5 ways to give back

5 ways to give back

Reaching out to your community positions your practice as a leader and promotes your services to potential clients. Whether you're looking for marketing ideas or simple ways to help, here's how to maximize your charitable resources.
Oct 01, 2008

Brian Conrad, CVPM
Sometimes we forget why veterinary practices exist: To help pets and their owners. We get so distracted by our work that we don't stop to think about the people who use our services, buy our products, support our business, or simply live next door.

So what's our responsibility to these people outside of doing our jobs? Four years ago, we asked our team at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Wash., this same question. We thoroughly discussed the role we wanted our practice to play in the community. We decided to seize the opportunity to give back while also promoting our practice.

Crafting a plan

A veterinary practice's relationship with the community can be frustrating. Everyone seems to want something. Clinics regularly receive phone calls from sports teams, charitable organizations, schools, and other worthy recipients hoping for donations to help sponsor their activities. But most small businesses like our own have limited resources.

So how do you decide who to support? In the past, our practice set a yearly budget for charitable contributions. When the money was gone, it was gone. To choose who to help, we'd filter out the donation requests that didn't come from active clients. Then we'd narrow them further by picking the ones from the top 20 percent of our highest-spending clientele. We realized it was impossible to please everyone. And it seemed those we did help quickly forgot our efforts.

We decided we could solve this problem by adopting a new mission: Giving purposefully. Rather than randomly selecting which groups to support every month, we developed a plan that would help move our clinic forward and more clearly measure what we accomplished. (Learn to create your own plan by reading "How to Get Started" at right.) During our four-year journey to redirect our charitable efforts, we took on projects that we could maintain and expand and that would excite our team and our clients. Here are the five causes we adopted:

1. Paws for Patients

The idea of pets visiting hospitalized people isn't new, but you'd be surprised by how few human-medical facilities provide this service. Research shows that with regular visits from pets, people's pain threshold rises, their blood pressure decreases, and their recovery time shortens.

So we partnered with our local hospital, Kennewick General Hospital, to create the Paws for Patients program. We asked clients and community members to volunteer to get special training for themselves and their dogs. Those who did, visit patients at Kennewick General two to three times a month. The dogs wear vests with our practice name and logo.

We help maintain each certified therapy dog's health and take them through rigorous behavior testing every six months. We refer to these dogs as "our heroes" and display their framed pictures proudly in our reception area. And the pets and their owners have received awards and media attention over the last couple of years.

2. Pet of the Week

Our clinic teamed up with a local pet adoption agency to feature a pet in need of a new home on a weekly radio show. We host two four-to five-minute shows—one on an FM station and the other on AM—each Friday. During the shows, we educate community members about companion animal care by discussing a medical topic, such as parvovirus, nutrition and weight management, and puppy and kitten tips.

Three years into the program, 100 percent of the featured pets have been adopted. After the families pick up their new pet, they're encouraged to drop by our clinic to get their free welcome-home basket chock full of toys, food, shampoo, and other products our practice sells—all featuring our practice name. The cost of helping homeless pets: about an hour of one team member's work per week and $10 to $15 per basket.