Animal Welfare Coalition-Building Action Kit

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Table of contents

Why coalitions are important
Steps for creating a coalition:

  1. Determine if a coalition is right for you.
  2. Build your core team.
  3. Define your purpose.
  4. Quantify your mission.
  5. Decide whether you want to incorporate.
  6. Run your “business.”
  7. Have financial sense.

The rest is up to you!

Why animal welfare coalitions are important

Best Friends Animal Society has launched a movement with rescue groups and shelter leaders from across the country to end the killing of dogs and cats in our nation’s animal shelters by 2025. Collaboration and coordination among animal welfare organizations on a community level are key to achieving this goal.

We have seen the lifesaving results of organizations choosing to work together in communities as large as Los Angeles. In 2012, Best Friends launched the NKLA (No-Kill Los Angeles) initiative and started the NKLA Coalition with about 35 member organizations. Within five years, the number of deaths at city shelters had decreased by 82 percent. In 2016, the NKLA Coalition, which now has more than 100 members, helped find homes for 26,500 dogs and cats.

Still, around the country, more than 4,100 dogs and cats are killed in shelters every day simply because they do not have safe places to call home. We are determined to reduce that number to zero by the year 2025. To get there, we are focusing on building and supporting no-kill coalitions at regional and local levels, and helping to get fundamental no-kill programs in place to support lifesaving work.

This action kit is designed to guide you through the process of starting a coalition in your community. It may be that your city or county is looking to work more closely with animal welfare organizations to achieve a shared goal, or your group wants to collaborate with other organizations in your state or region to create lifesaving change. By using these guidelines and examples, you will have all the information you need to get started.

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1. Determine if a coalition is right for you.

A coalition is an organization whose members commit to an agreed-upon purpose and shared decision-making to influence an external institution or target, while each member organization maintains its own autonomy.

Collaboration is most successful when an organization has a clear understanding of its individual mission and goals. Therefore, it’s important to understand your organization’s individual goals. The purpose of the coalition may complement your mission, but it shouldn’t blur the lines. The coalition’s goal should be broader than your individual organization’s purpose. And remember, collaborative effort can help you do both: achieve your organization’s goals and provide institutional change within your community.

Once you know what you want to achieve and have identified your strengths, you can support the coalition to achieve its shared purpose. For a strong, unified foundation, keep the following in mind:

  • The coalition is working toward distinct outcomes on a single issue.
  • You can mobilize others to align with the coalition’s mission.
  • Coalitions are founded on trust, respect and a commitment to collaborate.

Not sure if you are ready? Use these discussion resources to evaluate whether a coalition could work for you:

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2. Build your core team.

One of the most important tasks in building an animal welfare coalition is determining the leadership group, a steering committee that will provide oversight and guidance to members. The steering committee creates and maintains aligned action focused on attaining the coalition’s mission. The responsibilities may include:

  • Goal setting
  • Identifying gaps and solutions, including resources
  • Monitoring progress
  • Setting priorities for new work
  • Catalyzing efforts

The leadership group should include diverse organizations that represent the larger community. In many communities, this includes the government shelter, a large humane society or other private shelter, key rescue groups, resource organizations and spay/neuter clinics.

For example, the steering committee for the Safe Coalition in Nashville (click here to read its case study) is made up of Metro Animal Care & Control (government shelter), the Nashville Humane Association (private shelter), the Pet Community Center (spay/neuter clinic), Crossroads Campus (private shelter) and Best Friends. Another example of a diverse coalition is the Baltimore Animal Welfare Alliance (BAWA). This coalition includes five major animal welfare organizations within Baltimore: the Baltimore Humane Society, the Maryland SPCA, Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, Baltimore City Animal Control and the Baltimore County Animal Control Division.

After creating your steering committee, develop a charter that outlines the roles, responsibilities and business functions of the coalition. Here is a sample coalition charter that outlines the key elements needed in such a document.

This document will serve as a guide to maintain focus on the purpose of the coalition. You can see how a steering committee supports the bylaws for the Safe Coalition in Nashville (see Article III under Governance).

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3. Define your purpose.

