Shelters receive an exemption from taxes because they are charities. So why do ALL shelters act as businesses? Can you imagine asking a family to pay for their groceries at a food shelf? Or passing the hat down the line at a soup kitchen? What if we made homeless shelters charge an admission fee to cover costs?
How does one consider the profit or loss of one of these charities? We don’t, is the simple answer. Other charitable organizations are not expected to support themselves by generating revenue or by reducing services to protect assets. That’s an absurd concept, but is a standard practice in today’s animal humane “industry.”
Rescue groups and shelters need to adopt the same charity approach used by food shelves, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. It’s a simple case of knowing who – or what – you are.
America needs a whole new approach to saving its discarded companion animals.
The current corporate model is standing in the way of saving lives. The two are incompatible. The current shelter model is failing. It has spawned an industry full of dilettantes and empire builders who protect their careers at the expense of the lives of millions of animals every year. This pseudo-business shelter model cannot change from within because these business executives will protect their positions and empires at any cost. They protect the status quo to protect themselves.
Not A Business?
Business Management 101 teaches a business transaction requires an exchange of something of value for something of value. You give me your old car and I give you a dollar. Right? But donors send money in to a shelter expecting nothing in return but that the money will be used to save lives. This is not a business transaction. In its simplest state, this shelter is not a business. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some business aspects to managing it, but at its heart lies a charity.
Shelters’ efforts to generate revenue have been holding back the rescue community for too long. The rescue of companion animals is supposed to be a FREE charitable service, not a business. This “we-can-fund-it-ourselves” attitude hamstrings our efforts to save lives and reach the public.
It’s About An Attitude Adjustment
A typical shelter’s funding comes from two sources, donations and for-fee services. Standard practice is to raise money by “selling” animals, charging for medical services, charging for spay/neuter procedures, charging for training, etc. Cities and their pounds do the same but also generate revenue from pet licensing and fines. Incredibly, there is one shelter that charges volunteers a fee to volunteer!
What is the solution? Rescue organizations must learn to pass to the community total responsibility for funding rescue efforts. At first blush this may seem overly simplistic. It is not! This is a major fundamental change: If the community’s animal lovers want to end the killing of animals, then they will support those who are willing to do this rescue work. It is a direct correlation: If citizens’ support is weak, animals will die. It’s similar to what public television does when they appeal to their “members” for support. The only real difference being when the public fails to support TV stations, programming is cut. When rescuers’ funding is cut, companion animals die.
Like any change in society’s direction, this will require visionary leadership and a massive effort at education. PR campaigns will be needed. Over time there will be a gradual shift in how the community views its responsibility. Is this possible to achieve? Well, we have a black president and he and his family live on land that used to house black slaves who were owned as personal property. And women now have the right to vote. And children no longer provide labor in factories.
The benefit of this change? Rescue organizations will no longer have to treat companion animals as products, selling them and services to cover the expense of their rescue efforts. Also, shelters will no longer be forced to choose which companion animals to kill in an effort to stay within their budgets. Most importantly, for-fee neutering services can then be offered for free, thereby making them available to the entire community, not just those who can afford the service. This will help slow the flood of unwanted animals.
The obvious question is how to increase donations to pay for all this? The key is to look beyond the word “donation.” The answer lies in enthusiastic fundraising. This is not the forte of the typical shelter director who busies herself safely within the walls of the shelter. Shelter leaders need to personally court business leaders and influential citizens. Aggressive fundraising really is little more than one facet of an effective marketing campaign: this is where our charities need to take a cue from their corporate counterparts.
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