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Starting A Non-profit Organization To Help Animals

Why start an organization to help animals? Well, when you form a humane organization, you create a focal point for efforts to help animals, which in turn is an outlet for compassionate support which did not exist before. Your group can become a powerful network to protect and advocate for animal and the more the merrier because there’s strength in numbers!

If you start out with an understanding of what will be required you’ll already be ahead of the game. And while the purpose of the new organization is to help animals, all the principles that apply to running a successful business apply. Ultimately your organization will succeed or fail as a business.

To achieve your goals, it is essential to invest sufficient time and resources into planning, management, and fundraising. Most of us understand the importance of providing quality care to animals, but struggle with the administrative aspects of running an organization.

Executives who know advise startup groups that while direct care may be the purpose of the organization, an equal amount of time is needed for management, fundraising, and related tasks.

No one person can, do everything. Most successful organizations are the product of teamwork, requiring the cooperation of several people with varied skills and talents who share a dedication to the group’s purpose. One person’s interests and talents may lead them to spend most of their time on direct animal care, while someone else will need to spend most of her time on administrative tasks.

Do Research and Preliminary Planning

In the excitement of starting something new, it’s tempting to rush through this first step. But energy invested in research and planning early on saves at least twice the time in mistakes later. We’ve heard it said that if one can’t find the time to do something right at the start, how will they ever find the time to redo it later?

Know the basics. If you don’t have a business background, reading a single book on nonprofit management can make a world of difference. Talking with knowledgeable people, visiting other successful organizations, and attending workshops or seminars can help to give you a rounded perspective and prepare you for what lies ahead. As you meet and talk with others, you’ll also be developing a valuable support network of colleagues.

Be informed about issues. What is the scope of the problem in your own community? How can you best address it? What are the factors affecting animal overpopulation in general? What are others in the local humane movement doing? How can all work together?

Faith Maloney, of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, recounts an uplifting experience from a conference sponsored by SPAY/USA several years ago: The development of early-age spay/neuter was first announced, making it possible to neuter puppies and kittens before adoption to ensure that they will not breed. Faith returned to her work with the determination and information necessary to implement this new policy.

Learn as much as you can about animal care. It’s also important to know your limits. When in doubt, refer people to experts–veterinarians, behaviorists, and other organizations.

Write Your Mission Statement

Much of your organization’s success lies in articulating a clear and motivational mission statement. This purpose should touch your heart and the hearts of those who will support your work.

Ask yourself, “Exactly what are we trying to do here?” Defining your purpose precisely in words is tremendously powerful. Your mission statement will guide all of your work; it will help you with future decision-making and help get your message across to the public. A successful mission statement will be:

  • Brief (one or two sentences)
  • Clear and positive in tone
  • Action- and results-oriented
  • And will motivate people to support your work

Writing your mission statement also lays the groundwork for filing your corporate papers, which customarily require a statement of purpose.

Set Your Goals

Don’t confuse goal-setting with your mission statement. Goals are specific items you need to achieve to fulfill your mission. To make them more concrete, put your goals in writing. Focus on results and the actions needed to achieve them.

Start with your long-range goals and work back to the present. Where do you want the organization to be in 10 years? The answer to this question will give you your long-term goals. What interim steps will you need to take to get there? These are your intermediate goals.

Finally, decide which of these goals you’ll work on in the first and second years. These are your short-range goals; you’ll want to focus on these right away.

Once the goals are set, consider how you will accomplish them. Specifically, what programs will you develop? What will be required in terms of financial resources and people?

As you do your planning, keep in mind that it’s important to demonstrate success early on. Remember the old adage: “Nothing succeeds like success.” You may not want to tackle your most challenging project first; instead, hone your skills and develop the team with a more manageable project with demonstratable achievements.

Establish Your Board of Directors

What is the role of the board? A board of directors governs an organization. The board is responsible for establishing the direction of the organization and for its financial, ethical, and legal well-being. The board is also responsible for hiring the executive director and for ongoing oversight.

Who should be on the board? When you are putting together the board, there are two key components to consider: the skills and talents that you need, and the personalities to make your organization work.

Legal, accounting, veterinary, public relations, and business skills can all be valuable to your organization. Their ability to work well with others and their commitment to the core values of your organization are as important as their talents.

