As we say goodbye to 2015, and ring in the New Year, I have mixed feelings about it. Any holiday that encourages the use of fireworks and sparklers, I can’t really get behind, ummmm, fire hazards! Not to mention, why would I intentionally stay up until midnight if I’m not out on a response?! And the Mummers, I just don’t get it. But, making it to 2016 is a big milestone for Red Paw; we will celebrate our five-year anniversary, which is, in and of itself a huge accomplishment!
It’s said that most start-ups have high failure rates. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau found that a mere 43 percent of start-ups still exist five years later, and a study by the National Center on Charitable Statistics found that the percentage for nonprofits is even less, like much less, 12 percent or lower!
I started the planning process for Red Paw in January of 2011; so really, we’re already at our five-year threshold, (Phew!). Still, disasters come up everyday that I didn’t plan for, or that I couldn’t have imagined; making it a daily challenge (and those are the disasters that have nothing to do with our responses!). I strongly believe starting and running an organization like Red Paw takes a perfect storm of skill sets and personality types. Running a nonprofit (or keeping a nonprofit running) is like searching for a missing pet in a disaster building – you need a whole lot of patience & determination, perseverance and a good strategic plan (a little bit of stubbornness and pride helps too, and Starbucks, lots and lots of Starbucks!).
People ask me all the time why I do this. I wanted to start Red Paw not for the reasons most would think. Yes, I am an “animal person”. My dogs are my kids and I love them more than anything- not in a crazy animal person way, but in a normal-my dogs sleep in bed with me every night and gets all of my blankets-way! I started Red Paw because I love emergency response and I’m pretty good at it, and because I saw a void in the system that I knew I could fix.
When I’m on a response, on a disaster scene, or in a fire building, I know what I’m doing, it comes natural. I feel comfortable and in control. But running a nonprofit, especially one that literally runs 24/7/365 and is volunteer based, has been challenging to say the least!
My sister, Marion, and I started nonprofits around the same time, a few months apart in fact (we are twins and we are real competitive! I’m eight minutes older, so I win!). Her nonprofit: Sink or Swim Philadelphia (SOS), was a crowd funding organization that raised money for people who were uninsured or underinsured to help pay for their medical expenses. Right before she started SOS, a fellow director of a successful nonprofit in Philly (this particular nonprofit has been around for almost 20 years) told her not to do it, she said and I quote, “it will ruin your life”. I have thought about that warning – I guess we’ll call it that – a lot.
SOS ended earlier this year, after 3.5 years, although not for lack of success, but like many nonprofits, for lack of time and assistance.
My sister decided that she couldn’t continue to run the organization and further her “real” career and education at the same time. And good for her! She is currently the Assistance Director for the Center for Resuscitative Science at the University of Pennsylvania; she has a dual masters degree in Nursing and Public Health and she teaches for both the School of Nursing and the Master’s of Public Health program at Penn! I on the other hand have had no time to further my education, and it weighs on me. In the last five years, especially since my retirement from the Philly Fire Department, almost every second of every day has gone to keeping Red Paw running (“it will ruin your life”- I hear in a creepy whisper voice not infrequently).
Anyone who’s ever started a business or a nonprofit or pretty much done anything from scratch can relate, I’m sure. It’s all consuming. To make it successful, it has to be. But, when you’re so far in it, it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. And, I sometimes wish I could have made that very hard decision my sister made. Luckily for me Red Paw has an amazing group of volunteers and staff to help me navigate the forest! And it’s a good thing too, because Red Paw has been busier than ever this year, helping 449 families and 905 pets! And every year demand for Red Paw’s emergency services increases!
So five years in, the question you are all dying to ask, “aren’t you too young to be retired?” Um, yes!! But really, did Red Paw ruin my life? Honestly, no, but it definitely changed it! And, what I do know for sure is this, Red Paw, has
literally saved over 2600 animals’ lives and made nearly 1400 people’s lives better. So, I hope that fifteen years from now some other tired, nonprofit’s founder is using Red Paw as an example for their blog and they hear a creepy whisper voice saying it was totally worth it!