How to Start a Non-Profit Dog or Cat Rescue | 501c3
If you rescue unwanted pets on your own but want to do more, you should consider starting a nonprofit animal rescue. An average of 30,000 new nonprofits are formed annually, contributing to over one million nonprofit organizations in the United States. Filing for and receiving IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status enables donor contributions to become tax-deductible. That also means that you can apply for grants from government agencies and various foundations. Okay, now let's get into some step-by-step instructions to get started.
1. Organize a Board of Directors
Choose a group of individuals who each bring something useful to operating a nonprofit rescue. In essence, you'll need different people with experience in each of the following areas:
a. Nonprofit operation
b. Veterinary medicine
c. Experience working with animals
d. Fundraising and marketing abilities
e. Familiar with local laws and regulations
2. Draft a mission statement and choose a business name.
Your mission statement should detail how your rescue will benefit the types of animals it will work with and the community, its location, and future goals. Create a 3-5 year plan and outline it as long-term goals. Then work backward starting with pressing, short-term goals. Describe the marketing plan for the business and the target audience interested in donating to help animals. Record the steps necessary to accomplish each goal.
3. Draft and file with your secretary of state your articles of incorporation.
In addition to the names of the rescue, Director, officers, and Board of Directors, the articles of incorporation must include the following:
a. Address of the rescue
b. Purpose for establishing the rescue
c. Process for selecting qualified adopters
d. 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization statement
e. Additional services offered, such as spaying and neutering
f. Optional foster service opportunities in addition to adoption services
4. Draft and record bylaws.
Not all states require filing bylaws, but it's a wise idea to incorporate bylaws indicating how the organization will be managed and the decision-making process. Your bylaws should describe fundraising efforts for your rescue, including if you will apply for government grants.
5. Select the rescue location and the types of animals you will house.
Make sure the location aligns with zoning laws. Zoning governs if a business can be operated in a particular area, how many animals can be kept there, and the types of animals allowed. The secretary of state's office or the local chamber of commerce can provide region-specific information.
6. Apply for a business and kennel license.
The secretary of state's website lists the type of licenses required to open a nonprofit rescue. Kennels must renew their licenses every year, pay an annual fee and provide proof of current business licenses, federal identification number, business tax receipts, and certificate of occupancy.
7. File paperwork with the IRS to obtain tax-exempt 501(c)3 status.
Many organizations that award grants to rescues require proof that you have 501(c)(3) status. Also, most pet stores require 501(c)(3) status from a rescue before purchasing animals. To get this status, fill out IRS Form 1023 and obtain an Employer Identification Number. Consider consulting a tax attorney when filling out these forms to ensure you complete everything correctly.
8. Register as a charitable organization with your state.
Exempt status may require completion of a business registration form or state application. This provides extra credibility for potential donors, and it may open new opportunities to receive grants from state-specific organizations interested in supporting local rescue organizations.
9. Obtain liability insurance for your rescue.
Liability insurance provides coverage against lawsuits, including if a dog bites someone, or a newly adopted kitten is sick. You will also need property insurance on the building to cover losses if your business suffers costly damages from circumstances such as flooding, theft, or vandalism.
10. Hire additional people.
If you do not have a veterinarian serving on your board, you'll need to employ one to visit periodically, check on the health of the animals, and offer low-cost vaccine, spaying, and neutering for adoptees. You may also need to hire someone to answer phones and respond to emails.
11. Set up Foster Homes
Volunteers often foster animals at home. It is critical that your rescue has a policy in place regarding reimbursement or compensation for any expenses incurred as a result. Additionally, create an adoption contract including eligibility requirements, such as home visits or return of the animal if the adopter cannot keep the pet.
Deciding to start a 501(c)(3) rescue is a fabulous opportunity to help save animals from kill shelters by connecting them with people looking to adopt a forever pet. Make sure to determine the number of existing animal rescue shelters in your area. You don't want to go through the entire process only to discover you are duplicating efforts in an already saturated market. Once you determine that there is a need, you can begin filing state and federal forms that will keep your animal rescue tax-free...