Supporters of San Antonio Pets Alive! may be from all walks of life, but we know all of them care about living in and furthering the community’s path to a more compassionate city. For these folks – folks like you! — it’s important to step back and realize where we are now, and where we need to go moving forward. The future for all of us and the animals who need us CAN be very bright indeed, but we need YOUR continued support to get there.
As part of our series introducing our readers to SAPA!’s leadership, we wanted to tell you all a bit about Maureen E. O’Nell. Maureen is our Executive Director and has been with SAPA! for over a year now. Our nonprofit leadership has been made possible by a generous grant from Maddie’s Fund®. Thanks to Maddie, SAPA! was given the opportunity to find just the right person to help SAPA! reach the next level. Maureen stepped into the role with experience and proven animal-welfare leadership, and has managed to take the organization from struggling to exist, to surviving and thriving! How did she do it? Let’s find out!
Maureen’s journey to nonprofit work started early. She says, “I quip that I was born into nonprofit work. That is not totally accurate. I was born into an academic family who valued education. When I graduated from undergraduate studies, one of my father’s books was published. He wrote an inscription in a copy he gave to me. I had already started working in the field of social service. To paraphrase, he said the book was inscribed by someone who studied the human condition to his daughter who would help change the human condition.”
Maureen’s passion to “change the world” drove her to continue nonprofit work as her career progressed. She says, “Animal welfare has been my field of impact for almost a decade. Nonprofits have a great deal in common…These worthy organizations struggle to find enough resources to make the difference they set out to make; animal welfare being more reliant than most nonprofits on donor support. There are no federal or state contracts in animal welfare. Adoption fees will never cover operating costs. SAPA! must raise 87% of our 2.4 million operating budget annually just to stay in operation.” Keeping the financial realities in mind, Maureen works to keep SAPA! ahead of the game.
This knowledge was part of her evolution to her current leadership style. She explains, “It doesn’t take too much time spent with me to figure out I am a visionary leader. Visionary leaders have an undying optimism about the future and are willing to take bold steps to get ‘there.’ One of the mistakes young nonprofits can make is putting all their resources into taking care of today only. Functionally, taking care of today’s needs alone keeps the nonprofit in a constant crisis cycle and can create a pervasive sense of worry and instability. The work gets done, but there is no assurance there will be the needed resources to take care of tomorrow. It isn’t an intentional decision to make this misstep — it comes from great passion for the mission — but it has consequences.”
“My leadership style helps to shift the underlying culture to one of perseverance. It challenges us all to make the very best decisions we can for the wellbeing of the individual animal today, while recognizing our decisions today impact our ability to function in the future. This is a significant shift. Growth isn’t always the most comfortable process, and it is my responsibility to keep clear the why of the changes we undergo.”
After a full year of changing the world for animals in San Antonio, we asked Maureen what she was most proud of. She had a ready answer: “This team! It takes a whole lot of grit and determination to keep moving forward. It takes staff; it takes volunteers; it takes fosters; it takes true partnerships.”
She continues, “We have a lean staff. Everybody has had to grow and stretch to make the whole operation work by taking on responsibilities that do not fit neatly into a job description, but cannot go without tending.”
What does the future look like for SAPA! (the little organization that could), and for you, SAPA!’s supporters? Maureen explains that we know the basics of what we need to accomplish already, and it’s daunting. She says, “To start with, we know that 87% of our budget — $2,100,000 to be exact –must be raised every single year through YOUR support. We have limited space, and no actual shelter to save the lives of 6,000. Many of the animals we help are quite vulnerable and need time to heal, putting pressure on our finite kennel capacity. We must take great care to vet partnerships and act daily to build bridges of support. Restoring health is not a perfect line. We must be creative and constantly challenge ourselves to evaluate our practices so we can improve them. Our staff manages to do all of this while we face realities of not enough resources to meet our goals. Yet despite the intensity and precarious nature of our efforts, this team, step by step, day by day keeps moving forward. That is a lot to be proud of. I am in awe.”
But through these challenges, Maureen sees opportunity. Her vision for the future is unchanging. “Our greatest goal and biggest challenge is to create the financial backing the organization needs to be able to fulfill our mission of saving lives. Our future is fully reliant upon garnering the support from individuals, businesses and foundations to help us succeed. Performance improvement is part of our day-to-day jobs. This is a constant. Our goal is to create the financial backing to build for tomorrow…a tomorrow where we all embrace the understanding and practice that ‘killing is not a solution. It is our community’s obligation to find lifesaving solutions.’”
With Maureen’s leadership, SAPA! will continue to spearhead these solutions, Thanks to Maddie and the support given by Maddie’s Fund.