At least once a month, GFAS receives an email that basically says “I love animals and want to start a sanctuary. Can you please let me know how to start?”

One thing I personally hope that GFAS does is provide people with a more realistic assessment of how much skill is really needed to run a successful sanctuary. Many of you did it the hard way, the only way at the time, building your sanctuary from the ground up with limited preparation or guidance. And succeeded. A few still do so today. I visited one successful director awhile ago.  In the early years of the organization, she/he was already out meeting with major donors, and today has a huge mailing list for fundraising, built with the help of a professional fundraising company. The organization just added more acres to their property and has the funds in hand to begin building, in this economy, in rural America. The organization is just over 10 years old now. It all began with one person and one animal, as it usually has in the past.

However, just as it is now more difficult to open a retail store with no background in business than it was in 1910, 1970, or even more recently, so too is it harder to start and run a successful sanctuary today.  And it was never EASY. In contrast to the visit to the 10+ year old facility, I visited one that has been in operation for several decades, still struggling on minimal leased acreage.  The director is extremely dedicated, but in actual practice has never made the leap from the role of animal care director to executive director, except for the minimum amount of time needed to stay afloat.

Today, a logical career path might be: Running a nonprofit dog/cat shelter, well-established, learning the ins and outs of working with a board, direct mail, online fundraising, major donor cultivation, volunteer/staff oversight, risk management, disaster preparedness, etc….then starting a sanctuary, with initial major donors lined up ahead of time; or interning at a sanctuary, or being employed by one, as you get your degree in nonprofit management, and then starting a branch of the successful sanctuary; or leading a successful nonprofit such as a hospital, then being hired by a large, established sanctuary as the new executive director.

For those of you with thriving sanctuaries, one of the greatest gifts you can give to the animals is  welcoming  those interested in starting a sanctuary, and allowing internships, developing a strong second-in-command, considering a branch facility under trained, new leadership, and networking with nonprofit leaders in other fields to let them know the sanctuary world needs them and provides rewards beyond their imagination.  I see many of you doing that right now, and the animals thank you!