51 Cats Story (Part 2, Page 2)

The Corporate Path

I’m not a materialistic man. I don’t have much and I really don’t mind if I never do. Instead, I’m frugal and believe in being a good steward with whatever resources I’m given, down to the leftovers in the fridge. I decided long ago that if the sky should ever open up and rain gold coins down on me, I’d first run for cover, then I’d gather them into a pot and, rather than spend them on myself, I’d use them to bring this sanctuary concept to life. Realistically however, since I have no pot-of-gold of my own, I thought that perhaps GOD wanted me to step forward in good faith and find a rainbow —

In order to make my cat sanctuary a reality, I chose to turn the whole thing into a tax-exempt, nonprofit, charitable corporation. Others had done it and now I figured it was my turn. What’s more, I decided to make it all-volunteer. Those motivated primarily by money would steer clear, and we would stand a much better chance of attracting helpers with truly charitable hearts like ours — that was the idea anyway.

I also believed that founding and operating a charitable corporation would make me appear respectable to the rest of the world again, something I’d not felt in over eight years. In retrospect, I should have considered that GOD might not agree with that desire. He said that we should be in the world, not of the world. However, uncomfortable comments from people over the years had left me feeling vulnerable to appearing abnormal in society and I wanted very much to finally be seen as successful. So, even though I had a slight uneasy feeling, I ignored it and plowed ahead.

The Mountain

Through the public library and the Internet there is almost no end to all the do-it-yourself books, online guides and helpful websites. For about two months, I utilized these free resources and immersed myself in the study of tax-exempt, nonprofit, corporation formation and governance. But, as I learned more and more, I found there was more and more to learn. My head started to swim as this mountain grew taller and taller before me. Here’s what I mean —

In addition to studying the purpose behind, and learning how to appropriately construct and/or prepare, all the corporation’s organizing documents (the Articles of Incorporation, Certificate of Disclosure, Affidavit of Publication, I.R.S. Application for Recognition of Exemption, Corporate Bylaws, Organizational Meeting Minutes, Unified Registration Statement, and probably others), there’s also the Mission and Vison Statement, Short-Range, Intermediate & Long-Range Goals, Detailed Business Plan, Strategic Plan, Marketing Plan, Volunteer Recruitment Plan, Fundraising Plan, Donor Research, Grant Research, Proposal Writing, Book Keeping and Financial Accounting Standards, Ethical Standards, Conflict of Interest Policy, Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy, Operations Manual, Volunteer Manual, each Board Member’s Job Description, Financial Reviews and Audits, Donation Substantiation and Disclosure Requirements, Risk Management Process, General Liability Insurance, Errors & Omissions Insurance or Directors & Officers Liability Insurance, I.R.S. Annual Information Return, State Corporation Annual Report & Certificate of Disclosure and the annual G.F.A.S. (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries) Statements of Financial Positions, Activities and Cash Flows – all of which I have been told are very important and need to be thoroughly understood and/or properly prepared and maintained — I’m sure there’s a bunch of requirements, standards, policies, procedures, licenses, registrations, approvals, certificates and permits that I don’t know about yet, but you get the idea – it’s a rather large mountain!

With so many new and different legal/business terms, concepts, titles and referenced statutes, much of the time it felt like I was studying a foreign language. A lot of what I’d read assumed some previous knowledge that I didn’t have. As a result, I often got confused or would end up wasting time studying something that didn’t even apply. I could spend years trying to get everything just right to please the I.R.S., State Corporation Commission, State Department of Revenue, State Attorney General’s Office, County Clerk’s Office, G.F.A.S., donors, foundations, watch dog groups and probably many other individual organizations and city, county, state and federal agencies. After two months of intense studying, I’d only seen the tip of the iceberg.

The more bureaucratic hoops I found that I would be expected to know how to perfectly jump through just to prove that my company was, and would remain, transparent, honest and responsible to every donated-dime, the heavier my heart felt. I began wishing for my own pot-of-gold, so that I could bypass this giant iceberg and just build the sanctuary myself. I already have my own mountain of technical, design and construction issues to work out (which for me would be much more fun anyway – see Part 3).

As an engineer, I’ve been casually evolving this sanctuary concept for a long time. I can see how most everything fits together in my mind. I know it can work and I know I can do it. But all this business stuff is another matter altogether. Sure, I’m intelligent enough to eventually understand it all and do a good job, but that could take someone like me as long as getting another collage degree. No – if I was going to do this, I knew that I had to speed things up —

Closed Doors

All the materials I’ve read so far say the same thing – you can’t do it all alone. I was told I would need to put together an effective, experienced board of directors who will bring talent, wisdom and significant financial resources to the company. Most everyone also stressed the importance of having a lawyer prepare, or at least look over, the organizing documents. And I already knew that I would have to find various technical experts with whom to consult. It seemed to me that the time had come to seek out mentors, advisors and partners, and to reach out to those who were already doing something similar. So, I asked GOD to help guide me to the right people, and I plowed ahead again.

I don’t personally know anyone from the corporate business world, and I only have one wealthy relative. I carefully wrote her a long letter explaining my situation and sanctuary concept. I asked her for help with my startup costs. She chose to ignore my request. With her, it was a longshot anyway. Yet, since GOD can do anything, I thought maybe that was a door He wanted me to walk through. As uncomfortable as it was, I had to be willing to try. That door proved to be locked.

I turned to the Internet again and for weeks I looked for people who might be willing to send me their Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws to use as examples (as suggested by Petfinder.com), and discuss with me how to locate potential, experienced directors. I also looked for free business counselors and technical experts. Since I didn’t know anyone personally, I put a lot of effort into carefully constructing cold-contact emails.

One morning I was feeling a little weary from all the needle-in-a-haystack searching, so I asked GOD for a little pick-me-up. That day, I stumbled upon one very long web page written by a design engineer that contained detailed discussions of nearly every zero-energy-design concept that I’d spent almost a decade casually gathering. It had nothing to do with business, but it was an engineer’s goldmine. It helped me to feel even more confident that my concept was indeed a good one. It even showed me a few new ideas. I felt very encouraged and I added the author to my list of people to contact.

After weeks of searching, I had reached out to 49 people. One, a cat-shelter founder, said that I shouldn’t even start, that running a nonprofit shelter is way too much work. The one business counselor I found said that without startup capitol, I was wasting my time. He said “You will not be able to get any funding from someone that you don’t know without already having received some funding from someone who personally believes in you and in what you are trying to do.”

Out of the 49 people contacted, five liked my sanctuary concept. They said it sounded great, exciting, innovative or intriguing. One of them congratulated me and one wished me luck. One of them even thanked us for all our cat-rescue efforts over the years. Out of those 49 people, only eight responded, but not one helped me with what I had asked.

Just days into 2010, I found myself at square one, back where I started. I had asked GOD to guide me to the right people, but I got nowhere. All the doors that I had tried to open were locked.

Just like that day when I cast the die for Duddly, I didn’t understand why GOD wasn’t helping me. Didn’t He want us to become a sanctuary? But again, just like He did that day, GOD would gently show me that He had something else in mind —

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