Thursday, October 12, 2006

77. APL is going to the dogs

The Friendship Animal Protection League (APL) has been in the news lately, releasing information that it is in serious financial trouble. On Sunday, October 15, the APL held its annual membership meeting at the shelter, where it elects trustees and officers of the board. Concerned with the viability of the APL, my wife and I paid our dues, to become voting members, and attended the meeting. I debated whether or not to seek election to the board- in the end, deciding to see what direction the organization took before committing.

The meeting was attended by forty or so dedicated animal lovers, all which should be commended for their dedication in helping these homeless companions. Many of these volunteers donate their time and money to assist these animals in finding a blissful home. In addition to the laborious chores of cleaning cages and walking the dogs, they spend a lot of time helping with fundraising activities.

The non-profit protective league, based on the meeting we attended, seemed dangerously unorganized. The biggest shock for me was when David McClelland, the executive director, was unable to tell the membership exactly how many trustee positions were to be elected (until consulting his cheat sheet). How can an executive director not know how many trustees are to be elected at a membership meeting, especially considering that the trustees serve as his boss? Furthermore, it was disappointing to notice that many of the current trustees, not up for reelection, did not bother to attend the meeting- considering the state of the organization. After the election of what ended up to be six trustee positions, four officers, (and a "hanging chad" type discussion) a complete board of sixteen organizational trustees was put into place. The first challenge for this board will be to decide whether or not they have adequate leadership.

McClelland began the meeting with the notion that the shelter is broke. This is consistent with his statement to the Chronicle Telegram which reported that, "He (McClelland) stopped taking a paycheck in May - he made about $40,000 a year - and used his own money to pay APL staff last week." If this is the case, why did he and the board wait until October to make a public statement? The paper also reported that APL reserves ran out in September. Again, why do an executive director and his board just sit there and wait until they are out of money before making a public appeal. This delay puts the public in a tough spot, for now they have to decide whether or not to donate to what might be a "sinking ship." In other words, will my donation make a difference if the shelter is doomed to close?

Reviewing just the last two issues of the APL's newsletter also hinted at poor decision making on behalf of the APL's leadership. In the August issue, McClelland writes that he met with trustees and volunteers for a "Solutions Summit to review our financial problems and find a solution." He continues, "Of course, I reviewed the information in detail. This was a mistake. I should have told the group that we were broke but that this was not important." How is reviewing financial information with a Solutions Summit, dedicated to reviewing the financial problems, "a mistake"? How is it "not important"?

In the newsletter article he talks on two occasions about a "love miracle that will find us," and that losing the lease to Bingo, one of their most profitable fundraising events, as "God clobbering us on the head so that we could find a better place." Maybe God could have found them a better place, before the lease expired or within a month or two of its expiration? It sounds somewhat evangelical and a little desperate to me.

In the Chronicle Telegram, it says that the APL lost their Bingo lease in September. However, in the newsletter it states they lost their lease a year ago. Perhaps it was a year ago in September, and a convenient misuse of the facts as not to appear so delayed in their appeal. But it gets worse, as the October newsletter notes that, "Since people have been fighting over a plan to buy a party center and use it as a bingo hall; a plan to lease a bingo hall or doing something else to raise money quickly. Unfortunately, nothing has happened." The creative use of punctuation aside, it obviously puts forth the idea to its membership, and anyone that buys a newsletter, that this organization has had problems for a long time. Evidently, the recent financial problems were anticipated well in advance, and APL leadership has spent at least a year fighting over what to do. In the meantime, the organization has been sliding into financial difficulties. Finally, I do not think I have ever seen the "dirty laundry' between an executive director and his board shared in a community/membership letter.

The APL is a valuable resource to our community, but like any non-profit in today's competitive philanthropic market, it needs to show supporters that their donations will properly managed and utilized. There are a number of good causes and good organizations, including competing animal organizations, which donators will consider.

The challenge for the elected board is not only to rescue the APL from its financial difficulties, but also to decide if the management that created the financial hardship is capable of leading it out of it. Personally, I am skeptical.

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