Starting an animal shelter is a great way to make a positive impact in the world. It’s also a rewarding experience that can be both challenging and fun.
When you start an animal shelter, you’ll be helping animals in need find loving homes. Your goal will be to help them get adopted out as quickly as possible so that they don’t have to stay at your shelter for long periods of time. You’ll also want to provide them with veterinary care when necessary, which could include vaccinations or spaying/neutering surgeries.
Opening an animal shelter may be incredibly fulfilling since you can observe the difference you are making in the lives of these animals every day. It not only boosts your self-esteem but can also instill a sense of purpose in the staff at your shelter.
If you have determined that this is something you want to undertake, you must realize that there will be a process involved. Obviously, you will experience an emotional roller coaster during this process, but you will be delighted with the end result.
Getting Certified as a Shelter
If you’re a nonprofit organization that provides shelter and care to animals, you might be interested in becoming a certified animal shelter.
The good news is that it’s not too hard to get started! The first thing you’ll need to do is check your organization’s status with the IRS. You can do this by entering your information on their website and searching for “501(c)(3)” on their search bar. If the designation pops up, you’re good to go!
Next, make sure your organization fits one of three categories: humane society, animal control agency, or animal rescue organization. If it does not fit any of these categories but still provides shelter for animals (such as in a foster home), it may still qualify for certification as long as it has been in operation for at least one year before applying for certification with the Humane Society of America (HSA).
If you are not yet a certified nonprofit organization, you should get the process started.
The 501(c)3 Process
There are two ways to become a 501c3 non-profit. The first way is through the IRS’s online process. The second way is by filing with your state’s Secretary of State office.
If you choose to go the online route, you’ll need to create a free account on the IRS website, which will require that you provide personal information like your Social Security number and date of birth. Once you’ve created an account, you can fill out Form 1023-EZ and submit it electronically.
If you choose to go through your state’s Secretary of State office instead (which requires more steps and paperwork), you’ll have to register as a business entity in your state within 30 days of filing Form 1023-EZ with the IRS, which can take up to 90 days if they request additional information from you or if they reject your application.
Choosing 501(c)3 Board Members
When you file to become a 501(c)3 organization, you will be asked for a list of board members that will become a part of your animal shelter.
Finding board members for a nonprofit can be tricky. The best board members are passionate about your cause, and they will help you achieve your goals by providing valuable insight, networking, and financial support. You want to find people who have the time, energy, and resources to be consistent with their involvement in the board. You also want people who are willing to commit to your mission and vision.
Four tips for finding great board members include:
- Determine what skills your nonprofit needs most
- Find out how many hours per week each person is willing to commit
- Set expectations from the beginning about what will be required of them (i.e., attend meetings)
- Make sure you have a process for recruiting new board members on an ongoing basis (i.e., posting on social media or sending an email blast) so the board reflects your community’s demographics and interests over time
Once you have a list of possibilities, it’s time to start reaching out and asking people if they’d like to join your board. You can do this by sending an email or making a phone call (or both).
Make sure that you’re really clear about what being on the board means—it’s not just going to meetings once in a while! Board members should be involved in all aspects of running your nonprofit: fundraising, recruiting volunteers and staff members, helping out with projects, etc.
Find a Location
When searching for the ideal location for an animal shelter, several factors must be considered.
First, you must ensure the area’s safety and security. You do not want your animals to be at risk of injury from humans or other animals. You also want it to be central enough so that people can quickly locate it, but not so close that the animals’ noise may disturb nearby residents.
Additionally, you must ensure that your facility has plenty of natural light, as animals require regular exposure to sunshine to remain healthy. If you are unable to include windows in the design of your building, try installing skylights or providing artificial lighting throughout the day so that your animals can acquire their daily dose of vitamin D.
Finally, keep in mind that pets are family members who need a comfortable atmosphere in which they may feel at ease; if this requires extra effort in designing with plush carpets and cozy furniture, then this should be an added expense.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Here are some questions to ask yourself when taking a look at prospective shelter locations:
- Is the area easily accessible by car or public transportation?
- How many people live nearby? Do they have pets? Have they ever been adopted from a shelter before? Where was it and what did you like or dislike?
- Is there a lot of foot traffic in the area? Do schools pass through it on their way to class? Are there any businesses nearby that might benefit from having a marketing opportunity?
- Is there ample parking near the shelter? Do you have enough space in your budget to purchase extra land/buildings if needed?
