Virtual Fundraising Events for the Humane Society of Charlotte

“The Social Wall Helps Provide That Feeling Of Togetherness, Even When We’re Separated During Pet Palooza.”

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Photo of a small straw-coloured dog in a red harness being petted by a person with long hair hair and a sporty outfit, who’s crouching next to the dog. Both human and dog are smiling.

Like those of many other charities, the Humane Society of Charlotte’s fundraising events have been impacted by the pandemic. A lot of fundraising traditionally involves in-person events, where participants, donors and sponsors get a chance to interact. 

Fundraising walks, runs and swims are especially popular as they allow people to raise money for a cause that’s dear to their heart while putting in a physical effort as well. By posting about their walks on social media, they get a chance to enlist donations from friends and family.

Screenshot of a Facebook post by Shannon Reichley “asking for donations”. Attached is a link to a donations page that’s received $25 in donations so far. The preview image shows 5 humans with 6 dogs posing next to a yard sign promoting the Pet Palooza Rerouted event on April 24.  The caption reads: Rain did not "paws" the Selwyn Farms Superdogs from crushing its fundraising goal for the Humane Society of Charlotte's #petpaloozarerouted with $1000 raised! Still time to donate at Thanks to our team and donors: Janice Quintana (our big benefactor), Christie McDavid, Melissa Messick, Emily Cannon, Katie Sara, Kaye Ackermann, Maureen Pulliam, Shairy Pabon, Bobby McDavid, Gail Chauncey, Hal Lentz Chapple, Doug DeMeyer, and Nancylynn Williams.
Source: Facebook

Shares on social media raise the donations, but the events bring people together, letting them celebrate, interact with the charity and its sponsors. They create an atmosphere that keeps people motivated to put in some effort for the charity.

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Pet Palooza gets rerouted by the pandemic

For years, the yearly fundraising walk called Pet Palooza has been an important part of the Humane Society of Charlotte’s fundraising calendar. So, how do you take a fundraising walk and make it virtual without losing all those fun elements that connect people in an event setting?

Screenshot of the website header of the Pet Palooza Rerouted microsite, which informs people about the date of the event.

We’ve talked to Emily Cook, the Marketing and Communications Manager at the Humane Society of Charlotte, about how Pet Palooza became Pet Palooza Rerouted and which role social media is playing in the charity’s virtual fundraising events.

Emily Cook

Emily Cook

Marketing & Communications Manager, Humane Society Charlotte

How has the pandemic impacted your event and your everyday work, and what role does social media play in it?

The pandemic has drastically changed how we look at our major events over the last two years. Typically, we have four in-person fundraising events. It was imperative that we find a way to continue these in order to fundraise for the organization, but we had to make sure everyone remained safe. Three out of our four events went virtual last year, and at least half of our events this year will remain virtual as well. We hope to host a hybrid event for our annual Ties & Tails Gala in the fall, but only time will tell.

How does the virtual version of your Pet Palooza walk work? How are you trying to bring the same spirit to the virtual event as you usually feel during the in-person event?

Pet Palooza has always focused on a fundraising walk and peer-to-peer fundraising, so Pet Palooza Rerouted is doubling down on that idea and encouraging our supporters to walk in their neighborhood, parks, and with their own safe, small groups rather than gathering as a very large crowd in one of Charlotte’s local parks. By encouraging each walker’s participation via social media, we hope to create a feeling of togetherness, even though we’re separated.

Instagram post by user @kobewiththetail shows a photo of a smiling corgi with blue-and-white gingham bow tie within a social media frame for Pet Palooza Rerouted that says “I walk for the animals”.  The caption reads: Join us today for a virtual Pet Palooza benefitting our good friends the Humane Society of Charlotte! While the event is very different this year, we are still so happy the event is on in a different way and will continue to support HSC. Follow along on their social media pages to join in on a virtual walk and more! @humanecharlotte . . . #humanesocietyofcharlotte #humanecharlotte #petpaloozacharlotte #petpalooza #petpaloozarerouted #virtualwalk #virtualdogwalk #nonprofit #clt #charlottedogs #charlottenc #charlotte
Source: Instagram

How are you encouraging participants to raise donations?

