Should You Start Your Own Animal Welfare Nonprofit?

By Paula Fitzsimmons

If you’ve ever considered starting your own animal welfare nonprofit organization, you’re not alone. According to an article by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the number of animal welfare and environmental charities have grown by 82.5 percent in recent years.

If you’d like to join these ranks, I’m here to cheer you on  . . . but also to offer a cautionary tale: Starting and running a nonprofit is tough work and is something you need to research thoroughly – and then some – before diving in.

The following are just a few important aspects you’ll need to consider before making the big commitment. . .


Do you have a well-defined mission statement?

What would you like your nonprofit to accomplish? It’s not enough to say I want it to help animals. Or cats. Or dogs. Or birds. You’ll need to answer how and why. Your nonprofit doesn’t have to solve every issue or be everything to every animal.

In fact, focusing on a well-defined goal will give your organization a better chance at success. Head aimlessly in every direction, and you’ll likely drive yourself – and those around you – nuts.

Plus people feel more confident supporting a cause with a solid mission statement and plan. Who wants to help fund and volunteer for a cause that doesn’t have a clue as to how it’ll proceed.

The following are two examples of small animal welfare nonprofits with well-defined missions:

Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims. According to SAAV, “up to 48 percent of domestic abuse victims delay leaving an abusive relationship because they have no safe place for their animals.” So Megan Senatori and Pamela Hart started SAAV, a program designed to provide temporary safe shelter for the companion animals of these victims. Because the organization serves both animal and human welfare, they have support from both sectors.

Avian Welfare Coalition. Exotic companion birds don’t get as much attention or protections as cats and dogs do. Which is what makes an organization like AWC so important. Founded by Denise Kelly, AWC teaches the public about the plight of “pet” birds. To accomplish this, the group does outreach – via seminars, exhibits, handbooks, and their annual National Bird Day celebration. They also work with standard humane societies to help their staff become better bird caregivers.

Do you see how tightly-defined these organizations’ mission statements are? Each saw a problem or a specific need not being addressed, and started a nonprofit to fill the hole.

Your turn: Is there a need in your community, or nation, that’s not being filled?


Are you reinventing the wheel?

There are about 50,0000 animal-related nonprofits in the United States, according to Great Nonprofits, which they say includes rescues, spay-and-neuter programs, animal rights, and wildlife. That’s a lot of goodwill being generated for animals.

While it’s fantastic that people care, having too many nonprofits with similar missions can be problematic. In his article in Inside Philanthropy, David Callahan says this can result in charitable efforts being duplicated, and waste created.

It also can mean that funds get spread more thinly, especially during leaner economic times. Donors have a harder time deciding where to donate when they have too many choices. Don’t you feel a little overwhelmed when receiving tons of donation requests (especially during the holidays) from competing organizations? So in this case, streamlining makes sense.

If there’s another organization already doing similar work to what you’re proposing, does it even make sense to start your own nonprofit? Can you join their crusade, consolidate efforts, and grow even stronger for the animals?


Doing your homework. A few sources I recommend . . .

• ASPCA Pro’s Shelter Management section has tools, tips, templates, and webinars related to shelter management.

• Best Friends’ manual, “Starting an Animal Welfare Organization to Help the Animals” offers solid step-by-step guidance, as well as links to additional nonprofit resources.

• The HSUS’ Pets for Life Program offers a toolkit for those who’d like to do outreach in their communities.



Where will you get your funding?

If you’re a one-person operation (not counting your board of directors), your costs may be basic, consisting of things like website and travel expenses. But what if you visualize running a larger operation, and need a bigger budget for things like rent and salaries? Unless you’re planning to foot the bill on your own, you’ll have to reach out to donors.

And this is where it can get tricky.

Raising funds is tough. Don’t expect to open your doors and watch as the donations and grant money fly in. It takes time to build trust. Even when you do become more well-known, raising cash will still be a constant challenge. It is for most organizations.


You don’t necessarily have to run a nonprofit to do good for animals. Have you considered starting a small business?

• Running your own business gives you an opportunity to provide top-notch products and services to animals and their caregivers.

• As a business owner you can partner with your favorite animal welfare organizations, and support them via sponsorships, donations, and merchandise donations.

• Running a business is in many ways, similar to running a nonprofit organization.

Read about different businesses available to animal lovers.


Do you have a good plan?

If you want to succeed, you’ll need a decent plan to appease supporters and donors, execute your mission efficiently . . .and keep your sanity. There is a lot that goes into a good plan, but here are some basic questions you should ask yourself . . .

• Is your nonprofit temporary; and do you have an exit plan?

• Who will be on your board of directors? Are they trustworthy, reliable, easy to work with?

• How much of a time commitment are you willing to make? Do you already work or are you planning to earn a paycheck with your organization?


Starting your own animal welfare nonprofit can be a good idea if your proposed organization fills a specific need. Be clear not only with your vision, but with the details. Do your homework, talk to professionals and people in the field, read books and articles, attend seminars and webinars. If you’re prepared, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding – and doing good for the animals.

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