Owls Well If It Ends Well

Owls in need…

Owls from the threatened Folkestone owl rescue centre

… A tale which may ruffle a few feathers.

So, there I was, wandering through the High Street when these magnificent creatures caught my attention.

Not one but two eagle owls.

Just look at those big, round and deep orange eyes. In the dark these would reflect the softest light back to you like a powerful lighthouse beam.

Notice the short, sharp beak.

Admire the physical, muscular rounded body – draped in soft camouflage-coloured feathers. These birds were built for hunting. They are well over 18 inches (about 45cm) tall and stocky. Don’t be fooled though – in the air they can move very swiftly when they need to.

What you can’t see here are the talons. Giant feet with sharp claws – perfectly capable of clutching a vole, rat or rabbit on the run.

There are two more things you cannot tell from the image…

One of these owls is around 20 years’ old. The other less than three.

The second thing which may not show in the picture? These beautiful birds of prey are in need of help.

They are part of a much larger group, or ‘family’, being looked after by an owl rescue centre and sanctuary.

The organisation says it relies on donations and fundraising to keep going – but may have to close if new council charges are imposed.

The people running the centre tell me they regularly bring their van and a small group of their owls to provide an ‘open day’ in the High Street for the public.

People can look at the birds, touch them, stroke them – and ask any questions of the centre staff.

The owls really are crowd pleasers. They always draw a crowd.

Most people are happy simply to watch and then walk on. Some pluck up the courage to stroke the barn, tawny or even the imposing eagle varieties. Those who do are rewarded with the feeling of soft, warm beating bodies. It’s strangely therapeutic.

What’s putting the care of these creatures at risk?

Well, it appears the local council wants to start charging the centre every time it parks its van in the precinct. Maybe £25 or more each time.

That may not sound a lot. The organisation says the charge would significantly reduce the value of any donations collected on the day – maybe cutting the net income from these events by up to 30 per cent or even more.

I can see how this proposal from the authorities might seem unfair or look like another case of red tape spoiling people’s enjoyment.

However, there are always at least two sides to every story.

I can imagine the council defending its action with detached logic. Everyone else has to be licensed to  perform, display or sell in the town centre. Buskers, street entertainers, stall holders, sales promotion teams.

So, why should it be different for the owl rescue centre?

That’s an argument for the two sides to work out and resolve.

It’s worth the centre putting together its case and making an effort to change the pricing plans. But in my opinion it should also consider being as wise as its furry friends when it comes to marketing, promotion and fundraising.

By the van was a makeshift sign which said something like “We are under threat of closure”. And near to it was a collection bucket for donations.

So, my thoughts naturally turned to what else this organisation could do to improve its efforts to raise awareness and generate funds.

Some Quick Ideas for Marketing…

The first thing which sprung to mind – get a petition going. This could be a physical petition. Get people in the High Street to sign it at the ‘display’. It could be an online petition. The likes of 38 Degrees and Change.org make that a very simple task.

Use Facebook. Properly.

The centre does have a page but there appears to be nothing new on it during the past FOUR YEARS.  What a missed opportunity to build a growing army of fans who can help to spread the message even wider.

The sanctuary did have a business card to hand out. Just not a very good one.

The phone contact details are on it – but no real call to action. The words could be much, much stronger. They need to grip the recipient as firmly as the talons of an eagle owl. Why not have a headline like “Save Our Owls” or “Will You Help Save Our Owls?” to grab attention.

The website address given on the card no longer seems to exist, which is a shame. Perhaps images on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter would be a useful option.

For support or sponsorship from businesses, the centre could approach the local Chamber of Commerce, business networking group organisers, or put an appeal out through LinkedIn. Offer to give a talk, provide a display or deliver a sponsorship package in return for help with funding.

Maybe team up with a leadership trainer or business coach – and work out a way to use the owls to demonstrate insights about leadership, management, team work or other key aspects of business success.

It could be a 90-minute session or an hour. A quick 30 minutes with the owls then leave the trainer to deliver the rest during a half-day or whole day workshop. Who would NOT find being up close with these friendly birds of prey memorable?

Tell people what you offer and what you are looking for in return. Talks for schools, associations or clubs. Visits to the sanctuary. Tell people how they can help you.

Create a ‘Friends of’ supporters club. Offer a newsletter on annual, quarterly or monthly subscription. Launch a ‘Sponsor and Owl’ campaign.

See what grants are available. Find a benefactor who simply LOVES owls with a passion.

Get your story in the local paper. On the radio. On the TV.

In short, be more business-like. Treat it less as a hobby and more as a business.

Ask for help…

Think of ways to make an extra £25 and more every week – so even if there are new town centre charges you do not miss out on the income you require to keep going.

Naturally, I put some money in the collection bucket. A small price to pay for spending time with these curiously beautiful birds – and taking a few photographs of the moment.

But that kind of donation is probably not going to be enough – in the long run.

What these caring people really need is some business advice, some marketing advice, some fundraising advice.

It could not only help their centre to survive – but to fly.

P.S. By the way, if you want to help… it’s Folkestone Owl Rescue. Telephone 01303 259794.

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