“Director Of All Things NOT Glamorous”, The Tale of an Operations Director

“If I won the lottery, I’d open an animal shelter.” That was a thought I used to have, before I actually worked in one. It seemed like such a simple thing: I’d save animals, spend my whole day around them, and help them find new homes. It didn’t seem that complicated. Well, spoiler alert – as I quickly learned, it’s not that easy.

My title at Harbor is Operations Director, but it could be “Director of all things not glamorous”. I handle all of the finances, Human Resources, and manage a lot of the facility operations, all things I certainly would have never considered in my younger self’s fantasy of opening an animal shelter. In the simplest terms, my job is to account for every single dollar that Harbor receives or spends, handle the administrative side of staffing, and oversee the general operations of the building. I won’t bore you with the accounting side of things (for some reason no one was excited at the idea of a non-profit accounting blog post!) but the facility and the people who run it are a huge part of what makes Harbor, and any animal shelter, work.

Harbor has a 10,000 square foot facility, which has to be heated or cooled (except for those three magical days in May and October when the temperature is a perfect 68 degrees) and have running water and electricity to function. Those basic utilities: electricity, gas, and water cost on average over $40,000 a year. To put that in perspective, that is about how much money we raise at our annual Ales for Tails fundraiser- our largest event of the year.

And those are just the basics, when you add in other necessities like trash service, telephone and internet, building repairs, staffing, and insurance… well I think you get the picture that it adds up pretty fast. And that’s before you even add directly caring for the animals into the equation! I know this isn’t an exciting topic. I know that when folks donate, they aren’t thinking, “Hey my donation will fund the animal shelter’s trash service for a week!” But the general operations of our facility are so important. They allow us to do all the of things that excite us about being in animal welfare like adoptions, re-uniting pets with their owners and providing community services like humane education, or our low-cost veterinary clinic.

However, one of the most important basic ingredients to Harbor’s recipe for success is the people that work here. We have over forty-five employees between the shelter and our offsite resale store, and they are what truly makes our shelter succeed. You may not realize this, but animal welfare is its own niche in the non-profit world, with its own experts, philosophies and culture. Much like a realtor may go to a national conference to network and find the best strategies to sell a home, our staff go to conferences to learn the best ways to run our shelter and to network with animal welfare professionals all over the country. We collaborate, problem solve, and are constantly working on new programs and ways to reach pets and people. I think a common assumption in for a lot of non-profits, and animal shelters especially, is that anyone can do it. And yes, in theory anyone can start a non-profit. But to do it well, it truly takes a village of dedicated professionals. We aren’t just a bunch of folks who love animals (although of course we do), we are a team that is trained to care for the needs of the animals and community that we serve.

This is just a small peak behind the curtain of what it takes to run a shelter with the size and scope of Harbor. When people think of shelters, they automatically think of the animals- and rightfully so, that’s why we are all here, after all! But to run all our animal related programs, it takes a solid foundation. And like any good foundation, you may not see it, you may not think about it, but at the end of the day, it’s holding everything upright.

Allison Deters, Operations Director