Paula Fasseas, Founder and Chairman of PAWS Chicago, was the latest guest in the DPELC-MSL Speaker Series, where she wowed the students with the story of her volunteer grassroots organization. Since 1997, PAWS has been the national model for no kill animal shelters. Thanks to its efforts, the number of homeless pets killed in the city has declined by 80% since its founding. PAWS state-of-the-art adoption center finds homes for nearly 6,000 pets annually and its clinic spays/neuters 18,000 pets each year for low-income families. Paula attributes the success of PAWS to many factors, but she can’t deny that one of them is the solutions-based approach she used to address the plight of homeless pets. Here are a few ways she used her business and entrepreneurial skills for a good cause:
- She paid attention to branding. When Paula started out, adopting pets was seen as a huge risk. People were afraid that the dogs and cats were not suitable for domestic life. “By making adoption cool, having a great location, and throwing great events, we were able to change the mindset of adoption,” said Paula.
- Treat your volunteers seriously. “The culture of the organization is what makes the volunteers come back,” said Paula, pointing out that their help and presence were key for the non-profit’s organic growth. Volunteers at PAWs receive training so they can help in different areas of the adoption center and clinic, allowing them to acquire different skills throughout their time at PAWs. With the donations they’ve received over the years, they also created a sustainability fund so the organization can be fully institutionalized.
- Data is key. When choosing among competing goals or projects, PAWS goes back to one simple question: “What is going to save the largest number of animals?” The answer to that can usually be found on the data the organization keeps that underlies that basic problem. With numbers in hand, the can more easily prioritize.
- Think of it as a business, instead of a passion project. Paula focused on hiring people with a business-background because she wanted to help professionalize an industry with great intentions but few operating standards. Now, smaller shelters can turn to PAWs for help and advice on making their efforts sustainable. PAWs also gives guidelines to potential donors on relevant questions they should ask when considering a donation to other organizations, so they know their funds will be put to good use.
- Never forget that it’s about community. “Working, embracing, and engaging the community is our number 1 strategy,” said Paula. What drove PAWS was the needs of the community and, by taking them into account, they were able to grow at rapid speed. Community support was the foundation under which their organization flourished.