An Interview With Jane Hoffman, President and Chairwoman of the Board of Directors, The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals
The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC's Animals was founded in 2002. Members of the animal law committee at the New York City Bar Association initially contacted (then newly elected) Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s transition team. At the time, the euthanasia rate at the city shelters was 74 percent, and it was clear a new approach to animal welfare was needed. After initial talks, the alliance organized as a public-private partnership with the City of New York, but its funding is 100 percent private. Mayor’s Alliance works with 160+ nonprofit animal rescue groups and shelters in the NYC area, ranging from the ASPCA to neighborhood-based rescue groups.
More than 41,000 animals enter Animal Care & Control in NYC each year. Working with the groups and shelters that participate in the Mayor’s Alliance, the organization has succeeded in reducing the euthanasia rate at its city animal shelters from 74 percent to 33 percent between 2002 and 2009.
FundRaising Success: How do you fund your mission?
Janet Hoffman: Our largest funder is Maddie’s Fund, The Pet Rescue Foundation, a family foundation funded by Workday and PeopleSoft founder Dave Duffield and his wife, Cheryl.
In addition to funding from Maddie’s Fund, we receive a generous grant from the ASPCA, as well as grants from several other foundations and organizations. We are also very appreciative of much-needed contributions from individuals.
FS: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces as far as fundraising is concerned? How do you overcome them?
JH: The euthanasia rate in NYC was so high when the Mayor’s Alliance was first formed that we had little time to focus on fundraising. We received several generous grants at the start of our work that allowed us to focus on the task at hand. Over time, we’ve needed to move fundraising more toward the center of our efforts, which means changes to our website, a focus on social media and marketing — and a general shift in our thinking. It’s been an adjustment for all of us, but we’re highly motivated to build on the success we’ve achieved so far and not allow a slide backward.
We are also working to diversify our funding stream. We have had the benefit of generous grants that have been renewed annually to date, but we recognize the need to widen our support base, particularly in light of the economic challenges that all funders are facing.
We are also recognizing that many people bond with and donate to organizations that they can be a part of in ways that don’t involve money. We are not a shelter and have a small staff, so reaching out to supporters and offering opportunities for broader involvement has been a challenge. Barbara Tolan, our coordinator of events and training, has been working on creative ways to engage volunteers in our work.
FS: Do you foresee any big changes in the way you reach potential donors and other supporters in the near future?
JH: We are currently redesigning our website and shifting toward using technology (including social media) to more actively engage supporters and build stronger connections with current donors.
We want to make sure our supporters know more about how our programs are changing the lives of homeless animals in NYC every day. One example: The Picasso Veterinary Fund pays for out-of-the-ordinary medical expenses for dogs and cats taken in by our city shelters. Without this care, these cats and dogs might be euthanized, but after treatment for things like broken legs, malnutrition or diabetes, these pets are adopted into new families.
FS: How would you describe your fundraising philosophy?
JH: We look primarily to organizations and individuals that share our passion for animal welfare and the cats and dogs of NYC.
FS: How do you reach out to supporters and potential supporters in ways other than purely fundraising?
JH: We are on Facebook and Twitter and are looking to expand our focus on social media. We also publish three monthly e-newsletters: Out of the Cage (Mayor’s Alliance updates and general news), Picasso Veterinary Fund in Action (profiling animals saved through the work of the Picasso Veterinary Fund) and Eartips (focused on stray community cats and trap-neuter-return).
We were also contacted about a year ago by a group of young, creative professionals with a passion for animal welfare in NYC. They have organized as “TAILS of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC” and to date have held two terrific fundraisers for us. The first was at an art gallery in Soho last spring. In one night, their efforts raised money for a month-long subway advertising campaign promoting shelter adoption that resulted in 72,000,000 impressions.
We also offer “strength training” classes to the shelters and rescue groups that participate in the Mayor’s Alliance. We recently had a class on social media, and an upcoming class will focus on grant writing. We have a 10-year strategic plan, and one of our core objectives is to strengthen the effectiveness and efficiency of the groups and shelters that participate in the Mayor’s Alliance.
FS: Can you describe a recent successful fundraising effort?
JH: The Mayor’s Alliance has teamed up with Susan Kaufman, a lawyer and the founder the Animal Relief Fund (ARF): a nonprofit supplying pet food to human food pantries in NYC and Long Island. Pet food isn’t covered by food stamps, and many struggling pet owners in the area faced surrendering their pets to a shelter when they weren’t able to buy pet food. Through the great work of ARF, many cash-strapped New Yorkers have been able to feed their pets and keep their family (two- and four-legged) together during hard times.ARF’s partnership with the Mayor’s Alliance helped to spread the word about this much-needed effort.
The PETCO Foundation, a Mayor’s Alliance supporter, recognized the invaluable work ARF has undertaken and began a pet food drive at PETCO stores in NYC and Long Island. As part of PETCO’s “We Are Family Too” program, food donated and collected in PETCO stores in New York City will be distributed by ARF’s partner, Food Bank For New York City, and food donated and collected in Nassau and Suffolk with be distributed by ARF’s partner, Long Island Cares. By working with area food banks, ARF hopes to achieve maximum distribution of pet food to pet-owning families in need.
FS: Any major difficulties or setbacks you’ve faced along the way? Things you would do differently with your fundraising?
JH: The economy has impacted most nonprofits. At a time when funders may have less money to donate, there are also more pets in need. People lose their jobs and aren’t able to afford their apartments or food. Pets lose their homes and their families at greater rates when the economy turns down.
FS: What advice would you give to organizations similar to yours, in size and annual operating budget?
JH: We’ve found that social-media outreach can have an impact far beyond the expected. We recently treated a severely neglected dog through the Picasso Veterinary Fund. Joey had been found tied to a bench in Far Rockaway. He was malnourished and was suffering from a horrific case of demodectic mange that was so advanced that his hair follicles had ruptured. A kind woman in the U.K. heard about Joey through Twitter and featured him on her blog, along with a plea for donations for his care. A group in Texas that holds toy drives for shelter animals was also moved by his story and sent a toy for him to help him feel better as he heals.