO You Need?


Crazy question, right? Most rescuers start out stumbling through the whole finances thing, falling from crisis to crisis and hoping and praying the donations will come in before they max out their Care Credit and personal credit cards. 


Stop. Just stop.


And don't tell me, "We need as much as we can get."


If your group's been for a while, you probably have a few years at least worth of data. (If you don't, we need to talk about your record-keeping.)


Let's do some math. Don't worry, simple stuff, I promise. 


So do this. Take the last few years of expenses and add them all up, then divide by the number of years to get your average expenses. Then take how many dogs you saved during those same years and add those numbers up and divide by the number of years, another average. Then divide your expenses average by your number of dogs average.  


That's your average expense per dog. 


Think you'll do about the same number of dogs this year? Let's say maybe ten percent more than your average, since now you're going to be super in control of your finances.


So take last year's number of dogs and multiply that by 1.10. That gives you the number of dogs this year.


Multiply THAT by your average expense per dog.


Boom. That's how much revenue you need to generate this year.


Just starting out so you don't have data? Then check out THIS ARTICLE on funding startups. {LINK TO THAT ARTICLE}


So now that you know how much you need, let's talk about the different types of nonprofit revenues.


  • Donations:  These come from supporters, adopters, and cash dropped into jars at events. To keep your nonprofit status, you need to have at least 30% of your group's gross revenue come from public donations. (Oh, while we're at it -- please don't tell me that the money you get for a T-shirt sold is a "donation." It's not. The IRS won't buy and and neither do I. It's income from selling goods and yes, in some states you have to pay sales tax on it.)  The Holy Grail of donations is the recurring monthly donation.
  • Grants: big or small, they should be a part of every program, especially if your group is 501(c)(3).
  • Program Fees: adoption fees, application fees, surrender fees, fees from government for providing services.
  • Felonious Assaults: (just kidding about that one, but don't tell me you haven't considered it!).



So now that we've got math and vocabulary out of the way, let's get on to the testable materials. I want you to keep in mind these two guiding principles. 


Donations, grants and programs fees should each be 1/3 of your overall revenue plan.

You must have a plan.



So let's talk about those three diferent sources of revenue and then put them all together in a plan (don't sweat it, there's a tool for that.)



Absolutely the first and most important part of your funding plan is building your donor base. Donations are the essence of "public support" and you need to have 30% of your gross revenue coming from public support to maintain your 501(C)(3) status.

"Donations" covers a lot -- maybe MOST -- of what you probably need on a day to day basis. It includes money donations (intermittent, recurring, and emergency) and donations in kind (dog food, crates, items to auction off.) Both kinds are very useful.


Monetary Donations


Monetary donations allow you the most flexibility. You avoid the problem of having fifteen boxes of treats and no money for bleach.  


Monetary donations fall into three categories.


  • Intermittent donations come in when you put out a general fundraising plea.
  • Emergency donation fundraisers are almost always appropriate when you have a bad story and good pictures.
  • Recurring donations from people who've committed to support the rescue every month automatically.  


All of these have a role to play in funding operations, and you can't neglect any of them.  


A good email list, a pixelled list of supporters (read the article on how to pixel your website visitors) and a strong social media campaign are essential to all three of these.  (Remind your supporters to join your group's Facebook group and turn on all notifications. Here's an article on how to do that along with a video HERE.)



Why Donors Give

Want to immediately hooked your donors into your tribe? then you need to understand why people donate and how you can reach them at their very deep level. You need my course on Donation Chemistry.
Link to the Donation Course



Donations in kind


Weird term, but that what we call the stuff that people give you that isn't money. You know, dog biskies, crates, leashes and collars. This INCLUDES items donated for an online auction or for resale! (Yeah, you have to keep track of that stuff. It's part of your gross revenue.)

Remember how I talked about Serotonine in the Donation Chemistry video? That's exactly this. People LOVE to have the power to make decisions, and that includes deciding which biskies you'll give your dogs and what brand of paper towels you'll us!

And that's not all. The reason online auctions are so terribly effective is that they kick in a whole lot of donation chemistry. Your donor gets to choose what to donate. They have the prestige of having items to give away. There's a sense of community and bonding as they watch others comment on their donations and bid. It's validation. It's power. Even the most modest of donations to an auction evoke a powerful response.

When managed correctly through an auction or other sale, can bring far more than their actual value because bidders can always rationalize, "It's for charity."  


Example: Charitable Auction

I add a signed copy of one of my books to a charity auction. I pay $5 to have the book printed. The book sells for $15 on It often goes for $60 in an auction. I can deduct $5 from my taxes for my contribution, not $15. The person who wins the book can deduct $45, i.e. $60-$15.
Click here to check out my books!


Remember, with charity auctions and sales, the person or company who gave you the item is the one entitled to the deduction. The winning bidder can only deduct any amount paid over the reasonable value of the item. 


Clear as mud?  I thought so. But that's the way it works.


