Tag Archive | "Kitsap Humane Society audit"

A Talk with Kitsap Humane Society Interim Director Eric Stevens

After the loss of its widely respected Executive Director, Sean Compton, in January, an aftermath of controversy and resignations by other major leaders within the organization dogged KHS throughout the spring. Some of its volunteers and donors pulled out as well, and with public pressure its board turned over much of its membership to newcomers.

Results released in late July of an investigation into alleged misconduct by board members found no misdealings but did point to weaknesses with internal governance and controls.

Neglect case rescue Charlie needs a home.

Neglect case Charlie needs a home.

Since then, the organization, run by Interim Executive Director Eric Stevens, who lives on Bainbridge Island, has sought to stabilize KHS, expand the board, and gradually bring in new management to fill key vacancies.

Last week KHS released a sustainability plan in response to the recommendations outlined in the external audit as it continues to work toward regaining public trust, donor support, and internal well-being for its staff, board, and, most importantly, the animals it is dedicated to care for.

I talked with Stevens about the changes and goals at KHS.

About the audit report, he said, “Overall it seemed like a fair assessment. We’re certainly glad that they found no misconduct, but we take seriously the recommendations. We plan to implement all of these recommendations and had already begun to make some of them before the audit results came out. I think they are all logical, commonsense, best-practice concepts in nonprofit administration and governance. Some of the things were obvious to me when I walked in, most obviously the need for better communication between board and staff, which we’ve been working on quite a bit. The staff seems very happy about that. Eight new members have joined the board since April and two others  joined in 2011. We now have 13 members total. Last month the board threw a party for staff, providing and preparing the food. We’re having informal discussions between board members and staff, with staff explaining day-to-day operations, like what exactly happens when an animal is brought into receiving.”

Becks the parakeet needs a home.

Becks the parakeet needs a home.

Stevens pointed out that KHS had almost 1,000 more animal intakes in the first half of 2012 than they had in the same period in 2011. And they’ve re-homed almost all of those “extra” animals. When I asked him why he thinks there have been so many more animals this year, he pointed to several factors.

“First, we’ve been doing a huge publicity reachout, including an adoption challenge between July and October. Second, word is out more than ever about our low euthanasia rate, so people are not fearful that if they surrender an animal it will be put to sleep. A third factor may be the economy. We don’t know for a fact, but one might surmise that some people are feeling forced to surrender or abandon.”

Stevens continued, “Another factor is our kitten spay/neuter program, which has been very successful, with people bringing in a tremendous number of litters. It’s a double-edged sword for us. We want every animal to have a wonderful home. Not everyone is legitimately able to care for their pets. That’s sad, but it’s the reality that all shelters have to deal with. It is a byproduct of being a safe no-kill operation.”

German Shepherd Lucy needs a home.

German Shepherd Lucy needs a home.

I asked Stevens how KHS is handling its huge increase in animal intakes. “We’re involving key staff in taking steps to be more efficient in promoting adoptions,” he said. “We changed our intake procedure so that surrendered animals are spayed/neutered within 24 hours instead of three days so they can be adopted more rapidly, reducing the average stay of animals. We’ve set up a new holding area for kittens that come in. They had been in the hallway, exposing them to disease. This has improved their health, reduced the need for veterinary care, and led to more rapid adoptions. We’re working to increase the number of foster homes to help manage the numbers in the shelter. We’re also creating new promotions, such as waiving adoption fees for animals 7 years and older. This has been successful; animals that had been here a long time have been adopted out.”

Over the past few years, KHS has taken significant steps to become a more progressive shelter, with a specific focus on reducing its euthanasia rate. In 2008 that figure was 18 percent. Today KHS maintains a 6 percent euthanasia rate, one of the lowest in the country among open-admission shelters, a trend the organization aims to maintain.

Stevens discussed the need for more donations and volunteers: “During the turmoil earlier this year we saw donations go down. After an appeal in June, we raised more money than last year’s appeal did. Improving our communications with stakeholders is bringing donors back, but we continue to need more hands-on and financial support.”

