Starting a Non-Profit Bird Rescue

Q. How can I start my own nonprofit bird rescue organization?

A. Unfortunately, mostly because of irresponsible breeding, there is going to be a bigger need for more organizations dealing with bird placement as time goes on. People don't realize how many homeless Cockatiels, Lovebirds and Budgies there are out there and spaying/neutering isn't a safe option for these animals. We feel it is very important that more people get involved in the solution for this growing problem.

First, you need to think seriously about how you want your organization to run. Do you want to deal with one species of bird, or all parrots? Do you have enough experience and knowledge to deal with all or do you feel more comfortable with just small or just large birds? How do you want to operate? Do you want to run an adoption program or more like a sanctuary? If you want to run an adoption program, are you going to enlist the help of foster parents? Where will you get your funding? What kind of fundraising are you willing/able to do? What will you require of your volunteers? Do you want to require classes, fees, mandatory return policy if the adopter can't keep the bird? Do you want to take from the public or only accept birds as referrals from other agencies (humane societies) and vet offices?

Then, sit down and write a short "mission statement" for your organization to sum up the main goal of your group. Also, make a list of what you will need to begin the program. Everything from volunteers (and what they will need to do) to cages, food, toys, clerical supplies etc. It will really help to sit down with someone who can help you to discuss the start up. When we started Mickaboo, we made an appoinment with a local bird rescue director to discuss the challenges she faced when she began. She was also kind enough to show us her applications and contracts so that we had a model to go on. It was very helpful to meet with her because she had already been through what we were going through. She was also helpful in referring us to a CPA locally who helped us to get our nonprofit status.

You can work on getting your nonprofit status on your own if you have the time and patience. Or, you can enlist the help of an attorney or CPA. Once you have your nonprofit status, you can begin receiving donations from the public which can be tax-deductible. Besides donations from supportive bird lovers, Mickaboo got its start by yard sales, aluminum can drives, candy sales, etc. We even shoveled dirt for a day to make money for our birds. In the beginning it is going to be important to be willing and able to do what is necessary to get the word out and get money in for your cause. Eventually, you will develop a list of supporters and interested parties whose donations will help keep you from digging ditches.

Do you have a good vet in town? It is going to be important to find a good avian vet before you begin so you have a place to take the ill birds you get in. You can draft a letter letting local avian vets know of your group and ask for a discount (it never hurts to ask and most are agreeable to a small discount). Finally, be sure to have a good number of volunteers (foster parents if you decide to go that route, drivers, clerical help, fundraising help, advertising help — whatever you need to run smoothly). It is also going to be very important that you have the help of volunteers before you begin taking in rescues. If you don't have necessary help, you will be heading for burnout and potentially doing more harm than good to the very birds you meant to help. It isn't going to be healthy or helpful to you or the birds if you end up having to take them all in yourself and end up having 50 birds on your property. It really helps to have the help, too, not just for the practical reasons but for keeping sanity. Rescue can be very hard and emotionally tiring work and it really, really helps to have someone you can work with and make decisions with (some decisions can be very difficult!) So, don't try to do it all yourself and you should last longer in this endeavor and be happier.

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