Episode 74 – Bonney Brown

74 Bonney Brown_FB

74 Bonney Brown_FB

Bonney Brown brings retail management experience and a background in art to her work for the animals. In her role with Humane Network Bonney works with organizations large and small across the country, helping them to save more lives and to become a vital presence in their communities. Bonney also launched the first online Animal Shelter Management Certificate Program with the University of the Pacific and currently is working with communities and shelters across Nevada both to increase lifesaving from shelters, and to enhance access to veterinary care in rural and underserved communities. Through this podcast, Bonney will share her advice for running successful organizations and engaging the community to save more lives.

Welcome to the Professionals in Animal Rescue podcast, where our goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This podcast is proudly sponsored by doobert.com. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Now, on with our show.

Bonney Brown brings retail management experience and a background in art to her work for the animals and her role with Humane Network. Bonney works with organizations large and small across the country, helping them to save more lives and to become a vital presence in their communities. Bonney started Grassroots, a nonprofit animal rescue organization in the 1990s. She worked for the Best Friends Animal Society on their national outreach, and she started as the chief executive for Nevada Humane Society, an open admission, no-kill shelter. Bonney also launched the first online animal shelter certificate program with the University of the Pacific, and is currently working with communities and shelters across Nevada, both to increase lifesaving from shelters and to enhance access to veterinary care and rural,  underserved communities. Through this podcast, Bonney will share her advice for running successful organizations and engaging the community to save more lives.

Hey, Bonney. Thanks for coming on.

Chris, it’s great to be here.

So you get to start us off by telling us a little bit about you and your background, and how you got in to rescue.

Sounds good. Well, I actually grew up in a family of animal rescuers. My father worked in Boston. He had a store and he would always manage to find stray dogs and cats. He would bring them home, my mother would patch them up, and we looked for homes for them. We also kept a fair number of them. I just grew up with animal rescue. I have to say though, I didn’t really ever think about it as a potential career or something I necessarily was going to spend a whole ton of my time doing until one night when I was driving home from work. I was working at a retail store as a manager. I was driving home and the headlights of the car caught this black kitten that was in the gutter eating some garbage or something. It was while I was looking for help for that kitten that I learned what – It was abundantly obvious to most of us now that most shelters that took in dogs and cats were euthanizing the majority of them. To me, that didn’t feel like a good outcome for this guy that I was trying to help. I started calling around, and finally I found a rescue group that was about 45 minutes away from me and agreed to help this kitten. I began volunteering for them. It was a group called All Paws Rescue.

I remember I would drive 45 minutes and volunteer in the shelter. I was trying to tell them that I could help with other stuff, but they really wanted mostly just people to help in the shelter, or maybe just stuff envelopes which are worthwhile things. Except, I kept feeling that I could do more to help you. I made a proposal to them for how we could expand what they were doing into my area, which was 45 minutes away. They were like, “Yes, no thanks. We’re busy enough.” I got together with a group of friends, a graphic designer, I found a veterinarian who was interested, an attorney friend, a CPA friend and we started a nonprofit in our area. That’s how I got into this side, by starting a rescue group in Massachusetts in 1990.

Wow. What was the name of that group that you started?

It’s called the Neponset Valley Humane Society, and it still goes on. I think mostly today it’s a spay/neuter group with a little bit of rescue on the side.

Very cool. What an interesting story as to how you got into this. Say you realize that, “I’ve got a lot more potential than just doing this.”

Yes, and it helped me as I’ve  gone along in my involvement in the field to realize, to really try to listen to what volunteers are capable of. They’re capable of a lot, and you need a lot more than people to walk dogs or foster kittens. You really do need people who have other skills as well. Those things are important. Don’t get me wrong, but just to be more open to people and where they’re at and what their skill set might be. There are people who love to help with fundraising even and yet groups don’t often think about engaging those folks.

