Humane Rescue Alliance is merger success story

A smooth merger, respectable cause and being centered in the nation's capital have helped the Humane Rescue Alliance become a model for success in not-for-profi...

The president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance has seen significant progress in the region’s pursuit to protect the region’s most vulnerable animals.

The HRA is a D.C.-based not-for-profit that resulted from the merger of two historic humane societies: the Washington Humane Society and the Washington Animal Rescue League.

“Back in the early part of the 20th century, they were very complementary with one another,” said Lisa LaFontaine. While the WHS served to rescue victims of animal cruelty, the WARL primarily provided animal shelters. This cooperation turned sour in the 1980s when their activities began to overlap.

“It wasn’t good for the cause or the city, because the organizations were often talking badly about each other in direct mailers they were sending out,” she told What’s Working in Washington. “I think it was just an unfortunate conversation to have with the community.”

When LaFontaine came to D.C. about ten years ago, she was focused on collaboration. “I saw that there were two organizations doing very much the same thing, in a very small space geographically,” she said. She encouraged the two groups to collaborate on programs and then noticed a problem last year, when both societies were raising money to build new facilities.

“It just made no sense for a city the size of Washington to have two capital campaigns for the same types of not-for-profits, to build organizations. I could just see money falling down in the cracks between us,” she said.

“Certainly for animal welfare you’re able to get a pretty good handle on the population of animals, and what the issues are, because of the geographical space,” said LaFontaine.

The most important aspect, however, is D.C.’s position as the capital. “When you say Washington, people think, nation’s capital,” LaFontaine said. People get the subtle notion that D.C.-based nonprofits are the speaker for their chosen cause.

LaFontaine is also proud to see more people are rescuing their dogs instead of breeding them.

“We have people from all demographics, all genders, sexuality, religion, walks of life, countries, you name it. One thing I’ve seen is that people who work for us, and certainly volunteer for us, feel that we’re not only a safe place but an empowering place,” LaFontaine said.

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