How to Build an Animal Shelter (and other fundraising tips)

January 7, 2013

How to Build an Animal Shelter (and other fundraising tips)

Q&A with HSTT's Stephanie Jensen-Nistler

In a unique and very cool partnership with the Town of Truckee, the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe broke ground last June on a new animal shelter. The new shelter will replace their existing 1,000 square foot kennel, which was built in 1998 by the Town of Truckee as a temporary holding kennel for abandoned, seized, and rescued dogs and cats. Designed to accommodate current and future needs, the new shelter will include real-life rooms for dogs, colony-style cat rooms, an education center, and a spay/neuter clinic. It is scheduled to open this fall.

I recently sent a few questions about the new shelter and non-profit fundraising to Stephanie Jensen-Nistler, HSTT’s Executive Director.

1. You broke ground this fall on a new animal shelter in Truckee, how is the construction coming along?

Fantastic! The construction team, which is led by K7 Construction, along with our Construction Manager, Rich Wagner from R&D Professionals, Inc., has made the process very smooth and enjoyable. Every member of our overall team has worked very hard to keep costs down and the project on schedule to open September 2013.

2. The majority of the money raised for the shelter was through private donations received during a multi-year capital campaign. How much money has been raised so far? How much is still needed?

The overall cost of the shelter is projected to be approximately $6.8 million. We have raised just over $2.6 million and still need approximately $800,000 to complete our share of the project expenses. As our partner in constructing and operating this shelter, the Town of Truckee is covering the other half of the construction costs.

3. What lessons did you learn during the capital campaign process? Any surprises?

Our biggest surprise had more to do with construction than the capital campaign, although the two are closely linked. When the construction bids came in about $2 million over estimates, we were more than surprised…we were shocked. But, after we took a few days to process everything, we realized that going back to the drawing board and pushing a new shelter back to some indefinite date was not an option – our community needed a new animal shelter too much to wait any longer.  We decided to dig our heels in, and with the tremendous support of the Town of Truckee, the construction contract was signed, and we were on our way.

As for the capital campaign, I don’t think it’s fair to say I was surprised by the generosity of our community because I’ve been fortunate enough to witness it time and time again over the years. But I have been overwhelmed with gratitude from the amazing acts of kindness we have witnessed, from kids who have given up their birthday gifts in exchange for a donation to the shelter or have worked tirelessly making and selling lemonade, wallets, cookies, and treats to raise money all the way to the amazing family who contributed $1 million toward making our dream of a new animal shelter a reality. It’s been an amazing experience so far, and I’m thrilled to have been a part of it every step of the way.  

4. Speaking of fundraising, HSTT does a great job raising money, what do you think your key to success is?

It doesn’t hurt that our cause centers around adorable four-legged fluff balls who provide nothing but unconditional love. But in addition to that, we’ve worked very hard to earn our good reputation in this community. We are committed to helping the animals who cannot help themselves.

But, we’re also committed to helping people. Our Community Spay/Neuter Programs help people get their pets fixed who cannot otherwise afford it; our Pet Pantry program provides free pet food to anyone who needs it; our Pet Assisted Therapy Program brings amazing animals to visit people in our local hospital who may be missing their pets at home; and our Read Up For Fun and Humane Education programs help kids in our community further develop their reading skills and knowledge regarding being safe and responsible with pets.

Not to mention the fact that our community LOVES animals and cares deeply about their health and well being.

5. When you were first hired by the board of directors in 2004 you were the sole employee and HSTT’s yearly operating budget was approximately $150,000. Today,  HSTT has four fulltime employees and a yearly operating budget of $520,000. In a community with hundreds of non-profits competing for visibility, and ultimately, dollars, do you have any tips for other organizations looking to grow?

My first recommendation would be to get out there. Events can be really hard on staff and volunteers, but ultimately you have to get in front of your community as much as possible in order to share your mission and gain their support.

6. People often comment about how many events HSTT puts on each year, yet common theory in fundraising is that the ROI on events isn’t worth the effort. How does HSTT create successful events and do you find your efforts are worthwhile?

I’m a big believer in special events. The number and size of events an organization holds depends on their manpower and ability to pull them off. Fortunately for HSTT, we have a large number of volunteers who are eager to give some of their time in exchange for the knowledge that they’re helping save animals. Of course these events can be great for raising money, and that’s typically the driving force behind many of them, but they can be so much more than that. For us, events are an outlet to find our pets new homes, meet new people who may become volunteers or donors, and to share our multi-faceted mission with our community.

7. Do you find there are any specific challenges to running a successful non-profit that are unique to the Truckee-Tahoe area?

Absolutely. Our entire community is affected by seasonality and tourism so when things are good, they’re good for all of us. But when the weather challenges us and tourism is affected, we’re all impacted. There is a trickle down effect, and non-profits are not exempt from those difficulties.

8. Any additional fundraising or marketing tips for other local non-profits that you’d like to share?

Well, there are so many amazing non-profits in our community successfully raising money and doing incredible work, I’m not sure that I can give them any tips they don’t already know, but for me the most important thing is optimism. If you believe in your team and you believe in your cause, anything is possible.

9. Your biggest fundraiser of the year, Black Tie & Tails (a formal gala at the Ritz Carlton for people and their canine companions), is coming up on February 16th… are tickets still available?

Yes! Tickets can be purchased on our website or by calling 530.587.5948, but they will sell out, so we recommend getting them soon.


Photo credit: Court Leve Photography