Much of a coalition’s success lies in establishing a firm foundation by developing a well-written mission statement that identifies a key purpose for your collective work. Ask yourself, “Exactly what are we trying to do here?” A precise definition of your purpose is tremendously powerful. Your mission statement will guide the coalition’s work, support decision-making and help get your message across to the public. A successful mission statement will be:

  • Brief (one or two sentences)
  • Clear and positive in tone
  • Action- and results-oriented
  • Motivational to people who will support your work

Although this may be similar to your individual organization’s mission statement, the coalition’s mission statement must be distinct and specific, and capture the main goal of participating members. These strong coalition mission statements are examples of the focus on collaboration and collective work:

  • North Carolina Animal Federation: Advance professional development, legislative participation and education for animal organizations in North Carolina.
  • Colorado Federation of Animal Welfare Agencies: Advancing collaboration, advocacy and professional development within the Colorado animal welfare community.
  • Virginia Federation of Humane Societies: Leads an alliance committed to providing mutual support and to acting collectively as the voice for animal welfare in Virginia. Our vision is to be the leading advocate for ending unnecessary euthanasia of cats and dogs and advancing animal welfare throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Another important element to convey is the focus on lifesaving. The commonly accepted benchmark for having achieved no-kill status is when 90 percent of all animals (without regard to age, behavior or subjective assessments of “adoptability”) entering all shelters within a community are either returned to their owners, re-homed or returned to their outdoor niche in the community. The coalition’s mission statement should capture this purpose and indicate how members intend to achieve it within the community. The following individual organizations demonstrate ways to emphasize lifesaving in a mission statement:

  • Austin Pets Alive: To promote and provide the resources, education and programs needed to eliminate the killing of companion animals.
  • LifeLine Animal Project: To end the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals in metro Atlanta shelters. (At the core of our mission to end shelter euthanasia is the desire to improve the lives and standards of care for animals in our community.)
  • Kansas City Pet Project: To end the killing of healthy and treatable pets in Kansas City, Missouri, by using the most progressive and lifesaving programs and promoting effective animal control policies.
  • Paws for Life Utah: With a vision to end animal homelessness and euthanasia, our mission is to rescue and find loving homes for shelter pets. Through community partnerships, education and adoption events, we inspire community action and compassion on their behalf.

The second step for laying a foundation is to establish common values and principles under which the coalition will operate to achieve its mission. A coalition should include a diversity in its membership that is representative of the larger community. These three elements will help ensure that members feel respected and included:

  • Equity
  • Transparency
  • Mutual benefit, so everyone wins

The coalition’s values can incorporate these basic elements as a guide for members and further specify its role in the community. For example, the Baltimore Animal Welfare Alliance consists of five major animal welfare organizations in the city. Some of these organizations’ values emphasize the elements listed above:

  • Work together to save the lives of companion animals with the goal of creating a community where no healthy or treatable animal is euthanized due to the lack of a home.
  • Foster mutual respect for all members and recognize that, while members share our interest and passion for animal welfare, our methods may be different.
  • All members participate in achieving the mission, realizing that our vision is shared by all members and is not just the dream of a few.

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4. Quantify your mission.

You know your purpose and have defined your mission, but where do you begin? Data is the key to saving more lives in your community. You must build your mission around data and use the information to target the most at-risk animals. The idea of gathering data can be overwhelming, but asking the right questions to identify areas of need will be a big help.

Where are animals dying in your community?
The answer to this is (most often) the municipal shelter(s). We encourage you to work with your community’s open admission shelter or government shelter to at least obtain the most recent year’s worth of data. Shelter Animals Count is a great place to gather summary-level data from shelters across the country (see Data Tab, Explore the Data).

What type of support network exists for the shelter?
Gather data on shelters and rescue groups that transfer animals from the municipal shelter. This information will help identify potential rescue partners to help pull shelter animals to increase live outcomes. You can start by asking your local shelter which rescue groups pull animals and to what degree. Also, check Shelter Animals Count or any other state-required shelter and rescue group reporting. A basic Google search of local organizations’ websites can provide a lot of preliminary data.

Does the public have access to affordable spay/neuter and wellness services?
A high number of deaths in shelters is sometimes a direct result of high intake from a community’s underserved areas or neighborhoods with limited resources for people with pets. Try to get an understanding of what types of services are currently provided, where to access them and whether those services are meeting the demand.

