Rescue League Relies on Email, Event and Social Media Marketing to Save Homeless Pets


The Salem Animal Rescue League (SARL) rescues and finds homes for approximately 800 dogs and cats per year in the Salem, NH, area. Its mission is to save the lives of abandoned, neglected and injured animals by providing them a safe haven, compassionate care and new permanent homes.

Like most non-profit organizations, SARL’s existence depends on the generosity of its community. Its success and continued operation hinge on a dedicated and active team of more than 300 volunteers who help raise funds, support various programs and bring visibility to SARL’s work. The organization puts on nearly 10 events and donation drives every year.


Ann LaRuffa, a member of the SARL board of directors, took over the organization’s marketing responsibilities in early 2011. A software engineer, Ann felt the organization was behind on the latest marketing technology that could bring new interest and much-needed funds.

“We had sent email newsletters to our donors in the past, but not in a very strategic or timely way,” says Ann. “I knew that it was less expensive to retain a donor than to gain a donor. If we weren’t communicating to people regularly, why would they continue to give us money?”

Events promotion and email marketing were a priority for SARL and its board; after all, events drove the most visibility and donations to the organization, and it needed a way to keep in touch and manage communications with people who had shown interest in helping. The problem was, which vendors would make the most sense for SARL and its nearly non-existent marketing budget?


Ann found out about VerticalResponse Event Marketing through the company’s givezooks! partnership. She felt it was the best solution for several reasons.

For one, the VerticalResponse Event Marketing platform was fully integrated with the service provider’s email marketing solution. So, Ann could handle all her event marketing and email marketing from one dashboard, saving a ton of time. She could set up an event page with a standalone URL and/or as a Facebook tab, complete with event description and photos, ticket descriptions and the ability for people to purchase or donate. 

From within the same dashboard, Ann also could easily send the event page to her email subscribers, who are able to purchase or donate from the email directly. On the back-end, Ann could get holistic reporting on her efforts: page visits, email open rates and forwards, and ultimately the number of tickets sold and amount raised.

Secondly, the VerticalResponse non-profit email marketing program was unlike any other offered by its competitors. SARL gets 10,000 free email credits per month, plus discounted pricing on other VerticalResponse products. For an organization where every dollar saved meant a dollar toward potentially saving the life of a dog or cat, this was a huge benefit.

Third, the email design tools and templates made it easy to create a fresh, new look for SARL’s newsletter. Ann dusted off an email list her predecessor used in givezooks!, sent her first donor email and achieved a 20 percent open rate. Encouraged by her success, she continued to refine and test her email content. She sent a newsletter every month and kept a close eye on metrics.

One of her most surprising findings? “For whatever reason, people seemed to like photos of dogs over cats by a 2:1 ratio,” Ann says. “An email with a featured dog versus a featured cat usually gets double the clicks. Go figure!”


One of the first projects SARL promoted using both VerticalResponse’s event and email marketing was a raffle to raise funds for the shelter; the winner received $500 toward their home heating bill. Since this was a first-time event, expectations were on the low side. Much to everyone’s surprise, the raffle raised $2,500, all from online contributions; they even sold a ticket to someone in Nebraska! 

Soon after, SARL held another fundraiser to help a rescued dog who needed expensive orthopedic surgery. Ann posted his photos to an online album and linked to it from the event/donation page and the email. She also included a diagram of his injury and a report from the vet who was overseeing his care. The effort raised more than $3,500, exceeding all expectations.

“The board thinks I’m a whiz kid,” says Ann. “You just throw the link out there and people pass it along. And because it’s online, it saves us a ton of money on postage costs.”

Ann also has been using the VerticalResponse social media dashboard to manage SARL’s social media activities and to see what other types of content people tend to share.

“I love that I can plan out a month’s worth of posts, and know that I’ve posted something on social media even though I’m still in bed,” says Ann. “It’s interesting to see what gets people sharing, liking and commenting and what doesn’t. We’re still experimenting, but social is where the future’s at, and VerticalResponse is helping us carve our space there. Plus, the fact that our social media, email marketing and event marketing are all managed in one place is incredibly convenient and easy.”

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