Benson Kua from Toronto, Canada [CC BY-SA]

January 22, 2020; Idaho Mountain Express

A change in the perception of a nonprofit can happen very swiftly. The circumstances around Mountain Humane in Hailey, Idaho, is a case in point.

Mountain Humane is a nonprofit with a mission to “change lives by connecting people and pets.” The organization has a very lofty goal of making Idaho a “no-kill state” by the year 2025. They’ve done some good work, with the numbers to match: in 2019, there were 754 adoptions, 1,359 spay/neuters, 722 students who attended educational opportunities, 9,310 facility visitors, and 46,135 donated volunteer hours.

Over the past few years, Mountain Humane raised $16 million, and they opened a new 30,000-square-foot facility last year. According to one report, 500 individuals and families contributed to the new facility.

The good news continues with the organization’s financial statements. The IRS Form 990 filed for 2017, the most recent available at GuideStar, and the audit for 2018, as posted on their website, indicate things have been going well. Things were going so well that the organization bragged it was ranked 12th in the nation among its peers for financial health and transparency by Charity Navigator.

But on January 3rd of this year, only 10 months after moving into the new facility, the executive director, Jo-Anne Dixon, resigned after serving in that role for 13 years. This was reported on January 15th of this year by the Idaho Mountain Express. It was noted in the article that the resignation came following a board retreat in October of 2019 when it became clear that the expenses at the new facility were much higher than had been anticipated and that questions of sustainability were being raised. It should be noted that as early as 2018, according to the audit, expenses had increased by more than $300,000, most of which came from program-related staffing costs.

The board president is quoted as saying that they realized something needed to be done, and that expenses had to be trimmed. They handed the job of executive director to the former director of development, who had joined the organization only last year. In total, seven people have been laid off, which helped trim close to $400,000 from the budget.

The new executive director explained that once they moved into it, they realized what the facility realistically needed, and that there were areas that could be streamlined. She also suggested that there is donor fatigue following the capital campaign, and since the organization is almost entirely dependent on charitable contributions, that could present a significant challenge.

More cuts are to come, but the board president is quoted as saying that they are on top of things, and all would be well.

On January 22, 2020, the same newspaper published a scathing editorial demanding answers. “What happened?” reads the headline. The board of directors needs to explain “what went wrong and how they will correct it.” The “many donors, employees and volunteers” that have been supportive of and engaged with the organization deserve to know, says the editorial.

The very telling question being asked is why the board chose to build such an incredible facility but obviously failed to predict what the impact was going to be on the budget. On its capital campaign website, the organization claims, “We’ve completed our due diligence, we know what needs to be done to accomplish and sustain this new future,” suggesting that planning did take place. However, the editorial demands to know if the board is truly doing its duty of oversight.

Clearly, the story has gotten away from Mountain Humane. Instead of being open and transparent about what happened and what the plans are, they made some cryptic comments, like “Everyone is on top of this.” (Or at least that’s what the local newspaper chose to quote.) As the perception about Mountain Humane changed from positive to negative in a matter of days, they are in a position where they may have to address the serious questions being asked of them and the challenges to the board’s oversight function.— Rob Meiksins