Communications & Marketing Guide for Shelters, Amid COVID-19

It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it? We know how hard everyone is working to balance both human health and animal lifesaving as information about Covid-19 rapidly evolves. And we know this can mean struggling to keep the community abreast of how each of these changes impacts your organization’s programs, events, and most importantly, pets.

HeARTs Speak is located in southern New York state, an area with hundreds of coronavirus cases right now. As such, we’re seeing from a number of our local organizations, as well as hearing from shelter and rescue partners from across the nation, a slowing of adoption and foster rates — some due to social distancing and quarantines, some due to misinformation about the virus and pets. Whether you’re in this same boat or want to get ahead of any kind of impact on your operations, we’ve worked hard to gather resources from around the interwebs and from many different organizations to help provide examples and resources that might help you better reach out to your community.

Want to keep up on other communications and marketing examples from shelters all over the country? View our growing collection of inspiring content

We also have a number of free overlays and designs that we designed specifically for COVID-19 Response, Canva templates, and free stock images donated by amazing photographers 

There are numerous approaches to how you communicate any changes to your operations or market the animals in your care for foster and adoption, depending on your course of action, your relationship with your audience, and more – but keep in mind a few universal truths (with tons of examples embedded in the links below):

  • Changes to your shelter’s hours, intake or other community programs/policies require swift and clear communication. Don’t do this half-way. Do a press release, share on social, use video to help convey your message, and cover all your bases.


  • Don’t forget to communicate internally — clearly and often — with staff, volunteers, and fosters as well. These folks shouldn’t find out about changes via the news, but rather through direct communication from you with detailed instructions. Also, show these folks some love publicly when time allows



  • Don’t be afraid to have fun or lighthearted messages amid urgent calls for action – different strategies work on different people. People need a smile right now, and you can provide it! However, when using a humorous approach, be sure you’re considering the context of coronavirus in your community. At the end of the day, there are fatalities associated with COVID-19 and humor needs to be used in the right context and the right balance to avoid making too light of a pandemic.



  • There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy or platform, but if you don’t often use video as a medium now is the time to start. Video messages from your leadership can help deliver urgency and public appeals; video of animals being cared for can provide an outlet for a stressed public, but more importantly can also engage potential adopters or fosters who now find themselves home.


  • A moment for self-care: Even while you practice social distancing, don’t feel isolated. Whether you’re essential staff or working from home during this time, use the plethora of facebook groups and industry-resources to lean in and feel a part of the larger community and conversations that are happening as we all try to wade through this moment.


For our part, we’ve put together a set of resources that we hope will round out this toolkit and provide some small relief for all our colleagues in shelters who are working so hard.


There are also several toolkits from national leaders in our field that are chock full of ideas and strategies, especially around policies and procedures:

From the Humane Society of the United States & the Association of Animal Welfare Advancement: Coronavirus Shelter Kit

From the National Animal Control Association: COVID-19 Resources & Statements

From American Pets Alive!: COVID-19 Animal Shelter Preparedness Guide

From Best Friends Animal Society: COVID-19 Resources


Finally, there are numerous resources to leverage from both within and outside of animal welfare that may help you with messaging, social strategy, fundraising, collaborating and brainstorming, and even tools/resources to help make your job easier right now:

Animal Shelter Social Media Group  (and check out their site too!)

COVID-19 Charity Preparedness Group

American Pets Alive! Shelter + Rescue Support Group

World Health Organization MythBusters

Crisis Communications presentation: The Association Learning Center

Facebook Business Resource Hub

Now What? Fundraising Guide from Give

Bloomerang Advice + Resources for COVID-19

Philanthropy: Resources to Help Respond to Coronavirus

North American COVID-19 Communications Task Force — Shelter Communications Toolkit



How is your organization handling communications and marketing right now? Have a great idea, a question, or a resource we all need to know about? Drop it in the comments!

Posted in
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.


  1. Sandy Rees Sandy Rees on March 16, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    This is a great list of tips and tools! THANK YOU for putting it together!

  2. Arline K Arline K on March 18, 2020 at 7:41 am

    This is pawsome! Thanks for putting this together!

  3. Vicky Vicky on June 2, 2020 at 7:17 pm

    This is so great

  4. Vicky Vicky on June 2, 2020 at 7:18 pm

    This is so great i love it

  5. Vicky Vicky on June 2, 2020 at 7:18 pm

    This is awesome

  6. Vicky Vicky on June 2, 2020 at 7:20 pm

    This is pawsome

  7. Vicky Vicky on June 2, 2020 at 7:21 pm

    This is pawsome thank you for pitting this toghther