Before you request funding, you should make a list of everything that needs to be done in order to get your shelter up and running. For example, you’ll need money for the following:
- Construction of the shelter
- Equipment like cages, food bowls, and toys
- Payroll for staff members
- Salaries for yourself (if you’re going to be working at the shelter)
Once you’ve listed everything that needs funding, add up the total cost of all those items. This will give you a good estimate of how much money it’s going to take to launch your animal shelter. If the total amount seems too high or too low, adjust your list accordingly.
Types of Funding
There are two ways to approach funding: public funding and private funding. Public funding comes from local and state governments, which means that it’s going to be harder to get than private funds. The good news? Public funders don’t tend to require as much documentation or oversight as private funders do. Private funders are often more flexible in how they approach their decisions, but they will usually require more paperwork from an applicant than public funders do.
If you still don’t have enough money to start an animal shelter, consider raising funds through crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe or Kickstarter. These websites allow people with ideas they want to turn into reality to create pages and explain their needs in order to raise funds. They also often have social media support so that friends and family can share the campaign with other people who might be interested in supporting it.
Once you have a budget to work with, the next step involves hiring staff. You’ll need staff to help you run the shelter. In addition to caring for the animals, they will also be responsible for fundraising as well as helping find homes for the animals.
You can place an ad on Indeed or another job site with a description similar to the following:
“We’re seeking a friendly, energetic person who can help us care for our animals and keep them happy while they wait for their forever homes. You will be responsible for making sure the animals have everything they need, including food and water, and that they get plenty of exercise when they’re not in their kennels. You’ll also be responsible for keeping the shelter clean and organized, as well as helping our volunteers with any tasks needed at the shelter. You will work directly with our clients to ensure they have all the information they need about caring for their new pets.
If you have experience working with dogs or cats (or both!), that would be helpful, but it’s not required—we’re willing to train the right person! And if you love animals as much as we do, that’s even better! We want someone who will take pride in their work because we truly believe that animals deserve only the best care possible.”
Making the ad engaging and explaining exactly what you’re looking for will help you attract the right people. Take some time to write out what you’re looking for in every position.
Start Bringing in the Animals
Some shelters have the space to house animals on-site, but many do not. In this case, you will want to find a facility with enough room for your shelter’s needs. Look for a place that is large enough to hold at least 20 animals and has access to running water and electricity. If possible, try to find an area near public transportation so that it is easy for people who cannot drive or do not have their own vehicles to access your shelter.
If you are starting a no-kill animal shelter, then there will be times when you have more animals than space available for them at your facility. In these cases, consider contacting local vet clinics and shelters in order to find homes for the pets. You may also consider requesting volunteer foster homes in the event your shelter becomes overcrowded.
Share Your Shelter
The best way to advertise your animal shelter is to make it as easy as possible for people to find you. Don’t just rely on word-of-mouth and social media; that’s not always enough. You need a website, and you need to make sure it’s optimized for mobile devices.
If you don’t have a website yet, that’s okay. You can use one of the many free sites like Wix, WordPress, or Squarespace to create a simple site with photos of the animals in your shelter. Add a contact button so visitors can get in touch with you if they want more information about adopting or volunteering at your shelter.
Once you have a website set up, you will want to be certain people know how to find it. Make sure you’ve added your site address to all flyers, posters, and brochures related to your animal adoption campaign. Also, post links on social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter so people can click through from those platforms directly onto your site without having to go through Google search results first.
Patience is Key
Starting an animal shelter is not for the faint of heart. You will need to be patient, you will need to be able to deal with a lot of different personalities, and you’ll have to be able to handle a lot of different situations. Most importantly, you need to know that if your shelter takes in any kind of animal, from dogs and cats, all the way down to chickens and ducks, you’re going to have an abundance of animals on your hands.
Staffers at an animal shelter see every side of humanity: they encounter people who are dedicated volunteers who come in every day after work; they deal with people who bring them their sick pets as quickly as possible so they can get them treated; they encounter people who leave their pets tied up out in front of stores (and don’t even bother getting out of their cars). It’s important for staff members at an animal shelter to be understanding and empathetic, not just because this experience makes them better equipped for dealing with difficult situations but also because it gives them access to other worlds that might otherwise remain closed off from them.
Starting an animal shelter is a lot of hard, but very rewarding work. If you’re passionate about helping animals and have the resources to do so, starting your own shelter may be the best option for you. Remember that there are many different types of shelters, so choose wisely before committing yourself to one particular type of organization. If you have decided you absolutely want to begin, there’s no better time than now to get started.
Application for Recognition of Exemption | Internal Revenue Service
How to Start a Rescue or Other Animal Nonprofit
Want to Start an Animal Shelter? – Petfinder
Shelter and Rescue Registration | Agriculture and Markets
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