Mandoza needs a home.

Mandoza needs a home.

“As we began putting in place tighter controls, improved oversight, and new procedures, one of the things we determined was that long-range budgeting tools and a fully sustainable business model were lacking,” said Stevens.

“Previous leadership did a great job launching innovative programs that helped lower the euthanasia rate to exceptional levels, but part of that progress was funded through one-time gifts and bequests,” Stevens said. “Our task now is to ensure the sustainability of the KHS mission and our life-saving services. We need to take decisive steps and secure all of the ongoing funding needed to ensure that KHS remains one of the more progressive animal shelters in the country.”

These steps include reducing budgeted expenses by about 4 percent while seeking to increase fundraising by $200,000 per year. The total KHS budget is around $2.3 million, less than a third of which is generated through government contracts, an amount that has declined in recent years.

“We’re relying on our supporters to help us continue these life-saving efforts,” Stevens said. “We know our community is passionate about the work we do, so we hope they will support our plans to sustain the great progress that’s been made.”

KHS logoAs part of the organization’s expanded fundraising efforts, KHS recently hired Larry Bleich of Gig Harbor as director of development and marketing, a position vacant since March. “Bleich has an extensive development background, which includes leading fundraising expansion at the Arizona Humane Society, where he was admired by board, donors, and staff,” Stevens explained. “He has a track record of growing fundraising, which is exactly what we need to do.”

Additionally, the KHS board of directors has opted to retain Stevens as interim executive director for at least another year. Board President Rosemary Shaw said the decision was unanimous and added that Stevens volunteered to take a pay cut.

“Right now, we need stability. This is not the time to start recruiting a permanent executive director,” she said. “Stevens brings strong business acumen, nonprofit leadership, and fundraising experience, as well as a passion for our mission. We’re confident his leadership will help strengthen our finances and operations while we work toward applying the recommendations included in the audit.”

Stevens told me, “I love this place. I love the deep caring and passion for the animals displayed by the staff and volunteers.”

KHS’s annual auction/dinner fundraiser, Animal Krackers, is Saturday, September 29. Learn more.

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Images courtesy of Kitsap Humane Society.

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An Exodus, Audit, and Interim Executive Director at the Kitsap Humane Society

With the resignation this week on March 20, 2012, of Kitsap Humane Society (KHS) Public Relations & Development Director Abby Ouimet, the organization has lost three of four directors in less than two months.

Ouimet’s resignation came on the heels of that of Animal Welfare Director Stacey Price, who resigned from KHS less than a week earlier, on March 14. Both women were highly regarded by the community and their peers for the innovations and commitment they brought to the organization, and both left citing irreconcilable differences with the Board of Directors, which they outlined in a 14-page letter issued by their attorney on February 27, 2012. They along with KHS donor and volunteer Heidi Wakefield, who also initiated the letter, called for numerous changes at KHS, including the reinstatement of former Executive Director Sean Compton, the resignations of Board Members Karyn Kline and Hazel Bellinger, and investigation of alleged misconduct by the Board.

Abby Ouimet

Abby Ouimet.

In the wake of Compton’s departure, which Ouimet calls a firing, other staff members have left KHS too, adding up to an exodus of approximately 10 percent of the organization’s employees, as well as an unknown number of volunteers and donors. Since Compton left KHS in late January, the organization’s Board has been nothing short of besieged with questions and accusations.

I spoke at length yesterday with Interim Executive Director Eric Stevens, who responded to my email with a prompt phone call and a profuse willingness to talk. He joined KHS on February 15, leaving his position at The Bloedel Reserve as their Fundraising Development Director. Stevens has an extensive background working for respected nonprofits as both an Executive Director and an Interim Executive Director.

To help with management and reorganizing at KHS, Stevens has hired on an interim basis Robin Simons, who he told me also has long-time experience working with nonprofits both locally and nationally. Both Stevens and Simons reside on Bainbridge Island, where Sean Compton also lives.