A dollar you don't have to spend is a dollar you don't have to raise. Great tools for encouraging donations in kind include Wish Lists, call in programs at your local feed store (people can call in and prepay a bag of food), and program like

Here's what a fundraiser lets you do (and you can now accept payments directly inside your form, for a small additional fee!)




With, make sure you add the "Wish List" button to your browser tool bar. This lets you automatically add anything you find on the web to your Wish List. Here's where you can get it: Wish List Button.


One cautionary note: check your state laws before you decide to raffle off items. Raffles are illegal in many states, or there may be some arcane hoops to jump through. There's a list of state rules HERE.


 Now, let's move onto the whole reason you suffered through the paperwork for 501(c)(3) status: those oh-so-elusive and SO desirable grants!




So here's the good news: you only need two things to get lots of grants.  First, you need a list of grantors, those folks (usually a committee) who evaluated your proposal and decide whether to give you money. Grantors with money to give away will normally send out a Request For Proposals (usually called an RFP). Your group's response to the RFP is call a proposal and the keys to writing strong proposals is having a template and a few examples.


There. Now you sound like an expert (and you will be very shortly!) 


How do you find grantors?


Couple of ways. You can join and get and a huge discount a couple of times a year.  You can do a Google search and turn up a lot of programs. Or you can get thee hence down to your favorite library and ask a librarian in person (probably the most underutilized resource around).  


There's also a list of around ninety top animal cause grantmakers that subscribers to ObeytheBeagle can access, along with access to a few successful grant applications. Easier not to reinvent the wheel, you know? 


Make a list of them and make SURE you note the submission requirements and the deadlines. 


Now you need a template.


The key to submitting a lot of grant applications is to develop a master grant proposal that contains everything you ever thought about including, and then paring that down for each individual grant.  There are two ways to do this: first, get someone to give you a copy of their last SUCCESSFUL grant proposal. Second, you can start building your own from scratch.


Once you have a basic grant proposal developed, it's very easy to flesh it out for multiple grantors. Do more than you need to on your grant template. You can always cut out parts later. 


Need some help with developing your master grant application? Got FIVE MINUTES to spend on this every day for two weeks? Then grab the email series "Five Minute Grant Writer". I'll send you a series of short emails that break up the template development process into easy steps.


Program fees


For MOST rescue groups, this will simply be adoption fees. If you also hold training classes at a reduced rate or other events like that, those may also be program fees.


The big deal with program fees is that some states -- notably, Tennessee -- are trying to claim that the "adoption fee" is actual a sale of goods and hence subject to sales tax.


Sales tax and whether you have to pay it varies widely from state to state, and don't get confused about this part -- the rules on whether you have to PAY IT or CHARGE IT may be different.  


In TN, for instance, a 501(c)(3) does not PAY sales tax on items it purchases if the organization has applied for and received an Exemption. However, if the group SELLS anything, like coffee mugs and bumper stickers, the group must collect and pay state sales tax. In TN, there's an odd little exemption for T-shirt sales twice a year, and it's a twisty little knick of a law. 


The key is to make sure you use the phrase "program fee" in your materials and make a point to list out what all the program includes: ongoing assistance and support from the group, help with emergencies, discounts on training programs, and a commitment to always take the dog back.  Laws are changing every day as more and more courts are recognizing that adopting a dog is substantially different from buying a lawnmower.  


Lose the whole "adoption" thing immediately. Call it a program fee. 


Felonious Assaults


Felonies are usually bad things to do. No beating up school kids for their lunch monies or robbing banks.  I'm just going to leave it at that. 


There's A Tool For That


I've got these great neighbors across the street. They're the kind of folks you can call up and say -- and I often do -- ,"Hey, I'm getting ready to climb up a ladder to cut down this dead branch. Could you come over and hold the ladder steady?" They'll not only show up, they'll bring their custom branch cutting extended chain saw, with extra blades, safety goggles, tool to tighten the chain, and their home made flame thrower in case that doesn't work. 


They taught me this: "There's a tool for that." 


Get My FREE Fundraising Planner!

Eliminte the emergencies by planning for them! Click here to access the FREE PLANNER!


And there is, for virtually any sort of thing you need to do around the house, in the yard, or out at the kennel. The right tool makes the job incredibly easier and faster and increases the possibility you won't need that flame thrower after all.


Your basic first tool for fundraising is a planner.  The planner serves a couple of purposes.


First, it gets you thinking about fundraising as a proactive practice and not just a, "Oh god we only have $30 in the bank and the new intake just broke a leg!" reactive reflex. You can never stop fundraising, never, but a good solid plan will turn emergencies into inconveniences. 


Second, a good planning tool gets you thinking about other things that  you can do.  It will incorporate a list of resources and just glancing through the possibilities is bound to spark your creative juices. 


Finally, planning tools let you easily share your thoughts with others on your team, and gives them the chance to add their specialties to the mix. 


Want to see what I use? Grab it HERE.  It's an Excel sheet with drop down menus and options that you can modify to suit your own organization.   (


Questions or comments? Shoot me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Love to hear from you!