Yes, you’re exactly right. I think that part of the goal of our podcasts as well is to help people understand there’s so many ways that you can help animals, whatever your skill set is. We want to inspire them and introduce them to all those ways to get involved.

Totally. I think that’s just great.

Tell us you’ve got just such an amazing background in terms of everything you’ve done. From there, just walk us through from 1990 until now, some of the different organizations you’ve worked for, and positions you’ve held.

Well, I was very intrigued by the no-kill movement and had become aware of Richard Avanzino at the San Francisco SPCA and work that he was doing there. I heard about this woman in Phoenix named Lynda Faro, who was starting the first ever no-kill directory. Her concept was that there were all these people everywhere doing things. The thing that you’re thinking about in a way she thought, “If I could just connect these people” and this was before everyone was on email and had access to the Internet. She gathered information from groups and printed a little directory that she shared with people. She started the first ever no-kill conference in 1995. I worked with Lynda and brought it to Massachusetts in 1997 and worked with her for quite a quite a long time. Through Lynda, I met the people at Best Friends and got a job at Best Friends Animal Society. I worked there for about six and a half years or so. I worked for Michael Mountain, who really, I think is brilliant and pioneered a lot of the fund raising techniques that shelters use today, you know, more positive stories and really focusing on thanking the donor instead of the really horrible-to-look-at photos and stuff like that. I worked for Alley Cat Allies for a while. I’ve known Becky Robinson since 1990. Another interesting story is Becky’s. Then the job opening occurred at Nevada Humane Society, I applied for it and fortunately they hired me.

I have say it was the hardest and most remarkable job of my entire life, running an animal shelter with the goal of creating a no-kill community. I’m eternally and ever will be grateful to the board of directors of Nevada Humane Society for giving me that opportunity. While I was there we started to get seed money requests because we were telling people about what we were doing and all these people were writing and calling. They want to visit and learn about how we did it in Washoe County Nevada. We just didn’t even have enough time to answer them. You felt awful because you’ve got animals coming in, and that’s got to be the top priority and communicating with the public. We decided to start Humane Network. My colleague, Diane Blankenburg and I, who’s another former Best Friends person, we began helping organizations all over the country with their live release rate and their outreach in order to really engage the community, which is just such an important aspect of what we do. We were approached by the University of the Pacific and helped them to create the first Animal Shelter Management Online course, which is still going. We’re very excited about that because leadership, I think, is another one of those challenges that that we face.

Yes. Definitely the industry as a whole where we are constantly looking for leaders, disruptors, innovators, and people. It’s funny when people – they feel like the traditional ways you have to be a veterinary person or you have to work in a shelter. Honestly, some of the best leaders come from other industries because they’re not constrained by the existing way that we do that.

What a great comment. Absolutely. I feel like my retail experience was invaluable in terms of running an animal shelter because it’s about customer service, and outreach really, engaging people in supporting what you’re doing. A store would close if you didn’t do that well, and it’s something that our field has great opportunity and potential to do still better.

Yes. I’m curious, I’m going to put you on the spot. What do you see as some of the biggest challenges that we have in animal welfare and animal rescue?

Yes. Well, as you know, there’s been a lot going for us as a field and made these huge strides in the last 20 years or so, but there are some substantial challenges I think, areas that as a field, we need to pay attention to. To me, the two biggest ones are this question of engagement, really engaging the public more in what we do. It’s surprising that there are still a lot of people who aren’t aware of the local organizations in their community. We need them and they need us, so putting effort into that is something that’s really important to me. The other one, I think, is that leadership issue. I loved what you said. I totally agree that, bringing people in from outside the field. There’s a lot to learn, but it’s really not rocket science. A smart person can learn about this field and can be successful. They would be bringing with them all skills from their previous profession, which is really a wonderful thing for the field. Those are the two for me, I think. Really engaging the community and cultivating leadership as we go forward.

Yes. You’ve mentioned community a couple of times and some of your responses. I want you to elaborate on that. What does that mean to you? Why is that so important?