How many is too many? Generally, a smaller board seven individuals or less is easier to work with and is often more efficient than a larger one. The size of the board of directors must be set down in your bylaws. Most states require a minimum of three board members.

Make It All Legal

Incorporation has several important benefits. It limits personal liability, lends credibility to your work, and enhances the status of the animals under your care. Once your group obtains 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the IRS, donations to your work will be tax-deductible, which encourages larger gifts.

Use Dollars and Sense

If you do not have an accountant or bookkeeper, consider recruiting one to help you with this task.

You’ll need to create a budget. Based on your track record of spending and bringing in resources and on your plans for the next year, you can project expenses, be relistic. If you’re just starting out, use your goals as a starting point for estimating expenses.

When doing your budget, do not neglect to allocate resources to fundraising. It takes money to make money!

Why go through all this? Well, there are several good reasons: First, the board and executive director need to have a clear understanding of the resources needed to make your plans work. It’s a sobering experience to realize that you have the responsibility to raise these resources.

Second, the IRS requires that you put together a budget and have a sound accounting program in place for tracking your work.

Finally, large donors, particularly foundations and businesses, will want to see your budget before they consider funding you. When your budget is done, you will clearly see what you need to raise in terms of financial resources.

Define Policies and Standards

Establishing policies and standards in writing, and sharing them with everyone involved, is a critical part of creating an environment where people can work together successfully toward a common goal. Everyone needs to know who makes decisions and what the usual procedures are.

Your policies will need to include things like the services you will routinely provide for the public, veterinary care protocol, and a listing of individuals empowered to authorize veterinary care. Such guidelines help to create stability within the organization keeping everyone on the same track.

Take It to the Public:

Cultivate Support in the Community

In order to succeed, your organization is going to need the support of many, many people. The next step is holding a public meeting, where you can explain what your group is going to accomplish. Publicity is key here, so follow these steps:

  • Start your mailing list. Compile the addresses of your animal-loving friends and ask all your board members and volunteers for names and addresses of people they know who may be interested. These names and addresses form the foundation of all your future fundraising efforts.
  • Create a meeting notice. Send it to all the folks on your newly created mailing list. Invite people to bring a friend.
  • A good poster campaign is an inexpensive and highly effective way to attract people to your meeting. Vet clinics, groomers, public libraries, town halls, supermarket bulletin boards, pet supply stores, and local businesses should all be covered.
  • Contact the media. Send a news release to the local newspapers and a public service announcement to local radio stations.

Hold a Productive First Meeting

At this first meeting, it’s important to establish your credibility and to explain the program clearly and positively. You must convince the attendees that this is a do-able project, that they can make a difference. No one wants to get on board a sinking ship!

Provide written materials. Provide handouts that people can take home, and encourage them to share the information with others. Have available:

  • Information about the organization
  • Donation request form or flyer
  • Sign-in sheet that requests the attendee’s name and mailing address
  • Volunteer form that gives people the opportunity to indicate how they may be willing to help out.

Recruit and Develop

Carefully select key volunteer staff. All of your preparation will pay off here. You want volunteers to buy into your organization’s mission and goals–up front. Appoint one of your board members to spearhead your volunteer recruitment. Provide written job descriptions (these can be brief) and training, which must include the organization’s policies and procedures.

Provide Quality Services

Quantity without quality is destructive. Don’t do more than you can do well; the animals deserve quality care. Providing good care for the animals and accurate information for the public must be top priorities in developing your programs, and in selecting and training your volunteers. Take care not to expand services more quickly than your resources can support them.

Assess Your Progress

The leaders of the organization are responsible for fulfilling the organization’s mission and meeting the organization’s goals. This requires periodically assessing your progress and making necessary changes to get the job done.

Are you truly fulfilling your mission? Are you meeting your goals? Are the programs working? Remember, success is an ongoing process of making adjustments. Though starting an organization is labor-intensive, it’s also richly rewarding on many different levels. Every adoption represents a victory in our life-saving work. Every spay or neuter prevents many births. Many of your program’s volunteers will forge new friendships with others they meet at meetings and events.

Your effort will not only help many, many of the community’s animals, but it will build a strong alliance of people who care about animals. The ripple of compassion that you put into motion will keep on growing, and growing.

And that’s what it’s all about!


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