Saturday, January 16, 2010

EXIT INTERVIEW: Former CMHS director counters funding myths

Former Central Missouri Humane Society (CMHS) director Patty Forister (blue shirt) spoke extensively with the Columbia Heart Beat about her nearly four years at the helm of what she calls "a wonderful organization."   
With the benefit of hindsight and reflection since she left the post in November, Forister says it took the last two years of her tenure to crystallize the issue of city and county as "full and fair partners" in animal care and control.   That issue took flight in August 2008, shortly after the Columbia Heart Beat first interviewed Forister for a story called Dog Days: Humane Society Faces Closure.
Demolishing a local myth -- that CMHS receives no money from cities and counties outside Columbia and Boone --Forister provided figures showing $2,215 from Huntsville in Randolph County; $1,600 from Monroe City in Monroe County; $1,415 from Eldon in Miller County; and smaller receipts from cities in Callaway, Howard, and Montgomery counties. 
But the combined amount is a pittance -- $108,915 in 2008 -- to compensate for the 5,554 animals CMHS took in under so called "animal control contracts" with local governments, and represents the single greatest threat to the humane society's long-term survival. 
We sat down with Forister, who moved away from Columbia last month, for a candid exchange about the humane society's past, present, and future.  Part One of our interview ran earlier this week. 
Columbia Heart Beat (CHB):  The first thing people say when they hear about a high-profile departure is that there must have been bad blood between the departing executive and the board of directors.  How do you regard the current board of directors at CMHS?
Forister:   I think the new board has a sincere desire to move forward, especially in partnership with the city and county.  They have made steady progress toward a more fair and equitable relationship with Columbia and Boone County, and I sincerely hope they can do more.  
CHB:  Is that why former city councilman Jim Loveless and Linda Hutton, wife of former city councilman Bob Hutton, came on board?
Forister:  That was certainly a part of it.   They are regarded as people who have strong relationships with Columbia, which is CMHS' largest partner. 
Columbia Heart Beat (CHB):   Critics say CMHS is plagued with difficulties caused by financial mismanagement.   How do you respond?
Forister:   CMHS was financially stable and making ends meet by 2008 and 2009, but unable to raise significant money for pressing long-term needs.  We had reached an income plateau where we were getting as much as we could for shelter services, such as fees for adoptions and low-cost spay and neuter.  But we were not in any position to start a major capital campaign and to my knowledge, still aren't. 
CHB:  What do you mean by "major capital campaign?"
Forister:   Where CMHS needs serious work is on the development of major donors -- people who can write one check for $10,000 or more.  Small fees and small donations can't create a pool of capital large enough for a major building renovation or expansion.   CMHS also needs to work with contract partners, like the city and county, to significantly raise compensation under animal control contracts. 
CHB:   Whose responsibility is it to raise money?
Forister:  With private donors, primarily the board of directors and the executive director.   The board should be well-connected and work fundraising relationships exhaustively.  The executive director supplies information about shelter needs.  
I also spent a lot of time working on animal control contracts -- to make sure we were fairly compensated.  But we operated without positions filled to conserve funds, so I was doing a million other things, too.  I designed and implemented direct mail campaigns while acting as a development director and grant writer.  Those duties fell on the director's shoulders. 
CHB:  Columbia City council members Jerry Wade and Laura Nauser were critical that CMHS was not doing enough to raise money from private donors.  How do you respond?
Forister:   We were absolutely working to raise money.   During this year's Feed the Animals campaign, we took in around $30,000 from direct mail, for instance.   Additional campaigns during the year generated nearly $100,000 in income, and income has grown every year since 2005. 
But individual donations from campaigns like those are small and incremental.    They mostly go toward daily operating expenses, not long-term needs like a new shelter.   As I said previously, development of large donors is lacking at CMHS. 
CHB:  City council and county commission members criticized CMHS for taking animals from surrounding cities/counties without compensation, saying that Columbia and Boone County shouldn't be subsidizing stray animals from Fulton or Moberly.  How do you respond?
Forister:   The numbers simply don't bear this out.  At the Columbia City Council's request, we did a study and found that only a fraction of animals come in from surrounding cities or counties, and CMHS does receive money from many of them under animal control contracts.   
By far, the vast majority of our strays came from Columbia and Boone County.   For instance, from the Fulton/Callaway county area last year, CMHS took in 126 strays versus 1,405 from Columbia. 
CHB:  But still, shouldn't you be asking for compensation from everyone all the time?
Forister:  You need a functional model on which to base a compensation agreement or contract, especially when you have to sell it to a board of directors, a government agency, or a group of lawmakers.    
If CMHS goes to Fulton, for instance, it needs to present their city council with a well-oiled contract that evidence shows will work.  But CMHS has a dysfunctional contract with the City of Columbia and Boone County.  Why try to sell a dysfunctional model to another city or county?   
NEXT TIME:  Forister's surprising insights on ZooToo founder Richard Thompson

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