Stevens acknowledged that “the Board’s silence has likely fueled more questions, and that has been unfortunate.” He explained to me that he sees three main “buckets” of issues facing the KHS Board:

  1. The need to expand and diversify itself;
  2. The need to change its relationship with staff, adding more visibility between the two; and
  3. The need to investigate allegations of conflicts of interest and mismanagement among some of its members.

To address these issues, Stevens believes the Board “has to step aside and have outside input.” To that end, he helped select a company to perform an internal audit of KHS and, as he put it, “separate fact from fiction.” Stevens and the Board interviewed 4-5 firms to perform the audit. They turned down a local firm they were about to hire after discovering a conflict of interest in which a board member and employee of the firm knew each other personally. Ultimately, they ended up hiring a company in Bellevue, Berntson Porter & Company, to conduct the audit, which is scheduled to start next week and take approximately 60 days.

Eric Stevens.

Eric Stevens.

Stevens explained that the purpose of the audit is to determine whether there was wrongdoing by the Board, either illegal or unethical, and to provide recommendations for improvement at the Board and management level, which the organization is obligated to put into practice. He said, “As soon as the audit is completed, KHS will share the results with the media and public.”

In the meantime, Stevens said he is working hard to “help the Board and organization navigate.” He pointed out that there is value in an organization being challenged, and he asks the community to “be patient and reserve judgment” until the results of the audit are complete.

“Day to day, the shelter is still operating—intakes, adoptions, and surgeries. . . . I am most concerned about the animals and staff,” said Stevens. When I asked him about the current morale at KHS, he said morale is low but added, “We have a passionate, dedicated, talented staff. While morale has been hit by all the turmoil and change, we are also asking staff who are here to be ‘part of the solution’ and bring everything they can to make Kitsap Humane Society a stronger place going forward. I have confidence that with the support of our staff, volunteers, donors, board, and community, we will move forward, and continue to be (as we have been) one of the outstanding animal shelters in the U.S.”

Stevens went on to say that he believes the Board is taking constructive steps right now to improve things at KHS. Board Secretary Rosemary Shaw is poised to replace Karyn Kline as Board President, effective March 24, 2012. The current 8-member Board is looking to expand to 15 members and says it is actively recruiting new members. But Stevens cautioned that it would be premature and injudicious to remove Board members before the audit is complete.

Sean Compton and friend.

Sean Compton and friend.

For Abby Ouimet and Stacey Price, change at KHS did not come fast enough. In an email to Stevens announcing her resignation, Ouimet said she felt she had been “targeted” since sending the attorney letter. She continued, “I like to conduct myself with integrity, honesty and sincerity when asking people to invest in our mission. Sean and Stacey made that easy. Ever since Sean was let go, it’s been a battle field. I have had several phone calls and meetings with many of our supporters and they all have expressed the same concerns and outrage that I have passed onto you, yet the Board has done NOTHING to talk to these people or treat them with regard. I find that unacceptable.”

About Ouimet, Stevens told me, “I could see that Abby was conflicted; it was affecting her work,” adding that he respected her decision to move on. That sentiment was made clear in tense email exchanges between Stevens and Ouimet before her resignation.

For her part, Ouimet told Stevens in her resignation letter that she felt she could not “work effectively with [him].” She concluded by saying, “I wish KHS success and hope the mission does not change. With the exception of the last two months, this was my dream job and I am grateful to Sean for the opportunity.”

This Saturday, March 24, 2012, KHS is holding its annual public Board meeting starting at 3:30 p.m. at the Silverdale Community Center at 9729 Silverdale Way NW. The meeting place and time were changed to accommodate more public participation. It will begin with a public forum, before which individuals may sign up upon arrival to speak or ask questions. To submit comments or questions in advance, members of the public should contact Eric Stevens at executivedirector@kitsap-humane.org. You can contact KHS at www.kitsap-humane.org.

 

Photos courtesy of Eric Stevens and the Kitsap Humane Society.

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