Many people who are passionate about helping animals dream of starting their own animal rescue or sanctuary, but the reality can be more difficult. Rescues involve a lot of hard work, time, and expense. They can also involve a lot of paperwork and unforeseen problems. If you are thinking about starting a nonprofit dedicated to helping animals, be prepared.
Animal rescue can be a difficult field because it can vary significantly. Horse rescues have to meet different needs than dog rescues, and animal sanctuaries are different than rescues that try to find homes for as many animals as possible. There are also regional differences that can affect the way your rescue needs to operate.
One of the best ways to get started is to volunteer with an established rescue and work with experienced people. This lets you learn on the job and may help you get clearer goals. This network can also help you get started and provide support and advice.
Before you do anything else, figure out your long-term goals. Do you envision a sanctuary where elderly or disabled pets get to live out their days in comfort? A high-turnover shelter? These organizations have very different needs. Sanctuaries generally need large tracts of land and extensive buildings, while organizations focused on adoption can often get by relying mostly on foster homes and rented kennels. Your goals and vision inform the way you start your nonprofit.
Once you are ready to branch out on your own, it is important to keep things legal. Incorporate your nonprofit early, and be sure to keep your accounting accurate and transparent. It’s a good idea to read books or take a course on nonprofit management to make sure you are running things properly. Start pursuing your 501(c)3 status early, because it lends credibility to your rescue and encourages donations.
It is also important to consider your legal liability. Incorporation helps limit your personal liability, but one accident can still ruin your rescue before it even begins. Animal-related nonprofits are at especially high risk because of the unpredictable nature of the critters they are trying to help. Dog bites, infected cat scratches, or kicks from horses and other livestock can all result in a costly lawsuit. Get liability insurance ahead of time.
Although many rescues are started by just one person, this eventually results in exhaustion, so it’s important to get a team together. However, the wrong personalities in positions of power can cause your rescue to self-destruct. Your nonprofit needs a board of directors, and you can invite individuals to it. Make sure you know how they work in a team environment and avoid anyone who is too contentious or demanding.
Once you have created the basic structure of the organization, you need to get public support. Many animal-related nonprofits struggle to get enough funding because caring for animals is ongoing and expensive. A strong support base is necessary to get regular donations. It’s a good idea to hold a large public event early on. This can take the form of a meeting, demonstration, or property tour, but the important thing is to get the word out about who you are and what you are doing. Encourage questions and try to make the event as fun as possible while still being informative.
Keep yourself in the public eye with regular outreach events. Social media is an important tool for animal rescues. Create an account on popular sites such as Facebook, and post regular updates about your animals and activities. Consider targeted advertising on these sites to draw in new supporters. Keep your content creative and interesting so people want to see it.
Starting a new nonprofit to help animals is a noble goal, but it is fraught with potential problems. If you consider each step carefully, do plenty of research, and remain diligent, you are more likely to succeed. It can be frustrating to spend hours on boring paperwork or creating slick marketing materials, but it pays off when your nonprofit takes off and you start saving animals.
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