I was at a Fundraising Ireland conference recently and Lori Davis from the DSPCA had the entire room captivated by her presentation. I asked Lori would she write a piece for my blog so I could share what is going on at the DSPCA and how they have changed their thinking to create a new social business model that will generate revenue for them, by doing what they do best. Anyway over to Lori….
In November the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is unveiling a new social business model for animal welfare: A public veterinary clinic, pet boarding centre and Dog Park where 100% of the profits will go directly back into the Dublin SPCA shelter to aid rescued animals, and help fund the charity’s annual operating costs of €2M.
Several years ago, we recognized that we couldn’t continue to do business as usual. We had very little government support and no structured monthly giving or legacy programmes. We wanted more control over our income and be less vulnerable to the risk and costs that come with once-off fundraising and government funding.
The idea came to fruition through a team of 3 managers – CEO Jimmy Cahill, Operations Manager Orla Aungier and me as the Development Manager. We all had entrepreneurial and business backgrounds and no prior experience in animal welfare.
My personal epiphany came at an animal welfare seminar called “The Business of Saving Lives,” given by Mike Arms, CEO of the Helen Woodward Animal Centre. Mike has taken a shelter on the verge of bankruptcy and turned it into a thriving centre that generates more than $7 million each year. He made a game-changing statement, “We are doing all the work for animals and giving all of the profits away!”
A lot had to change, and it would be painful, but it was the only answer. Animal welfare groups do the hard and costly work – we rescue animals, rehabilitate them, provide veterinary treatment, boarding, food and shelter and then place them in new loving homes. For the Dublin SPCA, that process costs an average of €600 per animal. After modest adoption fees there is a deficit of up to €465 per animal, which is made up through fundraising.
Once the adopted animal leaves our shelter it goes out with its new family and they take it to a vet, purchase food, buy toys, get it groomed and board it when they go away. The profits come AFTER adoption. This is where we began to rethink our business model and became Social Entrepreneurs with the goal of Sustainability.
Our old model was: “Thanks for adopting this cat. We’ll see you in 15 years when you need a new one.” Today it’s, “We want to build a lifelong relationship with you. Thank you for adopting this cat and here are a myriad of lifelong services that we can provide you and your pets.”
As nonprofits our most valuable asset is the power of our cause. We can be emotionally compelling and influence our supporter’s behaviour in a far more effective and powerful way than any commercial operation can.
Taking on the mindset of a Social Entrepreneur is TRANSFORMATIONAL. You will see things in a new light and opportunities will avail themselves. You will no longer be “grateful” when commercial groups come to you offering 1% of what YOU sell of their product as a way to make money. There are lots of commercial groups out there who want to make a profit on the backs of charities. Be cautious and stay focused on YOUR cause. We need to be the ones thinking up the opportunities around our causes. I’m not recommending that you go open a sandwich shop because lots of people eat sandwiches. I’m saying to have a good think about what your cause is and who your market is and what you can offer where you can leverage the power of your cause to create sustainable funding.
Financing the Businesses
We received a €1.7M loan from the bank of Ireland which we will pay off through business revenues and fundraising. Within 5 years, we project that the businesses will be contributing back into the Dublin SPCA charity more than €750,000 each year.
We will continue to fundraise as the business model will not fully cover operation costs. Fundraising is a critical part of an organization. It is a way to bond people to your cause. And giving is good for the soul. I think we should all find causes that we love and contribute on a monthly basis. It improves us as human beings and it is a tangible statement about our values.