"Let's save some dogs," they said. "It'll be fun," they said.
And on most days, yeah. Doing rescue, running a nonprofit part time -- most days, it's a super rewarding avocation.
But not always.
Here are ten things I wish I'd known starting out.
1. Learn to raise money.
This is the number one skill you probably don't have -- and must must must learn. That, or recruit someone who does know how to do it. But here's the big secret: raising money is not about raising money. It's about building community.
The real challenge is that many people who get into rescue do so because they have issues with being powerless in other areas of their lives. So they find a passion -- an admirable one! -- that gives them the ability to make decisions. That can cause some limitations in their ability to build communities.
If you recognize yourself in this description, then know that you can get better at working with others. But it will require sharing the power with others.
Which leads me to the next item.
2. Play nice with others.
Look, you don't have to like everyone you work with. But your peers and those who've gone ahead of you are your best sources of information, short cuts, and resources.
Be polite. Be courteous.
Never attribute to malice what can adequately explained by ignorance (quite often your own!)
3. There's tons of stuff you don't know.
The more you learn, the more you'll realize how much you don't know.
All at once, your vet will get infinitely wiser. So will your new rescue friends. If you're lucky, you'll come to understand how little you know.
Your rescue buddies can tell you that you can get custom dog tags from jpcooke.com for $38/100. That you can get nonprofit pricing on popular software programs through techsoup.com (and refurbished computers!)
They know the history of rescue in your community -- who's good, adequate, reckless, and dangerous. And they know where all the bodies are buried.
4. There's tons of stuff you DO know.
Conversely, you'll find out how much you DO know when you talk to your friends who're mere pet owners. You've seen things they've never even though about. Helped treat diseases they can't even spell. Worried about disasters that are mere distant headlines to them.
Remember, you were once like that. Ignorant of all the dangers, unaware that those cute little puppies are just tiny germ factories trying to die on you. You'll be constantly gasping when you see strangers walking tiny puppies out in public without worrying about parvo, people getting vaccines without even asking what brands, or paying for expensive heartworm pills when you know that $40 will get them a bottle of ivermect.
Resist the impulse to be a jerk. You were once that ignorant. Share your knowledge gently and kindly.
5. Use free resources.
First, sign up with techsoup.org. Second, check out this list of free stuff.
6. Pay for stuff you need.
Conversely, the saying, "It takes money to make money," applies to nonprofits as well. If you operate solely on donated services and freebies, you'll be waiting forever to get things done. That doesn't mean you have to pay top dollar for everything. You can get great service providers from places like upwork.com or onlinejobsph.com. If you're an obeythebeagle subscriber, you have access to an expert geek and professional design services, as well as coaching.
7. Cheap ain't worth it.
Don't confuse inexpensive with cheap.
Cheap stuff breaks and has to be replaced. Or endangers lives. Things like plastic clasps on collars, thin slip leads, off brand expired vaccines, and most of all -- cheap vet care. DO look for a bargain.
Don't skip on vet care though. It's fine to use generics but don't skip on meds because they're expensive. This is specially true with nail clippers.
8. Don't send dogs more than one day away unless you have resources in that distant area.
You're desperate to get some of them moving. I know. I understand. But the solution to that is on the front end, not the back end.
Control your intake. You cannot save them all. Have hard guidelines on how many you can take in. Have a policy something like, "When population is below 10 dogs, the Executive Director may make all Intake decisions. Over 10 dogs, the agreement of two board members is needed. Over 15 dogs, the full Board must approve any additional intakes. The Board intends that Group will not have more than 20 dogs in care at any one time. Exceptions may be made under unusual circumstances by vote of the full Board."
9. Stay focused on the mission.
You'll hear a lot of rescuers talk about, "my rescue." That's a serious problem because when you fall into thinking of it as your rescue, you tend to think it's about you.
It's not. If the group you run is a 501(c)(30 or state nonprofit corporation, it's not yours. The public gave your group the right to be tax exempt, and the public owns that group.
It's not yours. The rescue belongs to the people. You're just entrusted to run it.
10. There's enough for all of us.
Biggest mistake you can make is falling into the zero sum mindset. A donation to another organization isn't a loss to yours. There is truly enough work -- and enough resources -- for all of us.
In fact, when you work with other rescues, the end result is more than the sum of the parts. Cooperation is not additive -- it's exponential.
Use your Board. Get your Board to talk to other Boards. Great things can happen when nobody cares who gets the credit.
Well, that's it. There's more, of course, but I hope that gave you a few things to think about.
If you're a rescuer -- what do you wish you'd know when you were starting out?