In addition to gathering the above data, it’s also important to dig deeper. Remember, the more data you have, the more informed and targeted your strategies will be. Consider getting the following data:

  • Intakes by zip code
  • Reasons for surrender
  • Reasons for euthanasia
  • Neonatal statistics

A lot of this information can be obtained by contacting your local shelter and asking for more detailed information or a raw shelter data report. Even better, ask your local municipal shelter to join your coalition and steering committee. It all goes back to working together to save the most lives. After you’ve gathered the data, use it to identify gaps and potential solutions. Gap analysis reveals the areas where the coalition is most needed.

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5. Decide whether you want to incorporate.

The decision about whether to incorporate is not the same for everyone. For coalitions deciding against forming a separate organization, such as a registered 501(c)(3), operating under the direction of a steering committee may be preferable. For example, you could create an informal voluntary association of organizations (like the Safe Coalition in Nashville) without having to incorporate. (Click here to read the case study.) This method can be useful for coalitions with short-term missions (such as bringing a community to no-kill in two years). However, this model can also be adopted by long-term coalitions.

Even without incorporating, a new coalition must still be careful to provide defined documentation (such as a charter, bylaws and a memorandum of understanding) to clearly outline how the group will function. Incorporating as a 501(c)(3) has several important benefits, such as lending credibility to your work and ensuring proper separation between the coalition and its members. Once your group obtains 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the IRS, donors of goods, services or money can claim their gifts against their taxes, which can have the effect of increasing gift amounts. If your coalition decides incorporation is best for its members, here’s an overview on how to do it.

Tax-exempt, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) status is acquired by filing the necessary forms with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You must incorporate as a nonprofit organization in your own state before applying for 501(c)(3) status. Start by registering the corporate name and gathering the necessary paperwork. Name registration and incorporation paperwork is usually available from your secretary of state or corporation commission. Forms for filing your 501(c)(3) application are available from the IRS. You may also be required to file with your state for a certificate that allows you to solicit donations and be exempted from sales tax. This is often done through the attorney general’s office.

You can call your state’s house of representatives to get the phone numbers for the offices of your secretary of state and attorney general. Ask for the following information:

  • Registering a corporate name
  • Incorporating a nonprofit
  • Any other regulations that apply to charitable nonprofit organizations

You can also call the IRS at 800-TAX FORM or visit its website at

Once you have completed the necessary paperwork, the nonprofit status may take about three months to obtain. You will be issued a three-year provisional tax-exempt status, which is subject to fulfilling IRS requirements, such as submitting a Form 990 each year, a form that details the money taken in and spent on behalf of the charity.

It is important to keep good financial records, because without them your nonprofit status could be revoked by the IRS. After three years (when the IRS is satisfied that you are running a legitimate nonprofit), you will be granted permanent 501(c)(3) status.

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6. Run your “business.”

Whether your coalition is just getting started or is a full-fledged 501(c)(3) nonprofit, a business mindset is crucial to keeping members focused on the mission. But how do you decide who you invite to participate in the coalition? This isn’t a game of favorites, but rather an important task to understand who is dedicated to achieving no-kill in your community and who is able to support the coalition.

Best Friends typically limits coalition participation to 501(c)(3) animal welfare organizations and government-run shelters that provide services in the coalition’s community. You can also involve community businesses and individuals as supporting members. They would not be eligible for coalition grants and programs, but they can be valuable supporters, and keeping them well-informed can benefit the organization. A membership memorandum of understanding is an excellent way to clearly outline criteria, expectations and the coalition’s goals. Here is an example that includes the following common elements:

  • Mission and structure, including the governance body or steering committee
  • Who is eligible, what they receive and what their responsibilities are
  • “No bash, no trash” clause, which means a member cannot publicly disparage other coalition members
  • Requirement to follow laws and not have a criminal record
  • Requirements for data reporting and transparency (Hint: A great asset is Shelter Animals Count, which has a coalition builder tool to invite members into your virtual coalition, so you can collect and report on aggregate data.)

For members, the first meeting is the most important, because this is when you’ll establish credibility and explain the coalition’s purpose. During the meeting, discuss your mission, your goals and the responsibilities of coalition members. Be sure to be positive and let everyone know that they can make a difference and that the mission is achievable. Here are some tips to organize a successful meeting:

  • State in one or two sentences exactly what you would like your meeting to accomplish.
  • Prepare a written agenda.
  • Set time limits for each item on the agenda and provide each attendee with a written copy of the agenda.
  • Set ground rules and appoint a strong but fair chairperson, whose job is to maintain focus and order and prevent the meeting from degenerating into a series of cute animal stories or war stories. The time to chat is after the meeting ends. (Don’t underestimate the value of including time for people to get to know each other informally after the meeting ends. This is when many valuable and long-lasting connections are made.)
  • Arrange follow-up. Note action items and be sure to act on them.