We’re encouraging our participants to raise donations by sharing the story of the Humane Society of Charlotte with their friends, families, and social media communities. We provide participants with steady information to share on their personal profiles, highlighting the work of HSC. We’ve also encouraged them to share the stories of their own pets and why HSC is so important to them.

Screenshot of an Instagram post by @adopt_nc. The photo in the post shows the head of a sand-coloured dog with a purple wig on their head. The caption reads:  Ally supports @humanecharlotte and loves the work they do!!! She’s super excited to do the virtual pet palooza walk this weekend and have some fun!!!! Ally came to humane Charlotte when she was just a puppy in 2014, and we are so thankful as they saved her from a high kill shelter! We really appreciate them and are so happy ally has been our dog for the past 7 years! 💗  Go support humane Charlotte!!!! #PetPaloozaRerouted 🐶
Source: Instagram

How are you making sure your sponsors are getting as much exposure as they’re used to from in-person events?

We’re not having a physical vendor village and park festival like we typically do. Thankfully our sponsors have been extremely generous and have agreed to social promotion in the wake of the situation. We’ve added all of our sponsors and vendors to an online vendor village and have encouraged people to shop and visit their stores. The map allows people to see what vendors/sponsors are near them so that they can visit when they feel comfortable doing so.

Screenshot of the virtual Pet Palooza Sponsor and Vendor Village, which is a map that displays the vendors and sponsors of the event on a map of the actual neighbourhood in Charlotte where the HSC is located. A menu on the left also shows a list of sponsor, vendors and food trucks, as well as HSC adoption information.
Source: Pet Palooza Rerouted

How does the social wall help you reach your goals?

The social wall helps provide that feeling of togetherness, even when we’re separated during Pet Palooza. HSC is encouraging our donors to take selfies and photos while they walk and share them on their social media using #PetPaloozaRerouted. is helping to gather all of these photos in a singular location and allow all of our participants to see their friends and family participating.

How are you promoting the hashtag to your participants and motivating them to use it?

We’re promoting our hashtag utilizing our own social media posts, our web page, and our physical marketing using yard signs around town. Additionally, we’ll have our account embedded on our Pet Palooza homepage so that the hashtag will populate in one spot!

Screenshot of the social wall embedded on the Pet Palooza Rerouted website.
Source: Pet Palooza event page

Keeping everyone engaged throughout the event

Pet Palooza Rerouted took place from April 19 to April 24. While it didn’t get mentioned in the interview, HSC also went to great lengths to motivate participants throughout the week and keep donations coming in.

They set up challenges for each day in which prizes could be won. On Thursday, for example, a $20 donation entered participants into a raffle for a free photo session with a professional pet photographer. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a pet pic posted to social media with the hashtag #PetPaloozaRerouted could win you an HSC branded face mask.

These are all smart ways to up both donations and hashtag use. Raffling off products and services by local sponsors and vendors drives donations and motivates participants, but it also helps promote those supportive businesses by giving them some airtime.

Create a sense of community during virtual events

As Emily explains, Pet Palooza has always had a strong peer-to-peer element. Participants raise money by signing up for the 1-mile walk and creating a fundraising page, which they can then share with family, friends and followers on social media, asking them to donate.

So that part didn’t have to change for the virtual version. Participants simply walk their walk on their own, with their dogs or (safely!) with friends rather than in one big group.

But the part that HSC had to figure out was how to create a feeling of togetherness when they couldn’t actually congregate in a public park. One solution to this was the social media wall, where everyone’s posts about the event were brought together in one place and embedded on the website.

But how to deal with sponsors who are used to having stalls at the event? Luckily, the Pet Palooza sponsors were open to compromises, and HSC created a virtual vendor village, encouraging participants to visit the sponsors in a way that wouldn’t compromise COVID safety rules.

Together, the microsite, the map with the virtual vendor village, and the social wall with all the posts people shared from their fundraising walk created a community hub for Pet Palooza Rerouted.

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