The Cold Hard Facts – Budgeting for Non-Profits

rachel March 16, 2012 0

Running a non-profit is very similar to running your home.  Your animal non-profit is only as good as it’s money is handled.  Every day you hear of a business going bankrupt, and every day a non-profit suffers the same fate.  As the steward of your non-profit, you must ensure that your organization doesn’t become an unfortunate static.  

I volunteer for a breed specific rescue that is tight on funds.  It started with good intentions and a lot of bad luck.  They attended a puppy mill auction in which at the end of the day there was a lot of dogs who would be killed if they weren’t purchased.  Even though the dogs were not “their breed”, the kindhearted people from the rescue took the dogs.  Now, all of a sudden, a new rescue had a full house, and the overwhelming task of caring for and adopting out all of these dogs.  Also, the breed of these dogs wasn’t part of their mission statement and their volunteer base didn’t know much about them.  Then, to top it off, they recently had a lot of bad luck with very sick dogs who needed extensive vet care and specialists.  As a result, the rescue was out of funds and couldn’t reimburse their foster homes for the costs they occurred from taking care of their animals.  Now I would never say that the group should have left those dogs as they needed homes, too, but they still struggle to this day to get traction and pay off their bills.

Another example would be to look at some government agencies, such as municipal animal shelters/animal controls, they constantly run out of funds, especially in larger cities and counties, and make pleas for funding and donations.  My local county shelter regularly makes these requests.  However, a quick check shows they have an operating budget of over half a million dollars and they return extra funds they didn’t use to the general fund each year.  Despite this, they still campaign for funding to cover vet expenses covered, etc.  

Here are some clear tips to help you run your non-profit as a business and budget wisely:

  1. A comprehensive budget is a must.  It must be developed based on your funding and how many animals you can realistically take in, house, feed, vet, etc. 
  2. For the long term stability of your rescue, no matter how many animals pull at your heart strings, if you don’t have the resources to support them, you must refuse them, transfer them out to another partner organization, adopt out more, or if you’re a kill shelter you must make difficult decisions.  
  3. If you’re not good at numbers and budgets you MUST, MUST, MUST find a money “nerd” who will keep you in line and make sure your heart doesn’t override your head. 

While it may seem like a good idea to help those few extra animals even though you can’t afford it, you could wind up going bankrupt and missing the opportunity to save hundreds of other animals as a result.    

Not having budgeting skills can also hurt your fundraising.  People want to give money to places they are confident will be good stewards of their funds.  If you aren’t able to pay your bills, or mislead your donors of your financial situation, you create doubt that your organization can weather the storm.  This will reduce donations and therefore make it harder to create realistic budgets. 

In short, I’d say that if you want your animal non-profit to be successful, you must take a step back from the animals and sit down with your board and treasurer to develop a realistic budget for your long-term stability… and then stick to it!  I’d love to hear your ideas and strategies you’ve used to run your non-profit, feel free to comment below!

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