Vetting the Horse Rescue before Donating

Vetting the Horse Rescue before Donating

by Jessica Swan
Do you prefer to work with a breed or discipline specific rescue? Do you prefer to work with a rescue that takes a strong position for or against equine slaughter, or one that remains neutral? Do you prefer a rescue that works locally, statewide, or across state lines? There can be a variety of ways a legitimate equine rescue accomplishes its mission. Rather than insist equine rescues conform to your personal ideal, find one whose mission statement reflects your values and preferences.
Once you determine which type of rescue to work with, collect information from those you identified as possible matches – but be sure to make fair comparisons.
Collect the following information: 
Verify the rescue is tax exempt and complies with state requirements pertaining to charitable registration and solicitation. 
– You can perform a search on the IRS website, or ask the rescue for a copy of its IRS Determination Letter.               
– Check the IRS Revocation List – the IRS has been revoking the status of thousands of nonprofits. Verify the rescue is not on that list before donate.
– Your state’s website, most likely the section for the Attorney General, will have links for charitable solicitations and charitable registration information.

From the rescue, request the identity of members of the Governing Board. This information may be on the rescue’s website, if it has one. 

– The Board is more than just a group of people. Its responsibility is the stewardship of the rescue, continuity of the rescue, and oversight of the rescue’s operations. Board Members should be respected, ethical members of the community.

Review financial statements, and determine if the rescue accounts separately for restricted gifts.

– The requirement for accounting separately for restricted gifts was issued through the Financial Accounting Standards Board, FASB 117.) While not a guarantee the rescue accounts for all its funds correctly, it may be a strong indication that it does, and that it understands the unique requirements of nonprofit accounting.

– A modest review of the rescue’s financial statements and 990 should provide evidence of its financial health. It is a myth that a rescue cannot show a profit. All rescues should have healthy finances. While a rescue can have a bad year or two, a pattern of lackluster or dubious finances is a strong indicator that the rescue is poorly managed, and has an ineffective Board. Donate elsewhere.
Many states require a rescue with custody of small or large animals to file custodial reports with the State Department of Agriculture. 
Counties or cities may have zoning, licensing or stabling requirements for rescues. Determine if the rescue conforms to any laws or regulations. Also verify that the rescue understands and complies with zoning requirements for its operation. (Including facilities used to foster equines.)

– Ascertaining the rescues level of compliance with requirements demonstrates how well it understands its legal responsibilities, as well as serving to back up claims of saving or housing a specified number of animals.

– Some states require inspection of kennels or stables, or other health or welfare checks designed to limit or prevent the spread of disease or prevent neglect.

Choose a rescue operated by people who act professionally.

– A rescue that establishes professional standards and privacy policies for their Board, employees and volunteers, and enforces them, will be more effective than a rescue with unpleasant or unprofessional personnel.

– Volunteers or supporters who use aggressive tactics with the public, who hold themselves out as spokesmen for a rescue, gossip about or disclose private information about the operation of the rescue, or its donors, can ruin the reputation of a rescue, and drive donors away.

Visit the rescue.

– A well-run rescue need not be fancy or upscale in order to be effective. A quick visit and examination of the facilities is all that is necessary. Is the fencing adequate? Is there clean water? Is the barn and stable yard clean and free of debris? Does the facility offer shelter as required by state law? Does it quarantine or take other bio-security measures? Clean, neat, and tidy, run by good horsemen with good horse sense. That’s key.

– For rescues too far away or across state lines, a visit may not be practical. In which case, photographs, GIS maps, or an interview with the rescue’s veterinarian or Board members may be sufficient. However, should your gift be misused by a rescue out of state, or you are a victim of a fraudulent solicitation, it may be impossible to seek redress through that state’s Attorney General.