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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
As 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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- Deer in Headlights at Public Meeting: Humane Society Board Loses Potential $500K Donation
- An Exodus, Audit, and New Interim Director at the Kitsap Humane Society
- Turmoil at Kitsap Humane Society Continues with Resignation of Animal Welfare Director
- Kitsap Humane Society Executive Director’s Departing Shockwave
Images courtesy of Kitsap Humane Society.