Marketing and communications is another important element that will help maintain unity within a diverse group of organizations. Each organization’s mission and values are different and, similarly, the coalition’s branding and messaging should be unique. For a quick overview, the Best Friends digital team hosted this Digital Marketing 101 presentation that covers various marketing and communication strategies.

Lots of free and low-cost resources are also available to help with digital marketing. For example, you can use WordPress or Wix to set up a free website using a template and add some custom graphics from the free design site Canva. Then you can share it on the coalition’s Facebook page (also free to set up). Your website and social media efforts will help build your audience and develop an email list. The Best Friends Network uses MailChimp, which is easy to use, and it’s free to maintain lists with 2,000 subscribers or less. It also includes an email sign-up form, simple templates, audience management and metrics.

Open and honest communication is one of the most effective ways to build and maintain trust with your audience. Remember, you’ll be communicating with coalition members, the public and media. Media relations will allow you to develop an ongoing relationship with your audience through various media outlets or information channels. It’s important to keep messaging consistent — even when the audience and calls to action change. This applies to everything, from meetings with members to monthly newsletters. When in doubt, go back to your mission statement and consider whether what you’re communicating is aligned with the values and goals you originally established for the coalition.

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7. Have financial sense.

Effective and consistent fundraising will give your coalition a financial foundation. With a proper plan in place, fundraising doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Of course, you must develop a budget, which not only is required by the IRS, but large donors typically want to review your budget before granting funding. Use your goals as a starting point for estimating expenses. When your budget is complete, you can clearly see how much you’ll need to raise in terms of financial resources so that fundraising can begin.

The resource Animal Fundraising Ideas: Boost Your Doggie Dollars and Kitty Cash provides a range of fundraising strategies and ideas on how to get started. The first step is setting a goal using the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) standard and then setting up a plan that includes several fundraising strategies from a variety of groups, such as members and volunteers, community members, and businesses and foundations.

Transparency is paramount when it comes to financial information. Make sure you’re talking to your members about coalition spending, as well as providing clear documentation in your meeting minutes about all financial decisions. If your coalition is incorporated, it’s even more imperative to ensure that there is adequate tracking and reporting on spending — something that a 501(c)(3) status is dependent upon.

If you are not incorporating, you may want to explore a donor-advised fund to house coalition funding. Donor-advised funds are accounts where you can raise money and make recommendations for grant disbursements that have the added benefit of business support. Many times, the charitable fund will handle all administrative aspects of donation receipts and grant disbursements. National and local donor-advised funds are available. See the for an example of a national fund, and check with your local community foundation to see about possible options that may work for your coalition.

Grant programs for coalition partners are one of the best ways to incentivize aligned action among your members to achieve goals. You can offer grant programs to organizations that provide services to help you strategically accomplish your goals. Here are some examples:

  • Rescue incentive programs: Stipends to coalition members to pull animals from the local shelter
  • Requests for proposals (RFPs): Open application grant programs to incentivize specific actions from your members
  • Grant agreement: A contract between the coalition and the grant recipient that outlines funding details, program expectations and reporting requirements

We have used each of these in Best Friends’ NKLA Coalition. Check out these sample documents for more information:

Note: These documents are continually refined over time as the programs change. Feel free to use them as examples, but make sure to craft documentation specific to your coalition’s mission and goals. Also, see the Nashville case study for an example of key programs.

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The rest is up to you

Congratulations! You made it through the basics of starting an animal welfare coalition in your community. Now it’s up to you to make it happen. Take it step by step and be open to support from others. One of the best parts of working collectively is not having to go it alone. We can all do more when we work together. Here are some final considerations to keep the momentum going:

  • Host regular membership meetings, and be transparent and engaged.
  • Spread the word and involve the community in your efforts.
  • Maintain ongoing assessment and allow for course correction.
  • Share the successes and challenges of the coalition.
  • Join the Best Friends Network for professional advice and tips from our team of specialists, support for implementing new programs and more.

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