In the nonprofit world, principles are supposed to overrule practicalities.
No quarterly Wall Street targets to meet, no income taxes to pay. Volunteers often provide the labor as well as the inspiration.
But there are still light bills to pay and payrolls to meet. And the smaller a metropolitan area, the harder it is for a social service or arts organization to assemble a critical mass of donors and supporters to supplement whatever fees they charge or tickets they sell.
So it is in Flagstaff, a city of 70,000 at the center of a sprawling county of 140,000. That’s big enough to support a fairly healthy nonprofit sector in a range of areas, including emergency food and shelter for the poor, services to the disabled and animal welfare.
But two of each? That can be a stretch, and we’ve seen consolidation by local food banks and Goodwill with larger nonprofits based in Phoenix as a way to cut overhead while tapping a new revenue stream.
Now comes the Second Chance animal shelter in Doney Park, funded in large part by the late philanthropists Dick and Jean Wilson and, later, their foundation. Its endowment funding, mainly from oil and gas leases, has run out, and it doesn’t have another consistent revenue stream. The city of Flagstaff and Coconino County have contracted for decades with the Coconino Humane Association for the care of unwanted pets at its shelter off Butler Avenue in Flagstaff, with Second Chance taking overflow and hard-to-place animals.
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As it turns out, that outlet valve has proved important in helping the Humane Association cut its euthanization rate last year to under 10 percent, the lowest ever. Other organizations like Paw Placement and The Ark cat sanctuary have sprung up to find homes for unwanted pets, and with more animals spayed and neutered before adoptions, animal intakes at the Humane Association are down by about 1,000 a year from a decade ago.
But that still means about 4,500 pets are being given up or turned loose each year in the Flagstaff region, a number that all agree is still too high. Cities much larger than Flagstaff see far fewer unwanted pets amid stepped-up education campaigns on responsible pet ownership and care.
So with Second Chance and its 20,000 square feet of space shuttered for now, a task force of animal welfare groups is looking to rethink and restructure the local landscape in unwanted pets. The city and county contracts with the Humane Association have several years left to run, but that doesn’t mean the boards of the groups can’t begin preliminary joint talks. In addition to coordinating and streamlining the sheltering and placement of pets, there are also administrative efficiencies and opportunities in fundraising and outreach that immediately come to mind.
One concern for those considering more use of the Second Chance facility has been the relatively long drive from Flagstaff to Doney Park compared with the shelter off Butler Avenue. But the Flagstaff region is not metro Phoenix – a drive between any two locations here rarely takes longer than 15 minutes (Milton Road at rush hour or on a snowplay weekend excepted). And Second Chance might still serve as the holding shelter for overflow pets, with animals shuttled to and from the main adoption center in Flagstaff.
So the prospects of continuing with two animal shelters in Flagstaff might not be out of the question if there is a way to share the current revenue stream and generate new ones. When the city and county contracts come up for renewal, for example, what if they included benchmarks that rewarded the nonprofits for fewer animal intakes? And instead of calling them shelter contracts, what if they took a global approach to overall pet welfare in the region and broke down bids by services, including spay and neuter, education and outreach, and fundraising, in addition to shelter and adoptions?
There is much to commend Flagstaff’s animal welfare groups for their commitment to the humane treatment of pets. But the days of endowed buildings and operations from a single, generous family appear to be over. It’s time to come out of whatever silos were erected because of that arrangement and explore a future that results in the new whole being much greater than the sum of its old parts.