Case Study: How the Coalition to Unchain Dogs is doing everything right

Coalition to Unchain Dogs - Billboard

Every once in awhile you stumble upon an organization that blows you away in terms of the way it presents itself, operates, includes others, and succeeds. While I have not yet personally had the opportunity to get involved with The Coalition to Unchain Dogs, I have been an observer of this organization in the community for a few years, ever since I met some of their volunteers at a fundraising walk in Durham, NC.

Sometimes nonprofits–especially smaller, grassroots organizations–look for that ‘secret recipe’ to being a successful organization, working to decipher just what it takes to make it work. I theorize that the Coalition has found success by doing a number of things right. Here they are:

Leadership

  • While apparently still in a founder-driven stage, all press I’ve seen and feedback I’ve heard about this organization indicates that the founder is far from being the only one passionate about and dedicated to the cause. The Coalition seems to have a team of caring, hard-working individuals that support the organization’s efforts. In addition to resulting in support for what I’m sure is a lot of effort and hard work put into the organization’s efforts, this sends a strong message to the public that the cause matters to many.

Marketing and Mission

  • The mission is simple, but compelling. Dogs chained up in a backyard = unhappy dogs. Dogs with no chain = happy dogs. And who doesn’t love dogs? And, by emphasizing freedom as a basic animal right, just as people define freedom as a basic human right, the Coalition has framed their mission in a way that has made it difficult for those skeptics who say we should focus on “human issues” to give it a thumbs down.
  • It’s clear, and informative. The Coalition has removed any barrier to understanding their mission and how to carry out their work. Not only do they have killer, compelling taglines (“Chains cause pain” and “Give a dog a fence and you give a dog a chance”), but they provide step-by-step guides on how to build fences, help out, and be advocates of their cause.
  • It’s personal. Volunteers on site building a fence to enable a chained dog to run around unchained get to see the beneficiary of their work directly.  This is a trait of other organizations that have successfully mobilized support as well–organizations like Kiva, which has found great success in making the idea of microlending more mainstream by connecting lenders directly to those they would be loaning funds to.
  • It’s personal, again. Once a dog has been unchained, the Coalition creates a “Happy Tails” video in which volunteers, sponsors, and the general public can see the results of their support. It’s extremely difficult not to feel good or smile while watching one of these. I would challenge the most cold-hearted of cold-hearted villains not to care. Seeing these feel-good results of the Coalition’s work regularly posted makes supporters out of the masses.
  • Their logo says it all. While some may consider an organization’s logo to be a minor detail, as a visually-oriented individual I believe a compelling logo can act as a ‘gateway’ to drawing in supporters. In the absence of any words, you understand what the Coalition does just by looking at its logo. And as an added bonus, as a bold, single-color image, this logo can be easily transferred to tee-shirts, letterheads, and websites with any color scheme.
  • Numbers, numbers, numbers. The Coalition displays the result of their work, as well as their future goals, in numbers: They’ve unchained X number of dogs. They have X number of dogs awaiting sponsorship. By assigning numerical value (aka, “metrics”) to their success and objectives, they create a sense of excitement in supporters, because supporters know they can become the ones responsible for the freedom of X number of dogs. How good was done becomes precise and clear.

Growth

  • The Coalition has grown both ways. In general, nonprofits can grow one of two ways: Wide, or deep. They can spread their mission, programs, or model to other geographic locations (wide), or they can deepen the extent or quality of their services in a single community, saturating that community until its needs are more fully met (deep). Which type of growth is more ideal depends on the organization and its mission, but it seems as though the Coalition to Unchain Dogs has done both, growing wide and deep. Starting locally in 2006/2007, the Coalition has been able to serve over 400 dogs in our local area, as well as inspire the creation of 8 chapters: 5 in North Carolina and 3 in other states.

Volunteerism, Access, and Involvement

  • It’s easy to get involved. There are a plethora of ways to help this organization, but one of the most publicly known is volunteering as a fence-builder for a dog. The Coalition will teach you everything you need to know about constructing a fence before you volunteer, so you don’t have to worry that you don’t know the first thing about fence-building.
  • A good bit of the volunteer work is hands on, and social. Of course, every nonprofit needs support in the background and often in leadership of the organization, but when you can offer the public a way to support you that allows people to get their hands dirty, expect your efforts to be a magnet for volunteers. The same is true of organizations like Habitat for Humanity, who consistently have a broad base of volunteer support, even in the dead of winter or heat of summer.

While I think the Coalition to Unchain Dogs has skillfully utilized these strategies to achieve the success it has, I do want to say, of course, that every organization will require different strategies depending on their specific missions and goals. This is what works for the Coalition, and nonprofits can take note and learn from some of the tactics this organization has employed, as long as specific missions, constituents, and context are all taken into account.

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