How are we doing?

By Julie Castle

Best Friends is rather obsessive about metrics. We are continually evaluating our programs and activities to determine if they are effective in realizing the intention of their design, which, by design, falls into one of two categories: reducing the number of animals entering our nation’s shelters – noses in – or increasing the number of animals getting out of our nation’s shelters alive – noses out. If they are not effective in either or both of those categories, then they are on a short leash for improvement. If that fails, the resources they are using are redirected to new or existing programs that are more effective. Feel-good activities, programs that can’t be measured, and programs that do not advance mission achievement have a very short shelf life. We have the ultimate urgency here: Animals are dying in America’s shelters at the horrifying rate of 9,000 every day. We owe it to them and to our donors, who entrust us with their hard-earned money, to use our resources effectively.

In the for-profit sector, an investor can buy or sell stock in a company based on the simple calculation of profit and loss – return on investment. Buy low, sell high, blah, blah. However, without the bottom line of a profit- and loss-based accountability to shareholders that is the measure of success in the for-profit sphere, the only way that a nonprofit donor can assess the effectiveness of their gift is to measure mission achievement, which, simply stated is this: Is the problem that I am working to solve tangibly improving as a result of my support of this organization?

That’s a rather cold-hearted calculation, and I totally get that there are a lot of intangibles that go into one’s support for a charity, including the personality of the spokesperson, the emotional tug of a fundraising appeal, the urgency of a specific event or family tradition, and all that is absolutely fine. At the end of the day, though, the metric of mission achievement is really the only basis for someone who is passionate about a cause – someone who wants their dollars to make a difference – to decide how to direct their charitable giving. Nonprofits are accountable to their donors, just as for-profits are accountable to their stockholders.

Best Friends is accountable to our supporters for how we spend the funding entrusted to us to achieve the mission of bringing about a time when there are no more homeless pets, and we need to be sure that our programs are effective in saving the animals whose lives literally depend on this work, hence our obsession with metrics. We track every adoption, every spay/neuter, every piece of legislation and the estimated number of animals impacted, volunteers and volunteer hours, etc. When we give a grant to a grassroots partner, we track their results and effectiveness in terms of noses in and noses out.

For example:

  • In Los Angeles, shelter deaths have dropped from 23,000 in 2011, the year before we launched the No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) Coalition campaign, to 14,000 at the end of 2013, about a 40% reduction.
  • In Albuquerque, our community cat program, with a supporting grant from PetSmart Charities, has spayed or neutered over 6,500 cats in two years and drove a jump in the shelter live release rate from 63% to 87%.
  • Best Friends' No-Kill Utah (NKUT) initiative has the goal of making Utah a no-kill state. The first quarter of 2014 indicates the highest statewide shelter save rate ever: 80.3%. That’s up from 74% for the same period last year.
  • In 2013, our efforts to roll back or preempt breed-discriminatory legislation notched up wins in 36 cities, 4 counties and 6 entire states, while positively impacting the lives of an estimated 541,212 pit-bull-terrier-like dogs.

We are a mission-driven organization working to bring an end to shelter killing, and this kind of tracking guides our work and serves as a constant reminder of all that remains to be done. Our cat, pit bull terrier, and puppy mill initiatives are all aimed at reducing the number of noses in. Our super adoptions (major events in cities around the country with animals available for adoption from various partner rescue groups) are noses-out activities, while our NKLA and NKUT programs have both noses-in and noses-out components. Likewise, our Strut Your Mutt series of grassroots fundraising dog walks channel funding to our Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Network partners to either spay/neuter programs (noses in) or adoption programs (noses out), while the Sanctuary provides care to special-needs animals and develops protocols and techniques to share with shelters and rescues across the country.

There is a somewhat overused adage in business that goes “if your can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” While it may be overused in the business world, I believe it’s not used enough in in the world of animal welfare, where no amount of good works will solve the problem without the focus provided by the metric of mission achievement for an achievable mission.


Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society