10 Steps to Take Before You Even THINK About Opening a Sanctuary (Part 1)

If sanctuary founders have one thing in common, it’s a desire to help suffering animals experience safety, security, and the touch of kind hands: in other words, the opposite of suffering. Beyond that, we’re an eclectic lot: we are former teachers, marketers, attorneys, truck drivers, activists, sales-people, filmmakers… and Daily Show hosts.

But just because we’re driven to minimize suffering, doesn’t mean we should open a sanctuary. I’m sure not trading in this life for a new model, but it’s more relentless and more demanding than I could possibly convey.

Further, as sanctuaries grow in number, it may become harder to get “air time” as more of us compete for attention.

Additionally, there’s a legitimate question about how many sanctuaries our world truly needs if the ultimate goal is to eliminate the farming of animals. One could quadruple our numbers, and collectively we’d barely make a dent as, meanwhile, most of humanity continues blindly eating and wearing animals.

There are many ways to strike at speciesism—sanctuaries are an extremely powerful but costly one.

Finally, and this is a biggie: over the years, we’ve advised legions of folks interested in starting sanctuaries; few, frankly, have that special combination of drive, vision, personality, and patience to succeed. In short: proceed with caution.

So now that I’ve crushed your dream, I’m not suggesting that the LAST thing one should do is to start a sanctuary! Rather, I’m simply saying that it’s hard. Damned hard. Proceed with caution, with your eyes wide open, and with the following “Sanctuary 101” tips in mind:

1. Do some serious soul-searching.

Drive? Passion? More energy than you know how to harness? Are you strategic? A good networker? And perhaps most importantly, do you love people? You’ll need these assets and more to succeed. If you walk around angry at the suffering and injustice, please, consider another way to channel that energy, because your rage will filter through every aspect of your operation, destroying its reputation and yours.

2. Visit sanctuaries. Lots of them.

Schedule your time well in advance, and meet with as many folks as you can. Have a list of prepared questions. Spend as much time as they’ll allow, but be aware that this is a big ask and that plenty of good people might ignore your request. Trust me: this is the best training you’ll get, except for the following:

3. Intern at a sanctuary that’s aligned with your vision.

This is a no-brainer. If you’re able, structure your internship to spend some time in all aspects of the operation: animal care, business operations, development, and communication are especially critical. Remember that we’re busy, so don’t expect to be able to spend hours asking questions. Instead, learn by doing and by immersing yourself in our world.

4. Choose your location wisely.

There are a dozen sanctuaries within a 90-minute radius of Catskill, a few of them among the most prominent in the country. Yet last week, we got three requests from folks considering opening sanctuaries within an hour of Catskill. It makes little sense to open in the backyard of so many established sanctuaries. If you really want to be successful, be prepared to locate where there’s a need and where you won’t be competing with a dozen others for dollars and visitors.

5. Have a crystal clear mission and an elevator speech.

“I want to help animals” is not a mission statement. Know exactly why you want to exist, what your unique contribution to animal advocacy will be, and be able to deliver each of these with clarity and certainty to interested parties.

Whew, that’s a lot already! Take a deep breath and let it all sink in.

When you’re ready, click here for Part 2!



*Director's Corner, A Day in the Life


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