Humane Society makes progress, but has room to improve: Lilly Endowment grant to boost shelter’s fund-raising

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Revenue continues to rise. Expenses are holding steady. And the shelter hasn’t borrowed as much money as expected.

The road ahead may be littered with potential pitfalls, but those leading the charge believe they’re on the right path. “It’s been a good year, learning what we can do and how far we can stretch ourselves …,” Executive Director Martha Boden said. I have a tremendous amount of confidence we’ll get there.”

Others agree.

Local philanthropic heavyweight Lilly Endowment Inc., for example, just approved a three-year, $300,000 grant to the Humane Society-its largest gift ever to the 100-year-old shelter.

Although the grant is the practical equivalent of pocket change for the $8.6-billion endowment, its impact goes well beyond the Humane Society’s bank account.

A gift from the godfather of Indianapolis grant making is seen in many circles as the ultimate seal of approval.

“It is a real vote of confidence, an additional boost,” said Bryan Orander, founder of Indianapolis-based Charitable Advisors. The endowment simply felt the time was right to offer its support, said spokeswoman Gretchen Wolfram.

“It looks like they’ve turned the corner after their recent challenges,” she said. “We thought we’d take the opportunity to give them a little boost.”

Most of the grant is intended to augment the Humane Society’s fund-raising activities, a major component of the plan to bring the organization back from the brink of financial disaster.

Faced with shortfalls caused by years of deficit spending, shelter leaders in early 2004 gave themselves three years to more than double fund raising and close the gap between operational expenses and revenue.

They agreed to borrow as much as $2.3 million to keep the shelter running in the meantime, working all the while to improve the quality of care for thousands of unwanted pets it takes in each year.

By most accounts, 2004 was a resounding success-expenses were under budget, income was over, and nearly 53 percent of the animals found new homes.

This year has been a little rockier on the financial side, as fund-raising events didn’t bring in as much as expected and responses to direct-mail solicitations were sluggish.

Still, the Lilly gift and the second installment of a $200,000 grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust helped revenue rebound. Income was 16 percent ahead of budget at the end of July.

Expenses exceeded projections by about 5 percent, however, due in part to a onetime investment management fee levied in June. Some variance is to be expected from time to time, Boden said, due to the seasonal nature of the shelter’s work. Overages likely can be reversed by year-end, she said.

“We’re not letting a few rough months take our eyes off goal,” Boden said.

Indeed, agency leaders still have their sights set high, launching what they’re calling the Second Century Leadership Initiative-an effort to secure gifts amounting to $1 million from major donors each year through 2007.

HSI is aiming to raise a total of $1.4 million this year, and the recovery plan calls for increasing that to $1.8 million by the end of the three-year plan. Major gifts will be an important factor.

“This is going to be something that ensures the Humane Society is around for another 100 years,” said Lisa Stone, a local attorney and HSI president-elect.

The Lilly and Pulliam grants may not be an instant answer to the shelter’s financial problems, but they’re a good start.

“I think it is incumbent upon [HSI] to use … both of these foundation grants to signify to the greater public … that things are looking up and that the organization is worthy again of serious philanthropic support,” said Pulliam Trust CEO Harriet Ivey. “They clearly still have significant fund-raising challenges ahead of them.”

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