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    5. Fostering Positive Relationships Between Animal Sanctuaries

    Fostering Positive Relationships Between Animal Sanctuaries

    Two humans reaching for each other over a large gap.
    How to bridge the gap between animal sanctuaries

    There’s likely a reason why you or your organization’s Founder established the animal sanctuary you’re a part of: an outpouring of compassion for animals, and the subsequent decision to help create gentler outcomes for a number of tragic situations. And your sanctuary isn’t alone! There are hundreds of animal sanctuaries and rescues across the world, likely founded with a similar series of good intentions. Unfortunately, when humans get involved with any sort of pursuit, human complications come along for the ride!

    When two or more nonprofit organizations that serve similar populations operate within a close distance to one another, there can be some friction between the two organizations on occasion. For certain animal sanctuaries, this occasional tension sometimes unfortunately grows into frustration, or even outright animosity.

    With some understanding of the underlying concerns and compassionate communication considerations, sanctuaries can work towards maintaining a cordial relationship, or if appropriate, potentially work together to do even more for animals in need!

    Every Situation Is Unique

    While we would like to be able to provide effective specific guidance for creating more positivity amongst sanctuaries in each and every community, there will always be unique challenges, histories, and communication channels between specific organizations, which will add degrees of complexity to managing cordial inter-organizational relationships. Always take the unique situation of your sanctuary community into account when considering these general principles below.

    What May Cause Friction Between Organizations

    Typically, adjacent sanctuaries may come into conflict for a few reasons:

    • Support Scarcity – Animal sanctuaries rely upon community and public support in order to develop a reliable volunteer and donor base. When two sanctuaries with similar missions share one community, there can be the perception that resources are being split (sometimes in an unsustainable fashion), between the two organizations, fostering a sense of competition and a need to convince the public that one sanctuary needs more support than another.
    • Philosophy Of Care Differences – Animal sanctuaries, especially those who serve marginalized populations with little regulatory oversight, typically will have some philosophies and policies that differ from one another. While one sanctuary may passionately believe a certain care decision or organizational choice should be a universal sanctuary policy, another sanctuary might vehemently disagree! What might begin as a philosophical disagreement could turn into hostility if sanctuaries are not respectful of one another. If Philosophy Of Care differences are causing problems, it’s important to step back and recall that both sanctuaries are ultimately trying their best to reach the same goal, and as long as no harm is coming to residents, the best policy is respect.
    • Lack Of Communication – Often, a lot of contention can be generated between sanctuaries if organizations operate on assumptions rather than open channels of dialogue with one another. Or, if an organization makes an assumption of how another sanctuary might handle a situation or request without knowing the full picture of their organization’s operations and challenges.
    Acknowledging Sanctuary Difficulties

    It’s important to always acknowledge the individual challenges that can also contribute towards friction, especially at other sanctuaries in your area. Burnout and compassion fatigue are universal issues that individuals working with animals often face, especially in sanctuary environments. These are not organizational failings that should be grounds for criticism, but occupational hazards that can affect everyone. When folks are suffering from these challenges, outside suggestion or critique can often feel hostile rather than constructive or helpful. Always try to remember to see the individuals behind each organization and try to offer them some compassion even if it seems like there’s tension in your community.

    Ways To Maintain Friendly Relations Between Animal Sanctuaries

    Actively working to avoid the above three friction-causing elements whenever possible are some of the best ways to maintain a friendly relationship with another sanctuary in your area, especially using the following tactics:

    Communication Is Key

    When working with other animal sanctuaries or rescues in your area, it can be very productive to introduce yourself to those in charge, and keep a friendly channel of dialogue open. Although disagreements may arise, keeping in mind the other sanctuary’s shared compassion and goals can keep tensions from growing.

    If organizations have a friendly rapport established, open communication can create significant mutual benefits, such as effective technique and policy sharing as well as mutual support in times of need!

    Think Carefully About Giving Unsolicited Advice

    It may seem kind or compassionate to give suggestions or advice to another organization in terms of their policies or standards, even if you have the absolute best intentions in mind. Before doing so, please think very carefully before providing advice without advice being asked for. It could very well be perceived as condescending, or even hostile. As an alternative, you could find a way to gently bring up nonpartisan resources that have been beneficial for your organization (such as The Open Sanctuary Project) that might be beneficial to another organization.

    Synchronize Schedules

    One easy way to collaborate and ensure mutual support for both your organizations is to keep each other up to date on your calendars and events throughout the year. This way, your organizations will never incidentally hold important functions at competing times, which ultimately will end up splitting the community’s support for both organizations.

    If your relationship is particularly strong, you can even conduct certain outreach events together if being held off of sanctuary grounds. This way, you can show your community the impact of a unified front for the animals!

    Just make sure that if there are any fundraising elements to a multi-sanctuary event, everyone should first discuss how funds will be distributed, if at all. Never operate on assumptions when it comes to other organizations and revenue!

    Ask Before You Refer

    If a member of the public makes a request to your organization, like asking you to provide sanctuary to an animal or provide support to a cause in some way, it’s not unusual to need to kindly turn them down. In cases like these, it may seem appropriate to refer the individual to other animal sanctuaries or organizations in your area. Prior to using any other organization as a referral, have a conversation with them and discuss whether this is something they’re comfortable with. Often, it can feel hostile to constantly get redirected requests without a discussion!

    For sanctuaries who already maintain a positive relationship, you can establish a rescue and request network, either informally or on social media, to help create more solutions for animals in need while cutting down on unsolicited referrals between organizations.

    Neutrality, Or At Least Not Outward Hostility

    If things just don’t seem like they’re going to ever go particularly well between multiple animal sanctuaries, at least consider establishing an internal policy of public neutrality towards other organizations. This could include basic considerations like not talking negatively about other organizations to other members of the public or amongst your staff, and not critiquing them on social media. Ultimately, public bickering amongst sanctuaries doesn’t help animals; it only harms residents who need support and can lower the public’s perception of the animal sanctuary community as a whole. If you feel the need to explain why your sanctuary does things differently, you can do so gently and with supporting information, without putting down any other organization. And if another organization makes the unfortunate choice to openly critique you, always take the high road and avoid put-downs or public arguments; the community will always be paying attention, and most community members typically favor calm over calamity!


    5 Tips For Nonprofit Collaborations | National Council Of Nonprofits

    How Sanctuaries Can Work Together to Help More Animals in Need of Rescue | One Green Planet

    Updated on August 4, 2020

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