Non-Profit Marketing Excellence at the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe

Whenever I think of a non-profit that stands out from the crowd in terms of marketing efforts, the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe (HSTT) immediately comes to mind for its unique events, creative approach to advertising, and local community outreach. It is therefore no surprise to hear that in a 2011 poll of 6,500+ locals, the HSTT was named “Best Non-Profit” in Truckee, CA and North Lake Tahoe, beating out such other notable non-profit organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful, the Lake Tahoe Music Festival, Tahoe Mountain Resorts Foundation, and the USA Snowboard Association (USASA).  So how do they do it?

The HSTT has grown from a small grass roots entity in 1994 to a nationally recognized non-profit organization with five employees and hundreds of dedicated volunteers. Their mission is to save and improve the lives of pets through adoptions, community spay/neuter services and humane education programs.   HSTT is currently working to raise $2 million for a new animal shelter, and they have partnered with the Town of Truckee to share the $5 million cost of construction.

Marketing Strategy 

Web site: At the cornerstone of HSTT’s marketing effort lies a beautifully-designed, informational web site at, which serves as the hub of the organization’s interaction. Designed by SmallPond Marketing & Design, visitors to the  web site can view adoptable animals, become familiar with the adoption process, learn about the organization’s programs, find out how to get involved, and read success stories.

Unique Events: In addition to their web site, HSTT offers unique annual events, including the prestigious Black Tie and Tails Gala, which is an evening of dinner, dancing, special entertainment and live music where pet owners can bring their pet companions along as their special guest. This year’s formal event was held at the prestigious Ritz Carlton at Northstar Ski Resort and featured everything from a silent auction to a doggie treat station. And then there’s Yappy Hour, a fundraising event also held at the Ritz Carlton on Friday evenings during the summertime that includes such fun as four-legged competitions, live music, and special food and drink offerings in addition to treats for dogs. Throughout the year the organization also makes appearances at such popular festivals as Squaw Valley’s Tahoe Truckee Earth Day Festival or the Brews, Jazz and Funk Fest.

Creative Advertising: As for HSTT’s approach to advertising, one of the more attention-getting campaigns was their ever popular and creative t-shirt campaign, which produced such catchy slogans as “Pet Me, I’m Friendly,” “Tail Chaser,” “Down Boy,” and “Wanna Bone?” These t-shirts are available on their web site for purchase, here.

Community Outreach: Some of the local community outreach programs include Pet Assisted Therapy, where certified HSTT volunteers and their companion animals visit hospitals and hospice care patients; the Pet Pantry Program, which collects pet food from the local area to redistribute to needy pets (to promote pet ownership); and Public Education, where HSTT hosts a reading program that allows for trained volunteers bring their dogs into area schools where children will read to the dog. Overall, HSTT’s hope is to build a feeling of community and social awareness – it appears to be working!


Despite the challenge of fundraising during the economic downturn of the past three years, the HSTT is only $1 million away from raising the $5 million needed to build a new animal shelter. To date, the animal rescue group has raised $4.2 million, which includes $2.5 million from the Town of Truckee.

Overall, the shelter building campaign has been an excellent example of measurable results. While the initial fundraising was focused on direct asks from known HSTT supporters, the last phase of this campaign, called the “Heroes Now & Forever Campaign,” has been more focused on marketing through social media, with the goal of getting 1,000 people to donate $1,000. Since then, nearly 100 people have joined, raising close to $100,000 for the organization. Supplementing the Heroes Campaign was the  “They Deserve Better” campaign, which used more guerrilla-style tactics like bumper stickers and business cards. To date there have been two, $250,000 donations from members in the community.

For more information on how you can help get involved with this organization or donate to their cause, please visit their web site and donate.

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