Editorial: Stray Hearts, other nonprofits need to put business matters first

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Stray Hearts Animal Shelter is an example of the many valiant Taos nonprofits that constantly struggle for funds. In part, that’s due to the apparent lack of a solid business plan or a staffer with a devoted business acumen. 

Without the shelter, Taos and the county would be quickly overrun with dog packs and feral felines. That would create not just a terrible life for these needy animals, but a public health threat to residents; feral dog packs can become dangerous. Without the shelter, town and county officials would face the unpleasant need to open and operate their own shelter or pursue the worst alternative – simply start shooting and poisoning feral dogs and cats.

Operating a nonprofit like the shelter is hard, often thankless work. It’s always a scramble to cover the bills, beg for money and promote your organization to the public as a worthy cause. Caught up in the day-to-day fray of doing good and staying afloat, too many nonprofits don’t devote enough attention to the business end of their operations. 

But those are all reasons why nonprofits need to be as good or better than Fortune 500 companies about managing their money – and being utterly transparent about it. The best nonprofits put their financial records, budgets and annual reports on their websites, easily available to the public.

Stray Hearts – despite the exceptional devotion of staff and volunteers – has been through a number of financial and administrative upheavals. And the board running the animal shelter have not been as forthcoming with their financial records, business plans and budgets as they should have been. Without showing they are managing money well, they might be losing out on hefty donations from willing funders who just don’t trust the shelter’s business side. 

Here are four steps the people running the shelter should take and the community should help them achieve:

1. Have an immediate financial audit done and release both that and a solid business plan to the public.

2. Hold a dedicated fundraising effort to pay off the $100,000 left on the shelter property so they will own the building free and clear.

3. Create an endowment – one where the principal is left untouched and the interest is a revenue for shelter operations.

4. Start a membership club, where much like a public radio station, people can make automatic regular donations to the shelter.

The current shelter board members said they already trying to take some of these steps. We hope they do. And we hope some exceptional business people will step forward to help finally put this shelter on more solid financial footing.

It would be a huge service to the animals and to Taos residents.

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