5-Minute Interview: Howard Baskin, chairman, Big Cat rescue
FS: Any major difficulties or setbacks you’ve faced along the way? Things you would do differently with your fundraising?
HB: One year at the Fur Ball we made a poor decision on meal choice at the ball and got complaints. Learned a lesson, and since then the meal has gotten rave reviews.
We dabbled in direct mail briefly. But even though we had great success in terms of return on the small mailings we did, for the reasons above we decided not to expand the program.
We have not ever done anything that caused us to lose money or have any other negative impact that I can recall.
FS: What advice would you give to organizations similar to yours, in size and annual operating budget?
HB: I am not sure our experience and strategy would work universally — it may be heavily dependent on the nature of our mission. I am tempted to say focus on the Web; it is the future. Learn how to appear when people search. Make sure your content is engaging and makes people want to pass on your site to others.
But this is probably much easier for us than for most because the cats are so engaging and give us a constant source of content. This may not be good advice for someone fighting a disease or a social ill.
FS: How many employees do you have?
FS: Do you have any employees strictly devoted to fundraising?
Additional thoughts from Howard Baskin:
For 10 years Carole and her daughter operated the sanctuary with only three paid staff and very limited marketing or fundraising. The sanctuary ran deficits every year. She funded by operating a real estate business. The loss of her husband in 1997 and the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and plummeting tourism created times of intense stress that they managed through. In 2002 and 2003, the sanctuary operated roughly at breakeven. In 2003 public donations were only $107,000 and tour revenue was $190,000.