Yes. Well, I feel that in order to help animals, we really have to be working with people. It’s an interesting challenge or contradiction, because so many people you talk to in the field they say, “Well, I really love animals and I kind of so so on people” but we really need people people in order to really help the animals. Years ago, Robin Star, who’s now retired from running the Richmond SPC, she had written a great article called “The Best Shelter is a Humane Community” and I thought, “What a great concept.” She’s absolutely right when you think about even the term humane society, which is a generic label as you well know. When you think about what it means, it really, at the heart of it is quite, it’s almost philosophical. It’s about building a more humane society. It isn’t just this group of people who wants to take care of animals. At its highest level we’re really putting that out there. We’re engaging a whole lot more people and getting a lot more people engaged with helping the cause that is so near and dear to our hearts.

Another person who’s really influential to me and my thinking about this community piece is Richard Avanzino. I remember early on when I was first getting in the field, I attended a conference and Richard was speaking and someone asked him a question and they said, “What is the key to fund raising?” We’re really struggling and he said, it was amazing, he said this three part thing he said, “Do good work, tell people about it, and ask them to help.” I just thought it was so brilliant. Since then, I’ve seen how important that is, and how really smart it was in being so concise. I’ve had people approach me and say, “My dream was to open a dog sanctuary and I want people to give me money. How do I get the money?” The first thing I tell them is that, “You have to start helping dogs.” Start helping dogs today and then you will be doing the good work. You can tell people about it and you can ask them to help. If you just have this idea, they may or may not. You come around to supporting you, but people who care about animals, by telling the stories, the real stories of the animals that we help you really engage people.

I feel like this power of stories is partially understood in our field, but not fully. When you think about it, way before we had books or the ability to write and share information with each other, people had stories. That’s how we passed down information from generation to generation and wisdom and information. We’re hard wired for stories. If we can identify those stories – and the thing that I noticed when you talk to people in the field, is they are doing so much great work every day. They’re saving so many dogs and cats and they have these wonderful, touching stories that just hit you right in the heart and really make you want to help. Yet they don’t even see them as remarkable because to them, it’s just all in a day’s work. Finding those stories and telling them with words and pictures, that’s really a huge key to getting people interested in what you’re doing.

Yes, it’s a really interesting point because I find so many organizations just post generic things. “We need more fosters. We need more volunteers.” It gets lost in the noise of social media.

Right. Yes, and social media has done amazing things for the field, but I feel like it isn’t the only way we need to be communicating with people. In fact, that’s one of the other challenges I see that groups have is when I talk about, increasing pet adoptions or increasing volunteers or engagement. People always say, “Oh we’re doing that.” Then when you say, “How often are you doing that, really?” It turns out they’re doing it like once in a while in order to really get someone’s attention. Marketers used to say people had to see or hear about you seven times before they took action. Now some experts say because of all of the information we’re bombarded with through television, the Internet, Facebook, and just our texts coming in constantly, you have to create even more impressions that you have to really be out there.

I tried to tell people you have to be absolutely relentless in your marketing and telling your story. This has to do with what you had pointed out before where we can really use people who maybe their interest isn’t getting up in bottle feeding kittens at 2 a.m., or walking dogs after they’ve worked, a long day at work. Maybe their interests really could be in helping us with the professional skills like marketing and media. Conventional media is still important. Getting in your local newspaper, and getting on a local radio talk show, those things are still important. I even feel like grassroots things like posters are not dead as far as a way to reach the public. The great thing is that once you have a great image that you could use on a poster, you can use that on Facebook. You can use it in a million different ways to tell your story and to engage people. Maybe, don’t just ask for volunteers to do foster. Maybe ask for a volunteer, graphic designer, or a volunteer writer who could help you take those great stories and would be able to pull them out of you because you’re doing this every day. You maybe don’t see how amazing it is, what the rescue that just occurred last week.

