Changing the Game: ChatGPT’s Role in Animal Shelter Marketing

With the rise of AI-powered tools like ChatGPT, there are tons of new opportunities to make marketing work easier and faster. But how can we use this new technology in the most effective and appropriate way? Consider this your introduction to AI-powered writing tools for the world of animal welfare, the first in a series on the topic!


First things first: Here are the free tools that we’re talking about when we discuss AI-powered writing tools:


ChatGPT has exploded in popularity and may other tools use the OpenAI technology, so if you’re overwhelmed it’s a great place to start experimenting. It’s also the one we’ll use as our go-to example.


A confessional moment: I felt pretty overwhelmed when ChatGPT and the explosion of AI content generators hit the scene at the end of last year. It felt as if, very suddenly, the future had arrived. I hadn’t imagined how quickly the idea of artificial intelligence would go from conceptual (and science fiction movie-ish) to practical. Many friends and colleagues have said to me in recent months, somewhat jokingly but somewhat worriedly, that AI will soon be taking over their jobs. And I think it’s pretty natural to have some reservations at first. So if you’re coming to this skeptically, or just feeling ever so slightly anxious about it, let’s take a moment to take a big deep breath together. :Inhale: :Exhale:


One of the big benefits to diving in and experimenting with AI tools is that you quickly discover their magical powers AND their weak points. We’re in the early days of this technology, and it’s important to remember that these tools can help you create words, but not knowledge. The knowledge comes from YOU! You’re still in the driver’s seat and you will need to have your editor hat on with AI-created content. But with that knowledge, you can now embrace how this technology is optimized to give your marketing tasks an efficient and creative edge!


How does it work? Many of the AI tools out there are using OpenAI’s GPT technology, which is why we’ll focus on ChatGPT here. There are hundreds of articles out there that can do a deep dive into how these tools work, but here are the cliff notes direct from ChatGPT itself:

  • ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence language model, designed to have conversations with people in a natural, human-like way. 
  • It works by analyzing text inputs from users and using complex algorithms to generate appropriate responses based on its extensive knowledge base. It’s continuously using machine learning to improve, which means the more people use it, the better it gets at understanding and responding. 
  • The information it shares in response to prompts comes from both user interactions as well as “vast collections of text data that it was trained on. This collection includes a wide variety of sources, such as books, articles, websites, and other online content, including social media posts and online forums” (bookmark this factoid, we’re coming back to this later).


How can this benefit animal services marketing? The work of animal shelters and rescues is never easy, and recent years have left many folks feeling the strain of being pulled in many directions. AI-powered tools can help in a few truly time-saving, game-changing, creativity-enhancing ways.

Here are some of the best ways you can use AI for shelter marketing (with some development uses thrown in for those of you wearing many hats!):

  • Generating email subject lines and blog titles
  • Brainstorm names for pets
  • Outline a fundraising email or newsletter
  • Draft a pet bio or get creative with basic pet descriptions
  • Offer potential social captions
  • Improve a presentation outline or flow
  • Edit talking points for a media interview or press release
  • Outline or edit grant application answers
  • Brainstorm content or generate ideas 
  • Outline curriculum or simplify educational content
  • Create SEO and meta data descriptions
  • Give existing content a rewrite or fresh spin


What can’t these tools do? For all the amazing assists AI can give us, there are some important shortfalls to recognize and embrace. (Time to circle back to that point we bookmarked!)


  • They can’t deliver truly personalized or unique copy at this point. If your organization has developed its voice and tone, you’ll need to edit AI-generated results for it to feel on-brand.


  • They can’t generate effective output without quality input. You need to write an effective prompt to get the most out of ChatGPT and other AI tools. For instance, asking it to “create an adoptable pet bio for a 12 year old pit bull mix” won’t create much quality content beyond some basic sentences (that will likely rely on poor breed stereotypes and pet adoption tropes – something the bot may have learned but that doesn’t make it accurate). But if you ask it to “write an adoption bio for a 12-year old, black and white dog named Harold, who loves car rides and sunny spots, enjoys gentle play with other dogs, and lived with a cat in his previous home” you’re going to get a really vibrant and exciting bit of writing. 


  • They can’t fact-check you. In fact, you need to fact-check them! Here’s another important piece of information about how it works: “ChatGPT does not have access to the internet or any external sources of information outside of its training data, so its answers are limited to the information contained within that initial training collection.” This means it’s not necessarily picking up on more nuanced information or recently updated information. 


  • They can’t necessarily model best practices. Because this AI is language-based and trained on content that is at the same time vast and limited in scope(when it comes to our very niche world of animal welfare), we need to monitor content for outdated modes of communication. Rather than creating sentences that are rooted in accuracy or best practices (for instance inclusivity or reducing barriers to adoption), it is trained to create the most likely and most natural-sounding next statement based on patterns. It’s not thinking about your overarching marketing goals or strategies, your efforts to break away from old marketing practices, or what the future of animal services marketing looks like. 


  • They can’t recognize their own weaknesses. ChatGPT is trained to come up with the natural next sentence in a pattern or to put together the next plausible thought. But that doesn’t mean it will actually make sense. You can end up with a “great-sounding” few sentences that are nonsense, so it’s important not to get dazzled by the output and read critically from the perspective of your audience. 


This list is really a bunch of examples of why it is so important not to put all your stock into what AI-powered tools generate for you. When we joke about these tools taking over our jobs, what we’re often forgetting is that there is still so much that they can’t do. 


So while I’ve come to be truly excited about how much we can accomplish with the help of AI, I’m also imploring you to please, please, don’t ever forget how important your perspective and expertise are to creating the most effective, lasting connections with your community. 


NEXT UP: Using ChatGPT to Write Pet Bios!

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Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin is passionate about working with shelters and rescues to reimagine the way they tell their stories and connect with new audiences. She has served in the animal welfare field since 2008 and early on had the honor of working closely with diverse organizations across the U.S. to maximize resources, redesign policies, and find life-changing marketing solutions. In 2015, she got her MPA with a concentration in nonprofit management and in 2021, she began teaching marketing + communications for the University of Florida Master of Veterinary Science, Concentration in Shelter Medicine program. She lives in NY with a petite brindle pit bull named Sally who owns her heart.