Four years ago, myself and seven other dedicated Shiba lovers came together in the Skylight Diner in midtown Manhattan and started NYC Shiba Rescue, Inc. (NYCSR). I’ve occasionally considered taking everything I’ve learned since then and writing a manual on how to start a grassroots rescue group. Maybe someday I’ll have time for a project of that size. In the meantime, here is a list of six important items to consider when starting off.
- What exactly do you want to accomplish?
A mission statement not only informs the world of what your organization is all about; it also shines as your guiding light. The world of rescue is complicated and emotional. You will be bombarded with pleas for help – many more than you could ever take on. Your mission statement will make future decisions much easier. It should clearly state WHAT you do, HOW you do it, and WHERE you do it. Write at least your first draft before you bother doing anything else! Remember, once you are a non-profit, you will have to follow your mission statement to the letter, so make sure it is precise but also covers everything you want to do. (For an example, see NYCSR’s Mission Statement.)
- Do you have any idea how to do it?
Don’t laugh! When I founded NYCSR, I had no idea what was involved in rescuing animals and finding good homes for them, much less how to actually do any of it. Lucky for us, I had access to several people with rescue experience who were willing to share their experiences and offer advice along the way. Make a list of all the things you’ll need to do to accomplish your mission – raise money, pull dogs from shelters, understand local and state laws regarding fostering, find foster homes, write contracts, deal with people, deal with potential legal issues like dog bites and ownership disputes, make medical decisions for dogs, etc. Start researching and reading up… you need at least a basic understanding of everything your group will need to do.
- Who will help you accomplish your mission?
If you’re starting a rescue group you must want more than just you running around saving one animal at a time. In addition to experienced rescuers to tap for advice, think about where you will find Board members and volunteers who will get involved and be passionate about your cause. Look at that list you made in #2. Try to gather whatever experts you can into your Board and core group – a vet tech, a trainer, a lawyer, a book keeper or accountant; you probably have "dog friends" from all walks of life and that can be very useful!
- Where will you raise the initial funds?
Raising money for a small charity is hard, even in a good economy, and it’s almost impossible before you have your 501(c)(3) status. In addition to basics like transport costs and vet bills, you’ll need money to cover organizational costs like getting incorporated and filing for non-profit status. Have some starter money lined up before you make any promises you can’t keep. Suggestion: It can be hard when the time and the money are all put in by the same small group of people. Look for a few benefactors who want to see you get started but don’t have time to volunteer themselves.
- How will decisions get made as the group grows?
One of the most important things you can do as you get started is put your policies and procedures into writing. Beyond the basics (adoption contract, foster application, volunteer agreement), put your medical policies into writing, define how you make intake decisions, record your policy on blogging about foster dogs… just about any important decision that comes up in the beginning should be written into your policies and procedures to help make future decisions easier and more consistent.
- Eventually, you may want to back away from daily involvement. Make it possible!
Build your group so that it isn’t too dependent on any one or two people. Trust me, this can be HARD to accomplish, but it is worth it. When the organization becomes self sustaining, you’ll feel like a proud parent. 🙂
Obviously, this isn’t everything you’ll need to know or do to get started, but hopefully it will help guide you in getting started. Feel free to leave questions or additional suggestions in the comments!