The generosity of the horse community is impressive. Despite our different preferences in riding discipline and horse management, we all seem to share a common reverence for the horse.
Horse rescue organizations have come to rely on the generosity of the horse community to support their effort to help horses in harm’s way. However, we all know that not all rescues are made the same.
Sometimes we hear of a rescue that kind of looks and feels like a hoarder, and other times we have seen rescues that need to be rescued themselves. In the worst scenarios, we hear rumors of a rescue that misappropriated donations.
Keep in mind that out of the thousands of horse rescue organizations in the country, there are relatively few that make these errors. The vast majority of non-profit horse rescue organizations are working hard to help horses in need, and their only paycheck is knowing that they turned a horse’s life around. That said, you may want to consider these tips when donating to a horse rescue organization:
1) Check to make sure that the horse rescue operation is a federally accredited 501c(3) corporation. Without 501c(3) status, the organization cannot legally give you a tax deduction. If a rescue operation tells you that their 501c(3) status is pending, that does not count! 501c(3) organizations are required to report their income to the government and keep records on donations and expenditures. They are reviewed by the government to make sure that funds are not being misused. It is far more prudent to donate to a 501c(3) than a non-accredited organization. Beyond simply asking the organization to see a copy of its 501(c)3 determination letter, you can also use IRS Publication 78. Just Google it online. It is a searchable database of every federally accredited 501(c)3 in the nation.
2) Check to see if the rescue operation is registered on Guidestar.org and/ or Charitynavigator.com. Both are an online clearinghouses that rate non-profit organizations and provide detailed profiles of the organizations including what they do, who runs them, and what their finances look like. They are designed to help assist donors in finding a non-profit organization that helps with a cause that the donor would like to see improved. The Unwanted Horse Coalition and the A Home For Every Horse program are also good places to seek advice on rescues.
3) Ask some specific questions of the non-profit before you donate. Does the non-profit have a vision statement, mission statement, goals or objectives? If they do, do you agree with the them? Also, how many horses does the organization help on a yearly basis? Most importantly, what percentages of horses are adopted out in relation to being taken in? As many horse owners know, there are some “rescues” that simply collect horses. While this may be admirable in some circumstances, a donor must decide if hard earned money should be donated to pay for someone else to own horses, or if it should go to an active non-profit that maintains capacity to serve the horse community on a continual basis by adopting out horses to make room for more.
4) Remember, horse rescue organizations are businesses. They usually are businesses that do not make any money, but they are still businesses nonetheless. Therefore, one should inquire as to the business practices of the organization. Does the organization have tax documents or financial statements for review, or even a website that posts information about the structure of the business?
5) Follow up on your donation by visiting the rescue organization website or calling a representative of the organization. It is important to see activity in the organization to know that your hard earned dollars are doing some good! Don’t be afraid to request a visit to the rescue - after all, it is your hard-earned money that is helping them to exist.
If an organization passes its vetting, the next step is to consider how you wish to donate to it. Although we get the “feel good” affirmation from making a donation during the holidays, sometimes a “one-time” penance is not ideal. Obviously, any non-profit organization will gladly accept whatever one is willing to give, but many non-profits report that one-time donations do not provide much stability for them.
Because they operate on tight budgets and try to maximize the amount of help that they can give with every dollar, most 501(c)3s try to put together a working annual budget. If they can rely on a periodic (monthly or quarterly) donation from supporters, they have less trouble weathering the storm. Overall, predictable donations lead to stability, which results in sustainability. Therefore, consider pledging a certain amount to the organizations, and try to keep the promise.
If you cannot give money, consider giving your time, or even some horse-related items. 501(c)3 organizations are qualified to provide tax deductions for items such as tack, horse care supplies, or even trucks and trailers. Contact the organizations that you wish to support to discuss the feasibility of such donations. Of course, if you want to make a difference but have no resources, consider giving your time.
Be prepared, however, to do things other than groom horses! Some rescue organizations need “on-the-ground” help to do things like muck stalls and care for horses, but many actually need help on the administrative side. For instance: addressing and stuffing envelopes to send out mailers, attending community events to promote the rescue, or providing bookkeeping assistance are some of the most common (yet burdensome) administrative tasks. All are necessary, all are important. Without these tasks being completed, the ability of the organization to continue to help horses will be diminished. Every 501(c)3 is different, and so contacting the ones that interest you to inquire about their needs is ideal.
As your horses relax in their warm stalls with their blankets, don’t forget about those that are less fortunate. We are extremely lucky to have some many kind-hearted people in the community, not only those who are willing to donate, but those who are motivated to actually start a non-profit organization. By providing ongoing, solid communal support of legitimate rescue organizations, we can continue to improve the lives of horses, one horse at a time.