Best Friends Animal Society – Passing the Torch

Best Friends Animal SocietyWhen we first met them, the founders of Best Friends Animal Society based in Kanab, Utah were struggling with how to manage their phenomenal growth and transition to a new generation of leadership. Best Friends had begun in 1984 when a group of 18 dedicated “founders” purchased land in southern Utah to build an animal sanctuary and carry out their mission of creating a better world through kindness to animals. By 2004 their “No More Homeless Pets” movement had changed the world of animal welfare and Best Friends had frown to be a 300-person organization with a quarter-million members. The founders knew they needed help to create an effective organizational structure suited to the unique culture of Best Friends as well as a vision of the future to carry on the mission when they were gone.

Our work began with a planning retreat with the Best Friends “transition leadership team” that included the founders’ board and two younger managers. We helped them create a new draft organizational design, a new draft strategy and, eventually, a new governance structure with outside board members. We took the draft strategy and draft organization design to a meeting of 50 managers and team leaders for their input. Then, in early 2005, we worked with a staff event planning team to design a two-day meeting to engage all 300 employees in listening, giving feedback and planning actions for a new and ambitious plan to reach more people and save more animals. We actually had to repeat that meeting twice because half the group was needed to run the sanctuary and care for its 1600 animals.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in the fall of 2005, the Best Friends strategy was put to the test. A “rapid response team” of more than 100 workers was deployed to set up shelters, care for animals and make the case to emergency response agencies that it was essential to include animals in rescue activities. More than 9000 animals were saved as a result. In the years since, Best Friends has advanced its mission both by supporting local animal welfare groups and by example. Best Friends hosts 35,000 visitors a year at its Utah facility and provides education to other animal welfare groups around the country. Best Friends took on the task of rehabilitating many of the Michael Vick fighting dogs. The Best Friends sanctuary is now featured on the Animal Planet cable channel.

Many of the founders are retired now or soon will be. They do so, confident in the knowledge that the mission is in good hands.