PetRescue tests out the ethical limits of fundraising

August 23, 2017

One of the golden rules of ethical fundraising is, money has to be used as intended by donors.

If your charity raises money for a specific purpose, you have to use the money for this purpose as an unwritten trusted agreement with your donors. While it is usually deemed acceptable to include a ‘secondary purpose’ when asking for money, to allow more flexibility should you raise too much or too little, or if circumstances change - the general rule is you should have a project scope detailed enough that when people give to your cause, they know what their money is being spent on. The primary purpose.

In PetRescue's June "The Adoptables" campaign there were four solicitation emails, which took us up to the 24th of the month, and told us what the money they were collecting would be used for;

06/02/2017 - Sweet old Henry finds love for the rest of his days.

A donation of just $10 will give one senior pet the best chance of finding the love of a new home and the care they deserve for the rest of their days. Your kind gift will cover the cost of providing a free listing on PetRescue, plus the extra benefits and support services PetRescue offers all pets listed for adoption on the website. 

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06/13/2017 - Ever seen a Button this cute?
… with your kind support, we’re giving them the best chance of finding a special human to love for life. Every $10 you give helps one senior or special needs pet find a loving new home.

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06/20/2017 - It’s not easy finding love when you’re too shy

We know that timid pups and scaredy cats often wait much longer than most to find a new home, and your kind support today will give them the extra help they urgently need. You’ll give them the very best chance of finding a loving new home, as soon as possible, for the rest of their days.

A gift of just $10 helps us cover the cost of providing a free listing on the PetRescue website for one special needs pet and all the extra benefits and support services we offer all listed pets

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06/24/2017 - Your kindness will be doubled!

Every $10 you donate to PetRescue today will be matched to give two pets the very best chance of finding a loving home for the rest of their days.

So we’ve dealing with a pretty ethereal concept of where the money is going, but that it can be basically broken down into it's primary and secondary purposes;

Primary - $10 which buys a free listing on PetRescue to find pets (especially needy pets) homes
Secondary - Extra benefits and support services

Which makes the next email in the email chain rather surprising - a review email thanking donors for reaching the fundraising target

06/30/2017 - Evie has some great news. And an adorable head tilt!

We’re totally stoked to announce that we’ve reached our June 2017 fundraising target! Thanks to your awesome kindness, we now have enough funds for PetRescue’s 2017 national pet adoption drive and the next phase of the Matchmakers Project to help find homes for 130,000 pets!

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This is the first mention of a “national pet adoption drive” and the Matchmakers Project - was this what they were collecting for all along? If so, why was it not detailed?

Added to that - an entirely new solicitation is added to the mix - vet care costs.

ALL DONATIONS GIVEN AND MATCHED TODAY will be donated directly to help subsidise the vet care costs for the pets who have featured in The Adoptables campaign.

So the month long campaign to have people to give monies to give $10 to cover a free listing on the website seems to be pretty non-specific - it could mean literally ANYTHING, as shown by a follow up thank you email detailing where the monies collected would go;

07/13/2017 - So much good was made possible!

Including paid FB adverts...

The seniors, special needs and scaredy cats who were nominated for The Adoptables campaign got an extra boost to their own personal adoption campaign, with a special feature and/or a targeted paid ad on Facebook.

More paid FB adverts...

We’ve set ourselves a goal to reach before next tax time, to give at least 100 seniors and special needs pets an extra helping hand to find a furever home - with features on our social media pages and in our email campaigns, reaching over 250,000 potential adopters!


Part of the total raised from The Adoptables will fund the next phase of The Matchmakers project that we’re calling ‘Adopter Profiles’.

And website development...

These tax time gifts are also helping to further lighten the load for rescue organisations, and improve the experience for all potential pet adopters. With phase three of The Adoptables, our plan is to send rescue organisations instant notifications via email, SMS and a new PetRescue app.

But keep in mind, paid Facebook ads, the Matchmaker Project and website development, were not any of the things mentioned in the solicitation emails. At most, they fall under extra benefits and support services which is a secondary purpose

So just what is this - $10 which buys a free listing on PetRescue to find pets homes - being actually used for? We get a bit of a hint from the page “Where the Money Goes” page on the PetRescue website:

For every $10 you give:
- $7.60 is used to directly to support our adoption and rescue support programs.
- $2.20 is invested to generate future income
- 20c is spent on operating costs

So they’ve talked themselves around in a circle a bit here, when they say, $10 which buys a free listing on PetRescue to find pets homes. What they actually mean is $7.60 goes towards adoption and rescue support programs, and $2.20 is invested in generating future income. While just 20c is spent on operating costs. All monies donated - even if you had thought "The Adoptables" was about supporting the individual animals in the solicitations - all of the money (of an unspecified amount) is going into a general pot to be used as PetRescue deem fit, with no reporting on expenditure vs outcomes.

That is, there is no free listing on PetRescue being donated to - it is ALL support programs (and some donation strategy).

If you’re starting to feel dizzy, I’m not surprised. PetRescue seem to be engaging in an Inception-style donation strategy - it just seems to fall deeper and deeper into its own adjectives. But to be fair, in the solicitation email on the 06/20/2017 details what these support services are;'

- Online helpdesk - supporting rescue groups, foster carers, adopters and pet owners
- Pet food donations for foster groups, shelters and pounds
- Free flights for three pets per month
- Community adoption events
- Social media features
- Workplace Pet Foster Program - bringing pets into the workplace
- Sa
fe & Sound Pounds - encouraging more direct-from-pound adoptions
Rescue tools and resources - for foster groups, shelters and pounds
- Volunteer pet photoshoots
- Volunteer pet profile writing

And these might be very valuable and efficient programs, but it’s nearly impossible to say because so little detail is given about what each one costs, what its benefits are and it’s results.

As mentioned at the start, one of the golden rules of ethical fundraising is, money has to be used as intended by donors. PetRescue's new "The Adoptables" fundraising solicitation strategy is certainly testing the limits as to whether it is appropriate to simply call your work something else, in an effort to get people to donate, without giving detail as to where that money is actually being spent. It is testing the limits as to what is ethical in fundraising.

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