February 06, 2013

Raising Large Sums for an Animal Sanctuary

Ask an Expert

James Amerson

The Center for Great Apes, in Wauchula, Fla., is looking for a long-term donor to support its conservation programs, like its habitat for orangutans.

John Salesky, a volunteer at a sanctuary for chimpanzees and orangutans, wrote to ask for advice on how to raise money for the charity’s expansion and ongoing needs.

He writes:

I am trying to help the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Fla., get a long-term donor for its conservation facility. The group houses and cares for 45* chimpanzees and orangutans. It is a 24/7 facility of lifetime commitment and care.

It is the dream of the founder and director to construct a two-acre recreational addition to their facility, one acre for the chimps and one acre for orangutans. The cost could run $500,000 to $750,000, depending on whether night houses are included. Then each resident of the facility costs the center about $18,000 per year, and they have 30 to 40 years of natural life expectancy. All told, the center needs some $15-million over time.

How can I reach out and get some group or foundation to visit the facility, take the VIP tour, and get seriously involved?

It took three years of hard work, determination, and persistence to raise $500,000*, which is being used to pay for a night house and habitat complex for just four* orangutans.

The center has the land, the determination, the workers, the volunteers, the dedication, and the love to do it. All it needs is long-term funding for a lifetime of care. Can you send me in the right direction?

We asked Jean Herrberg, the longtime assistant director of the Exotic Feline Rescue Center, a sanctuary for big cats in Center Point, Ind., to respond.

Her advice:

We have been here for 22 years, and it is always a struggle to come up with funds. For us, it is a day-to-day thing, and I doubt that you will find a donor or organization willing to make a long-term commitment for millions of dollars.

That being said, our largest gifts have come about when a new opportunity emerges and a donor wants to help us take advantage of it.

For example, when a property came up for sale across the street for $120,000, we had a donor who was excited about helping us expand our facility, and he contributed $60,000. We got the rest by asking a foundation that gives us $10,000 per year to make a one-time matching gift of $60,000.

In another case, a hospital donated an office building it no longer needed, but we needed $18,000 to pay the cost of having the building moved from across town to our sanctuary. A family wrote us a check for that amount after reading about this need in our newsletter.

I suggest separating your needs into two fundraising efforts: One is raising up to $750,000 for the new facility, and the other is the ongoing expense of caring for chimps and orangutans. At our rescue center, which has a $600,000 annual budget, we have come up with lots of ways to raise money for the ongoing care of more than 200 lions, tigers, and other big cats.

We opened our facility to the public, and we charge admission, and we sell T-shirts and other merchandise bearing photos of our animals. We also have guest quarters where we offer overnight stays for two adults at a time; we charge $175 per night.

We hold 10 fundraising events every year, including a 5-K “Run Through the Jungle,” which was started by volunteers, and an “evening roar,” which is a cocktail party and tour. Another fun event is our Pumpkin Party held on the first weekend after Halloween. Participants get to watch as cats tear into hollowed-out pumpkins filled with meat.

We also offer memberships, sponsorships, and “adoptions” of our cats. For $1,500, donors can adopt a cat. In return they receive an 8-by-10 photograph of the cat, six passes to the sanctuary, and a tax deduction.

Another way we cover our costs is by getting most of the meat our cats consume—4,000 pounds every day—donated. Since your animals are vegetarian, perhaps you could make similar arrangements with local farmers, grocers, and other sources of produce.

Do you have other advice to add? Use the comment link below to share your ideas. And if you would like some free advice on a fundraising problem, send an e-mail to

*These figures were corrected after original publication.

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.