Yes, it’s a really great point because you almost become numb to it, right? These sensational stories and what’s happened, and the wonderful people that have donated time and money and all these other things to help these animals and like you said, that’s just all in a day’s work for people in and shelters. Sometimes they fail to notice how powerful that story could be.

Totally so. Absolutely. It’s really gold in terms of engaging other people and really, even so many people will feel and experience burn out too. When you can look back and see how remarkable what you did is, it really helps staff. It helps volunteers to feel good about it, too. When you’re really marketing and telling that story to the community.

Yes, I think it does. It all comes back to community, right? It’s like, what works in your community. If you’re a rural community, or are you a city, and where do people congregate? How do you reach that population? Sometimes I feel like people take that spray and pray methodology, right? We’re you post on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and you’re just expecting that people are going to hear you instead of saying, “Okay, what are the types of people we want to reach and how do we reach them? Where they’re best going to be found?” and it may not be on social media.

That’s a great comment, Chris. Very insightful. I totally agree and that may not be, one individual’s cup of tea. I always talk to people about partnering with people who have complementary skills. You’ve got the skills that you’ve got, but finding a partner, or multiple partners who care about the mission on a high level but maybe bring totally different skills and attitudes to it. That’s why I really have always worked to find other folks that have complementary skills to meet. We don’t need another person just like me. We need someone who can bring the things that I’m not great at to the table so that we can be really successful. If you look at a lot of even people we think of as business leaders, in the background there’s other folks that are right behind them and right beside them, helping them with the areas that they’re not really that great at.

Yes, I mean, one of my skills is technology, and that’s why I put my skills in the giant pot. It’s like a potluck right, for animal rescue. I’m in technology. I’m not a marketing guy, but if my technology skills can help out an organization – that’s what I’ve tried to do with Doobert, to build that technology that everybody can use, then I need help with marketing. We all have got to help each other out for sure.

Absolutely. That’s a fabulous contribution, Doobert, and yes, you make a great example of how you bring what you bring and you find other people who have the skills that aren’t yours.

I’m curious, if a person is listening to this says, “I’m inspired. I want to get involved and help. Where would you tell them to start if they’re new?

I would tell him to start by looking locally and seeing if there is an organization that can use the skills that they have because there may be. The organization maybe a large organization, or it might be a small startup rescue in your community that you can get involved helping with. If you really don’t find it, build it, and invite other people to come and work with you and make it a real success. It requires being open and being okay with differences. A lot of groups are limited and they’re going to stay small because they don’t have any tolerance for new ideas, or they want to do it the way they’ve always done it. I always encourage people to keep learning.

This podcast, I think, is a great example of how people can do that. They can also attend conferences. I just feel like exposure to different things – I’ve been in the field in one way or another since 1990, but every time I visit a new animal shelter, I always learn something. There’s just so much and the field is changing so fast that you want to try to keep up with that and put yourself out there and be open to it. Networking with others can also give you the support you need. It’s a tough field. There are times where it’s really nice to be able to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, you won’t believe what just happened” and have someone on the other end who has been there and can empathize and help you get on with things. I think there’s a lot of important reasons to network and get to know other people in the field.

Yes, it’s a very-passion filled industry, but with that comes that compassion, fatigue comes along with it sometimes. That’s a really good point that we have got to be able to support each other. I’m curious, what does a typical week look like for you these days?

For me, these days it’s changed a lot in every different job that I’ve been in. Right now, it ends up being in a lot of meetings, a lot of calls, a lot of emails, a lot of time on the computer, and a little bit of travel. It’s not quite as exhilarating as being on the front lines in an animal shelter, but it has a lot of other rewards in terms of being able to help folks. One thing I try to tell people is that it’s really helpful to get a different perspective, and to have someone from outside of your organization give you advice. Maybe it’s a friend who works at another organization, or consultants, or I don’t know. Just do not get too stuck on what you’re doing every day and not to ever step back and take a look at it and get that outside opinion. It’s really hard for us to see what we’re doing, what’s working well, and what may not be. I feel like there is great value in going to conferences, meeting new people, watching webinars, listening to podcasts, engaging with other people, and really getting to know folks so that you can have a sounding board for what you’re doing and a fresh set of eyes on what you’re doing.

