As with animal welfare in general, community cat programs (CCPs) rely on a great deal of volunteer labor, donations and discounted services. Ultimately, though, there are bills that must be paid, whether for veterinary services, equipment and supplies, staff salaries or program overhead (facility lease, utilities, etc.). Without adequate funding, there is simply no program.
The financial considerations associated with a CCP can be intimidating, especially for those unfamiliar with grant writing, fundraising, budgeting and various other tasks involved. Each program is different, making it virtually impossible to provide a detailed breakdown of every task. However, the following overview provides information about basic funding and budgeting issues. Rather than trying to provide readers with all the answers, the overview is intended to help them ask better questions of the key people in their organizations and communities.
Funding for CCPs typically comes from a combination of public (e.g., city or county budget) and private sources (e.g., grants from Best Friends or PetSmart Charities, Inc.™). Those involved in obtaining and allocating program funding must be aware not only of the program needs (see “Budgeting” below), but also be able to answer questions about the funds and funding sources. For example:
- How does a CCP seek funding (grant application, city council budget committee, etc.)?
- What are the regular funding cycles? When does an organization apply for funding?
- Over what period will the funds be distributed?
- What is the deadline by which funds must be used? Are extensions permitted?
- Are there restrictions on the funds? (Some grants, for example, will pay for programming or equipment but not for operations or program overhead. Publicly funded spay/neuter programs will generally fund only surgeries.)
While budgeting efforts tend to focus on the short-term (e.g., monthly, quarterly and yearly objectives), funding efforts must focus on the long-term sustainability of the CCP. Knowing that a grant expires next year, for example, means you need to plan for how its funds might be replaced. And there will no doubt be unanticipated fluctuations in the program’s overall funding. By planning ahead, though, you can minimize the negative impact of such fluctuations. (See “Program Sustainability” for addition information about this topic.)
Developing a detailed CCP budget begins with a solid understanding of the current situation in a community and its shelter, which requires some research. Among the questions to consider:
- How much of the workforce will be paid staff, and how much will be made up of volunteers?
- What are the costs for standard veterinary services? What about additional services? (See “Working with Veterinarians and Veterinary Clinics” for detailed descriptions of what’s generally included.)
- Will it be necessary to rent office space? What about sufficient space for holding cats before and after surgery?
- How close to the shelter are the partner clinics? (Greater distance generally translates into more staff time and additional costs.)
Of course, it’s impossible to know with certainty every cost a program will incur, anticipating every eventuality. A particularly long kitten season, for example, is likely to stretch resources. Regular tracking (with reporting) and flexibility are critical. Tracking lets you know exactly how much money is on hand at a given time, and flexibility allows you to juggle funds as necessary to protect the cats and kittens most at risk.
It’s also important to have input from various parts of the organization. In addition to representation from the finance and/or accounting departments and/or your board of directors (if applicable), be sure to seek input from key CCP, clinic, shelter and field services staff. Each group involved in the CCP must be consulted.
Although no two CCP budgets are alike, there are a number of services, staffing requirements, equipment and supplies that every CCP must consider when developing a detailed budget. Common line items include:
Veterinary services and care:
- Spay/neuter surgery
- Specialty surgery (for in-heat or pregnant cats, etc.)
- Extra medical services (amputation, removal of an eye, etc.)
- Parasite treatment
- Medical supplies
- Regular staff
- Part time and/or temporary staff
- Contract or outside providers
Staff development and training:
- Travel (e.g., conferences)
- Volunteer training and appreciation
Program equipment and supplies:
- Traps, transport cages, feral cat dens
- Transportation (van, fuel, maintenance, insurance, registration, modifications, etc.)
- Animal care supplies (food, litter, etc.)
- Animal-handling equipment (gloves, nets, etc.)
- Safety equipment and supplies (flashlights, whistles, first aid kits, etc.)
- Cleaning supplies
- Office supplies (printer ink, paper, etc.)
- Additional startup supplies (storage shed, computer, printer, Internet access, phones, etc.)
Marketing and promotional efforts:
- Design and printing services
- Website and social media services
- Advertising (mailings, billboards, etc.)
- Events and related supplies
 Some of this same research will be used to develop program targets, as these targets are based on the number of surgeries required to achieve a particular objective (specific levels of reduced intake or shelter deaths, reduced population of community cats, etc.) and the program’s capacity.
 Although it’s important to obtain the best price, be cautious about having price lead to having only one partner clinic. Should circumstances change with that clinic, you want the flexibility to shift surgeries to other clinics with minimal disruption to the program.
 Note: If funds are restricted, it might not be possible to re-allocate them to other purposes.
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