Service Dog Fundraising 101

This is probably the most intimidating part of getting an autism service dog.....from ANY agency. I've been there. I've had successes and failures, surprise donations and pledges that never came through. It's scary, daunting and often overwhelming. It is also a HUGE RUSH when you conquer this mountain!!!

When we line-item everything out, it costs PAWS over $30,000 to train and place each service dog. Industry standard (no matter what the specialty) is $35K-$50K. Some agencies charge this full amount and never look back. Not included in their listed price are the travel costs for 10-14 days of intensive training. This typically adds another $3-5K. Travel expenses are also not tax deductible for donors as they need to be made directly to the family--not the agency. It is also impossible for charities to give refunds--the IRS has very strict restrictions in place.

ALL other agencies have two lists. Families accepted into the program and are in their fundraising phase, and families that are complete/close to complete on their fundraising. It is this second group of families that are on their waiting lists for a service dog. They do not tell you that you don't get on their matching list until you have raised 50%-75% of your funds. "Once the fundraising goal is met, the family can begin the placement process to receive their specially trained service dog." They do not tell you that they do not even start thinking about which pup in training is going to work for your family until you get on their matching list. Often, the trainers don't even have a clue who you are or what your needs are until you get on that second list.

Some agencies will say during initial phases that they will help you figure out your fundraising. Yes...all I received was a list of things I could do like bake sales, garage sales, online funding page on Firstgiving (funds go directly to the agency minus processing fees) and a form letter I could use to mail out to businesses or use online during my pleas.

When talking with my mentors, I asked WHY they give so little help when the funds go to help their program??? The answer: It's a vetting process. Those who have the cash available tend to not see the true value of the service dog. Those that do not have the drive, dedication and passion needed to raise funds to help their child are not the families that they want their dogs to go to. Trainers put their love, heart and soul into each of these pups and want them to not only help a child with their challenges, but be with a family that will leave no stone unturned when it comes to their care.

I get it. Each of our pups hold a VERY special place in my heart. Our dogs will never be "free". HOWEVER, that doesn't mean that I believe families should be left to their own devices to raise the funds.

Through sponsorships, donations, fundraising events and volunteers we reduce our out of pocket costs. The families in the PAWS program are asked to help raise $18,000. Families that fully participate in the Puppy Partners Program can earn "sweat-equity" of $6000. 

PAWS is unique in that we truly try to help you in EVERY stage of fundraising:

  • Every family is encouraged to submit information to put on a PAWS family page so that you can take online donations, sell stuff (shirts/hats/whatever) and keep those who support you updated on progress.
  • NEW--- Each family gets a batch of PAWS business cards with YOUR contact info on it and a link to YOUR fundraising page. On the back is the standard "What do Autism Service Dogs DO"=--the most asked question in our world!! (please be patient as I get them designed & ordered)
  • We will gladly help you with any graphic design or marketing needs you have. If it can be done in house it is free to families --if not we link you to the most cost effective solutions.
  • PAWS is the only agency to set up deposit accounts (at Commerce Bank) so that you can deposit funds directly or give the account number for your donors to donate directly to. This way you are assured that the deposits have been made (and are not just sitting on my crazy desk or getting lost).
  • PAWS is the only agency that gives account credits ($10/hr) for your hours worked to help with administrative tasks AND PAWS fundraisers. We also credit $100 per family that mans an information table at an event (ie: dog walks/autism conference/anywhere). Typically these events are 3 hours. If longer, adjustments will be made accordingly.
  • PAWS is the only agency that gives you credit on your account for helping to SAVE us money on requirements. (IE: donated/discounted supplies/services). Just think---if YOU had found Doggy Stylz, (our grooming partner), then YOU would get a $100 credit EVERY TIME one of our pups was groomed!!!
  • PAWS is the only agency to get you setup on all the essential supplies you need to get started with your pup. (When we went out for our training....most of our time was shopping to either purchase or find out what to purchase when we got home. All that was supplied was a leash, vest and a ziploc full of food) Retail cost for our supply package is almost $1500.
  • PAWS is the only agency to extend its discount partnerships to their families. As long as you are a PAWS family you can get your supplies at OUR cost---for ANY animal in your house!
  • Any PAWS family is welcome to use our Firstgiving account to setup a site for an event so that you can take registrations. Just get me your info & I will set it up then give you full access to administer it. PAWS pays a flat annual fee for the service and it doesn't matter how many campaigns are run!
  • PAWS is the only agency to dedicate 100% of proceeds of its primary fundraiser (FunnyBunny 5K-9) to help families with their fundraising goals! Families get full credits for what is raised through their teams as well as any sponsors they obtain. Remaining balance of proceeds are divided among the families based upon the number of volunteer hours worked. It is completely possible to fully fund a service dog with this event alone!

As always, we welcome your suggestions to improve the fundraising process for us all!