An advice can be incredibly helpful. I say that from both perspectives as the person who does that and gives advice, and as the person who in the past, had shelter assessments done and had a wide variety of consultants come in to work with our team. And another thing, I guess I would give people advice on, is really engage with your colleagues. Sometimes I see shelter leadership, they have a tight little management team, and they talk to those people. Engage your whole team and things like brainstorming for ideas, for promotions, and things that the shelter might do that could save money or, save more lives. You’ll be surprised the ideas that people have. You’ll be helping to cultivate that leadership in the field by engaging others.

Don’t just educate yourself. Do the same for them. Provide training for your volunteers, or your staff if you have, if you’re fortunate enough to have staff. So many shelters will say, “We don’t have a training budget.” Ask, because there are people who will invest in the staff at your organization. When I was at an event, we had several donors. In fact, several of them were volunteers themselves who would donate money so we could bring in, say, someone to lecture on animal behavior or, stress reduction enrichment for the animals. So we would be able to get a donation to cover that to enable us to provide training to people. There are grants out there for conference scholarships. I know Maddie’s Fund offers them. I think a couple of other organizations do too. If you don’t have the money, there are people willing to help you. It just opens up your whole world and can even help with the compassion fatigue that people experience. It really can recharge you.

Yes, absolutely. I know you and I are recording this at the end of 2018. What does 2019 look like for you and for Humane Network?

Well, we’ve just been talking about that a lot with the end of the year coming up. Right now, we are engaged in doing Maddie’s Pet Project in Nevada. This is a project funded by the Dave Cheryl Duffield Foundation and Maddie’s Fund. The goal is two-fold for the state of Nevada. Both, two improve the live release rate from animal shelters, and to improve access to care out there in underserved and rural areas. It’s really exciting because I see that as the next frontier for animal welfare. Once we have most of the urban areas taken care of. I do understand, of course, there’s underserved areas within those sometimes that need help, too. Many rural areas go with little to no service and Nevada is a great state to look at that thing. You have two major metropolitan areas, Las Vegas and Reno Sparks and the whole rest of the state is very rural. There’s substantial number of Indian reservations and large areas that have no veterinary clinics. We are looking at some models for how we can address that challenge.

Even in urban areas, I feel like this. The need for affordable veterinary care is huge and that it’s something that the animal welfare field is going to need to look at. If we can help someone keep a pet that they love because we can provide veterinary care, that’s really fulfilling our mission. It’s sustaining that human animal bond and making sure the person has what they need to do right by the animal. Rather than judging people, what it used to be the way things happened, I think that folks are seeing that people can love an animal deeply and not have sufficient money to pay for what. These days can be very expensive veterinary care. I mean, even a dental is a lot of money. I’m excited about that aspect of the campaign so we’ll be working a lot on those two things next year. Also, of course, continuing the courses at the University of the Pacific. Those are the two big things for 2019

Great. Well, it sounds like you’ve got a lot of stuff on your plate. It’s going to be an exciting year for you in 2019. I want to thank you for coming on the show today Bonney, is there anything else you wanted to mention before we wrap things up?

No, except just to encourage people that, though it could be a challenging field, it’s also one of the most rewarding things you can do. Having had a previous career which I loved in retail, I can say that this field offers you just so much in terms of what you can accomplish. It’s just a great – I just feel honored every day to be able to do this work and you meet, as you and I had said right before we got on, you meet so many amazing people. Thank you so much, Chris. It’s a wonderful podcast, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to join you today.

Well, thank you Bonney. It has been great talking to you, and I couldn’t agree with you more about what an amazing field it is. I’m proud to be a part of it as well. Thank you for coming out. It was great to have a conversation with you.

And you too. Thank you, Chris.

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