Responsible innovation:
How to make small changes
with a big impact


Sometimes companies become too successful. They become blessed with an overabundance of customers but don’t have an unlimited pool of resources to serve everyone.

The common solutions are to raise prices or turn customers away, but what happens when you’re a charity organisation where the whole point is to be available to everyone?

How do you reduce demand while still keeping customers engaged and happy?

Digital platforms provide an opportunity to address this issue through innovation and communication. By providing the opportunity to deliver responses that give the customers the relevant information at just the right time we can help create successful interventions that improve outcomes for all participants.

A plethora of pets

RSPCA Queensland (RSPCA QLD) is Australia’s largest and most recognised charity for animal welfare. One of their services is to provide shelter to pets which are voluntarily surrendered by their owners.

However, due to the great success of their branding and awareness campaigns, too many pet owners were entrusting their pets to the RSPCA QLD, up to 5,000 animals a year including dogs, cats, birds, rodents and reptiles. Yes, even snakes and spiders get handed in to the RSPCA.


We became RSPCA QLD’s digital partner in 2016. We work closely to create great digital experiences that improve the lives of people and animals across Queensland, including digital tools such as the Surrender Portal and in-shelter data dashboards, and digital campaigns such as Adopt-a-Bull and the D-53X de-sexing campaign.

Shelters reached capacity. Even the call centres were overloaded: every pet surrender call took around an hour to complete.

Altogether, this service was costing the charity $3.5 million per year, and it was spreading their resources thin.

If you don’t want to turn people away, the obvious solutions are to raise more money and expand shelter sizes. However, both require a lot of effort and expense.

Was there a more elegant solution?

How could we find the smallest possible intervention that would have an impact?

Getting insights from call centre staff

When planning a successful intervention, you must first understand what you are intervening. For any organisation, business or charity, this means asking two questions:

  • What’s motivating customers to use my services?
  • What’s the customer journey?

The more comprehensive your answers, the more precise your intervention.

But this doesn’t always require expensive, large scale market research studies. Sometimes the more effective (and cheaper) option is to simply ask the frontline staff.

For RSPCA QLD, this meant talking to their call centre staff. Having dealt with cases all day, they understood the details and nuances of each surrender situation.

First, we asked them what was causing pet owners to surrender their pets.

Turns out, they already collated an extensive database of which animals were being surrendered, and for each animal, what problems were causing the owner to surrender them. In total, 832 unique combinations of pet and problem.

This data would later play a key part in our digital solution.

But the most important insight came when one of the call centre staff said this:

"Many owners who surrender their pets have preventable problems. They just need some help."

This made us examine what pet owners who needed help were searching for online. What results were they getting? Which websites did they click on?

And from this, we formed a model of the average surrender journey:

  • Owners have a problem with their pet.
  • Some search for help online.
  • The advice is non-specific, fragmented across multiple sites and unreliable.
  • They feel frustrated and helpless.
  • They surrender their pet to the RSPCA.

It was now clear there were two points at which we could intervene: getting advice on the internet, and surrendering an animal at the RSPCA.

What if we gave pet owners a one-stop website which had reliable advice for their specific pet problems?

If we could educate them about these alternatives, could we prevent pets from being surrendered all together?

The vision for the RSPCA QLD Surrender Portal was born.

A smooth disruption of the surrender process

To stop the surrender process, the Surrender Portal website had to appear at the critical moment when people were searching for help.

So, rather than investing resources into promotional media (which would inevitably reach people who didn’t need it), we focused our energy on search optimisation.

To start off, we condensed the call centre’s database of 832 pet problems into the 64 most common.

Then, we matched the wording of these pet problems to the actual Google search queries pet owners were making.

By aligning the website’s content with the user’s search behaviour, we aimed to smoothly redirect the user journey away from surrender.

Then, once people landed on the site, they would input their pet problems and the website would return only the most relevant solutions. These solutions were developed in close communication with RSPCA QLD to ensure that they were effective.

But how would this new portal fit smoothly within RSPCA QLD's complex site architecture?

Well, the RSPCA already had an online surrender form people had to fill out. So, we essentially slid all this informational content above the form.

Not only did this make it easier to incorporate but now, all pet owners who planned to surrender their pets had to first go through and consider the alternatives.

With everything in place, we waited to see what would happen.

We were surprised at how immediate and obvious the impact was.

As soon as the portal was released, call centre staff noticed a drop in the number of calls. Over the last twelve months the results have averaged:

  • A 22% decrease in surrendered animals. This meant over 1000 less pets to feed, treat and care for every year.
  • $800,000 annual savings in animal care costs.
  • Given that the entire project only cost $60,000, the savings in animal care costs have given RSPCA QLD more than 13x return within the first year. And that’s without a single dollar going towards promotional media.

It’s been so successful that even pet shelters in the USA have noticed and asked to licence the Surrender Portal.

But ultimately, the most meaningful impact has been for the pet owners.

Before, when faced with a difficult situation, some felt like they had no other option but to break ties with their beloved pets.

But now, at the crucial moment when they searched for help, RSPCA QLD could reach out and provide them with the solutions they needed, making the pet Surrender Portal a success for everyone.

A message from Mark Townend, CEO, RSPCA Queensland

“Charities need to ask themselves how they can take one donated dollar and get it to do $100 worth of work. The same goes for software. This means that people who donate to RSPCA Queensland can be assured that their dollar will do good now and help to create a sustainable future for the organisation.”
Data Parameters:Number of surrenders before the Surrender Portal came in place based off RSPCA data from 20th Oct 2015 to 19th Oct 2016. Number of surrenders after the Surrender Portal was based off data from 20th Oct 2016 to 19th Oct 2017. The $800,000 savings were based on a $25 per day average animal care cost. The number of days an animal stayed in the shelter was based on RSPCA QLD's business data.